NSA won't say if it is "spying" on Congress
January 4th, 2014
03:45 PM ET

NSA won't say if it is "spying" on Congress

Congress is just like everyone else. That's the message the National Security Agency has for Sen. Bernie Sanders.

The independent senator from Vermont sent a letter to the agency Friday, asking whether it has or is "spying" on members of Congress and other elected American officials.

The NSA provided a preliminary response Saturday that said Congress has "the same privacy protections as all U.S. persons."

"NSA's authorities to collect signals intelligence data include procedures that protect the privacy of U.S. persons. Such protections are built into and cut across the entire process. Members of Congress have the same privacy protections as all U.S. persons," said the agency in a statement obtained by CNN.

The response goes on to promise the agency will continue to work with Congress on the issues - without ever addressing the senator's real question.

Sanders defines "spying" in his letter as "gathering metadata on calls made from official or personal phones, content from websites visited or e-mails sent, or collecting any other data from a third party not made available to the general public in the regular course of business."

The NSA would say nothing more, except that it is further reviewing the letter.

"We will continue to work to ensure that all Members of Congress, including Sen. Sanders, have information about NSA's mission, authorities, and programs to fully inform the discharge of their duties," read the statement.

Attorney General Eric Holder similarly deflected answering the same question at a congressional hearing last summer, telling Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Illinois, that the NSA had no "intent" to spy on Congress, but the issue was better discussed in private.

The intelligence community has faced heated criticism from the right and left in 2013 after Edward Snowden's leaks, and the intensity has continued fiercely in 2014.

On Thursday, the New York Times and the Guardian published scathing editorials that slammed the "violations" Snowden's leaks revealed and advocated a presidential pardon for him.

Among those charges was the notion that James Clapper Jr., the director of National Intelligence, lied to Congress while testifying last March that the NSA was not collecting data on millions of Americans.

National Intelligence was quick to push back, with a letter to the editor from by general counsel Robert Litt, published in the New York Times on Saturday.

"As a witness to the relevant events and a participant in them, I know that allegation is not true," writes Litt, explaining that Clapper misunderstood the question, but couldn't publicly correct his mistake "because the program involved was classified."

"This incident shows the difficulty of discussing classified information in an unclassified setting and the danger of inferring a person's state of mind from extemporaneous answers given under pressure."

Litt said that Clapper was "surprised and distressed" when he was informed by staff that he gave a misleading answer after the testimony.

CNN's Evan Perez contributed to this report.

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soundoff (377 Responses)
  1. Sheena

    It was stupid in this day and age, maybe it was more like one woman at a time for him. When the pine cones open all the way, you can remove the seeds to plant and grow more trees from.
    Sheena http://cort.as/7e97

    February 6, 2014 at 4:52 am | Reply
  2. mike

    They better be spying on them as well or the citizens of the US have a great class action suit against the government.

    January 9, 2014 at 6:19 pm | Reply
  3. Random

    So this is a case where people not giving a damn about it till now is biting you .

    They already admitted that inorder to pass the patriot act and other authorizations that legalize the programs All congress and senate members were exempted .

    NO they do not spy on congress. But it is the single most valuable use of the system, to verify and hold accountable all public servants, IE all politicians, all police, all judges , prison guards , etcal.

    This is the single most valuable use for the system. This is why we should not be running pitch forks drawn demanding the thing be taken down. We just need to use it more wisely. Corruption is impossible with this system if we direct it where it needs to be.

    January 9, 2014 at 3:53 pm | Reply
  4. NJD

    Bernie asked a stupid question and got a stupid answer...

    January 7, 2014 at 12:32 pm | Reply
    • John Ridenhower

      The Director and a number of other general military officers have been fired for writig nasty personal emails to their mistresses.

      Wonder how those emails became public especilly when it Obama is rumored to hate the military.

      January 8, 2014 at 12:58 pm | Reply
  5. California

    NSA and the government in general has spied upon itself for decades. J Edgar is proof of this fact.

    They're even spying on the White House as we speak.

    January 7, 2014 at 11:46 am | Reply
    • Edward Snowden

      We are spying on you right now, too.

      January 7, 2014 at 3:13 pm | Reply
  6. Tfthuk Gdgkhk

    Native Americans do nothing Hatian Americans do less than nothing and Mexicans do gardening which is all good and fine until you relize that Mexicans don't do work in cold weather thus they are half useless. The NsA (military)outlaws protest like they did with OWS which is halarious because in no small way they (military) worked hard created OWS...

    January 6, 2014 at 10:29 am | Reply
    • mique

      Skip your meds again?

      January 8, 2014 at 9:18 am | Reply
  7. Tfthuk Gdgkhk

    There will be no force change in the US because there will be no white people to actualy do anything.

    January 6, 2014 at 10:23 am | Reply
  8. Tfthuk Gdgkhk

    But worse far worse just like it is now Israel is the happest place on Earth and the US is 100th (more or less less or more)...no one actualy makes money in israel just like it was designed.

    January 6, 2014 at 10:21 am | Reply
  9. Tfthuk Gdgkhk

    In 35 years there will be next to no/0 WHITE people in the US. Nice work Israel just like the Middle east.

    January 6, 2014 at 10:18 am | Reply
    • maggie

      in 35 years caucasians will be living in the middle east....lets send all the republicans there....they can swim in the crude to their hearts content

      January 6, 2014 at 3:39 pm | Reply
  10. Tfthuk Gdgkhk

    Cut back...thats funny the US Millitary Budget doubles every administration since WWII / Ike...Where the hell are your backpacks full of cash...

    January 6, 2014 at 10:15 am | Reply
  11. John Smith

    Who cares? If you are not doing anything illegal, you do not have to worry.

    January 5, 2014 at 11:16 pm | Reply
    • ddavid

      Small minds, have small thoughts.

      January 9, 2014 at 12:29 pm | Reply
    • Nervous Investor

      Silly boy.

      January 6, 2014 at 5:29 am | Reply
    • RealVoiceOfReason

      Well said comrade! Stalin would be proud.

      January 7, 2014 at 2:41 pm | Reply
    • Tyler

      Its about having a bit of privacy man. You should not have to feel like you are being watched 24/7 on the internet that you pay for.

      January 10, 2014 at 8:53 am | Reply
  12. Tfthuk Gdgkhk

    the big big (-N-I-G-G-E-R) s-e-c-u-r-i-t-y agency AKA (the great digital profit N-S-A)

    January 5, 2014 at 10:29 pm | Reply
  13. Bill In STL

    Is there any doubt?

    January 5, 2014 at 10:28 pm | Reply


    January 5, 2014 at 9:55 pm | Reply
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