Fox News host Tucker Carlson’s charge that the National Security Agency illegally spied on him and leaked his emails is enraging prominent liberals. Carlson sought “to sow distrust [of the NSA], which is so anti-American,” declared MSNBC analyst Andrew Weissman, formerly the chief prosecutor for Special Counsel Robert Mueller. CNN senior correspondent Oliver Darcy ridiculed Carlson for effectively claiming that “I’m not a crazy person overstating a case!”
When did the NSA become as pure as Snow White? Do pundits presume that there is a 24-hour statute of limitation for recalling any previously-disclosed NSA crimes and abuses?
The Carlson controversy cannot be understood outside the context of perennial NSA abuses. The NSA possesses a “repository capable of taking in 20 billion ‘record events’ daily and making them available to NSA analysts within 60 minutes,” the New York Times reported. The NSA is able to snare and stockpile many orders of magnitude times more information than did East Germany’s Stasi secret police, one of the most odious agencies of the post-war era.
The FBI, for its part, is permitted to rummage through the seized data under strict restrictions. In 2018, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance (FISA) court slammed the FBI for abusing that database with warrantless searches that violated Americans’ rights. After the FBI promised to repent, the FISA court to permitted FBI agents to continue rummaging in NSA troves. In April, the FISA court revealed that the FBI surveillance crime wave continues.
The FBI conducted warrantless searches of the data trove for “domestic terrorism,” “public corruption and bribery,” “health care fraud,” and other targets — including people who notified the FBI of crimes and even repairmen entering FBI offices. If you sought to report a crime to the FBI, an FBI agent may have illegally surveilled your email. Even if you merely volunteered for the FBI “Citizens Academy” program, the FBI may have illegally tracked all your online activity.
In 2019, the FBI unjustifiably searched the database for information on 16,000 people “even though only seven of them had connections to an investigation,” the New York Times reported. FISA court Chief Judge James Boasberg lamented “apparent widespread violations” of the legal restrictions for FBI searches but shrugged them off and permitted the scouring of Americans’ personal data to continue.
On June 30, Americans learned that one of NSA’s most intrusive surveillance engines is still being widely abused. In 2013, Edward Snowden revealed that that the XKeyscore program was being used to commandeer the email and Internet data of any American who was caught “searching the web for suspicious stuff.” XKeyscore enables NSA analysts to wiretap anyone simply by entering the target’s email address into the database. Six months after Snowden’s disclosures began, federal judge Richard Leon issued a ruling denouncing the NSA surveillance regime as almost Orwellian: “I cannot imagine a more indiscriminate and arbitrary invasion than this systematic and high-tech collection and retention of personal data on virtually every single citizen for purposes of querying and analyzing it without prior judicial approval.”
Travis LeBlanc, a member of the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, released his declassified dissent to that civil liberties watchdog board recent report on XKeyscore. Hundreds of illegal or prohibited searches were apparently committed using XKeyscore in 2019. LeBlanc complained that the oversight board failed to ask “how many U.S. persons have been impacted by XKeyscore, how much data the program collects and analyzes, how widely information analyzed through XKeyscore is shared.”
However, the oversight board did not even “request specific information” about violations of U.S. law by NSA.
Americans have probably not seen even the tip of the iceberg of NSA abuses. NSA apparently never even bothered doing a formal analysis of the legality or constitutionality of XKeyscore until 2016, after the oversight board specifically requested such information. LeBlanc told the Washington Post: “What concerns me most is that we have a very powerful surveillance program that eight years or so after exposure, still has no judicial oversight, and what I consider to be inadequate legal analysis and serious compliance infractions.”
Oregon Democratic Senator Ron Wyden, the most dogged congressional watchdog of federal spying, declared that “Americans still know far too little about the government’s surveillance activities… and how it threatens their privacy.” Wyden, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, is muzzled from disclosing the NSA’s confidential dirt.
NSA is like an accused murderer who continually proclaims his innocence up until the moment a video surfaces of him pulling the trigger. After Carlson stated that his emails were being intercepted, the NSA issued a statement declaring that “Tucker Carlson has never been an intelligence target of the Agency… With limited exceptions (e.g. an emergency), NSA may not target a US citizen without a court order that explicitly authorizes the targeting.”