This past summer National Security Agency Director Gen. Keith Alexander scoffed at critics alleging the agency was running roughshod over privacy rights in its spying practices.
“Nothing could be further from the truth. We have tremendous oversight over these programs. We can audit the actions of our people 100 percent, and we do that,” he said.
This month, the top deputy at the NSA asserted the agency’s secretive operations exist only under close scrutiny from officials across the government.
Analysts working inside the NSA “care as passionately about civil liberties [and] national security both, as any of you might,” Deputy John C. Inglis said.
The statements are curious considering an admission this week by the NSA that it repeatedly violated its own privacy guidelines in a now-defunct program to collect “to and from” data in American email.
A judge on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court said in an opinion that there had been “systemic over collection” in the program and that “those responsible for conducting oversight at the NSA had failed to do so effectively.”
The release of the documents were forced by civil liberties groups who had filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit.
The government said its repeated violations were caused by “poor management, lack of involvement by compliance officials and lack of internal verification procedures.”
Since former NSA contractor Edward Snowden began leaking information about NSA programs and violations, the agency and its supporters have portrayed spy programs as necessary for the nation’s security and closely monitored by layers of oversight to prevent abuses. As the leaks and documents continue to trickle out, that position grows more and more tenuous.
Americans well understand the necessity for covert operations, spying and intelligence gathering to protect the country from terrorists and others who would gladly do us harm. But that public trust in the government to collect such information has always been based on the understanding that there will be strict oversight and that rules would be followed.
As it becomes clearer that oversight is lacking, it gives more impetus for Congress to rein in the NSA,