Wednesday, July 9, 2014

The NSA spied on me too!!

The Huffington Post is reporting an alarming story entitled "NSA Spied on Five Politically Active Americans."

When you click on the story, however, and go to the actual source, The Intercept, you learn that the NSA was not the responsible agency for the spying reported here. 

Snowden may have learned about this by stealing an NSA spreadsheet, but the spreadsheet makes it very clear that this surveillance was performed by the FBI under FISA court approval. An email address on a spreadsheet about FISA approved surveillance by the FBI could, or course, be on an NSA computer. But that doesn't mean the NSA was spying on Americans. Quite the contrary.

A reasonable person can have serious doubts about the appropriateness of this surveillance. And if you don't like it, you should write your congressperson to address this matter to the Executive Branch and FBI under their direct authority. 

The NSA once spied on me daily...

Someone at the NSA also once had access to my work email and, presumably, regularly reviewed it to confirm I was not up to any nefarious activities. 

They also recorded and reviewed everything I did on my work computer, every search I made there and every website I visited with it.

This all took place from June, 2002 until July, 2006. That's when I worked at the NSA as an Arabic linguist. I worked there, knowing that my every act while on the job was recorded and reviewed to confirm that we all would never violate our charge to conduct surveillance only on foreign targets.

And that's why, despite being out of that Agency for eight years, I remain confident that the Snowden leaks will not show the NSA to have functioned outside the legal parameters I knew we kept in sacred trust while I worked there. The NSA conducts electronic intelligence directed at foreign targets. And some agency of every other country in the world is attempting the same. 

If anything, this latest "leak" is the strongest confirmation yet that the NSA does not spy on American citizens.  If the NSA were spying on Americans, this is where the smoking gun would have been found. 

Instead, we have here a clear description that, if an American citizen is involved, the FBI and the FBI only, using legal channels, conducts the wiretap. 

Some judge on the FISA court signed off on that surveillance. I used to write FISA justifications when I was at the NSA (for foreign targets, of course, since that's all we ever did). The document the judge signed off on in these cases contained some type of an argument to justify the FBI violating the privacy rights of US citizens. 

Without knowing what was contained there, I am not going to make any statement about the appropriateness of this surveillance. The rationale will probably remain classified for decades. 

I will say, however, that the bar for justification on surveillance of an American target should be placed quite extremely high. And I don't think it would be inappropriate, given the political sensitivity here, for the Obama administration to allow a neutral party to review that rationale immediately.