The Watchers of the Watchers Have Flipped
In the months since revelations about mass surveillance programs deployed by US and foreign leaders came to the public’s attention, there has been formidable outrage at home and abroad.
The practice has sowed the seeds of distrust in Germany, troubled relations between the United States and Brazil, and ignited the US population against intelligence agencies gone crazy on mass data collection under the guise of stopping terrorism. A survey conducted by the Associated Press in September found that 61 percent of US Americans are up in arms about the NSA’s collection of private telephone and email records, and specifically call on the nation’s elected representatives to reign in the spying.
But rather than heed their constituents’ concerns about the sophisticated invasion of privacy, Congress’s own intelligence “watchdogs” have sought to protect the gross spying machine and ward off its many detractors.
Chief among these keepers of the crypt are senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Saxby Chambliss (R-GA), on the Senate Intelligence Committee, and representatives Dutch Ruppersberger (D-MA) and Mike Rogers (R-MI) in the House.
At the most recent hearing on the matter, Ruppersberger stated his job is to “help the public understand” the utility of domestic spying for the American Republic. “You cannot have privacy without security,” claimed the congressman. “And to testify to this we’ll directly hear from the intelligence community and outside legal experts who can help explain.”
In this case and many others, it seems the congressman is mistaken about his own job on the committee.
According to their website, the House Permanent Committee on Intelligence is “charged with the oversight of the United States Intelligence Community.” Oversight means making sure they don’t run afoul of their intended purposes and remain accountable to the Congress and their constituents.
Despite that fact, the heads of the intelligence committees remain the biggest cheerleaders for NSA spying and the increased power and presence of intelligence agencies.
Feinstein openly defended the NSA’s tactics in a Wall Street Journal op-ed last month, claiming they would have prevented the attacks on September 11.
“The NSA call-records program is working and contributing to our safety. It is legal and it is subject to strict oversight and thorough judicial review,” wrote Feinstein. She even promoted the farcical claim that NSA spying has directly thwarted terror attacks, debunked rather quickly in later hearings by Senator Patrick Leheay (D-VT).
“This summer, the agency disclosed that 54 terrorist events have been interrupted—including plots stopped and arrests made for support to terrorism. Thirteen events were in the U.S. homeland and nine involved U.S. persons or facilities overseas. Twenty-five were in Europe, five in Africa and 11 in Asia,” said Feinstein, as if reading from the NSA press release itself.
And these kind of apologies for mass abuse of civil liberties and fundamental US American freedoms does not stop on the domestic side. On the subject of foreign spying, Rogers, a former FBI agent, claimed the French should be “applauding and popping champagne corks,” because US agencies collect mass data without abandon on French citizens.
“It’s a good thing. It keeps the French safe. It keeps the U.S. safe. It keeps our European allies safe,” he told CNN’s Candy Crowley in October — and he’s been seen in hearings and across various media deflecting the torrent of accusations of intrusive spying by the nation’s intelligence agencies.
Far beyond just defending them, some of the senior Intelligence Committee chairs and ranking members have justified the spying and stated they’re part and parcel of the status quo.
“Let me just emphasize, this is nothing particularly new,” Sen. Chambliss said at a June press conference. “This has been going on for seven years under the auspices of the FISA authority and every member of the United States Senate has been advised of this.”
The problem with this situation is clear: the watchers who are supposed to watch the watchers have flipped. They’ve become servants of the spying apparatus and defense industries rather than protectors of the US public’s freedoms and the Constitution.
In July, Wired magazine revealed that the politicians who defend NSA spying receive more campaign donations from the defense industry than their colleagues, and any future research is likely to uncover even more.
It’s no wonder Representative Justin Amash (R-MI) called the House Intelligence Committee an “NSA publicist” during its last hearing.
Intel Cmte is supposed to oversee #NSA. Watching this hearing, you can see there's almost no oversight. Cmte is more like an NSA publicist.
— Justin Amash (@repjustinamash) October 29, 2013
Perhaps this just proves how large and powerful the military-industrial complex interests have become. They’ve managed to capture the very people in Washington, D.C., who are supposed to keep tabs on the nation’s sticky tentacles.
The answer to stopping all the madness won’t come from them.