When Truthdig contributor Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., asked the National Security Agency if it is spying or has ever spied on Congress, the response he got was noncommittal. On Friday, the senator sent Gen. Keith Alexander, the director of the NSA, a letter expressing his deep concern about revelations made thanks to whistle-blower Edward Snowden‘s efforts. The NSA’s response? We treat you like all other American citizens. As Mother Jones reporter Andy Kroll points out, these are the same people “the NSA spies on by collecting vast stores of metadata on phone calls and other communications.”
Though a more complete response is underway, here’s what the NSA has said so far:
NSA’s authorities to collect signals intelligence data include procedures that protect the privacy of US persons. Such protections are built into and cut across the entire process. Members of Congress have the same privacy protections as all US persons. NSA is fully committed to transparency with Congress. Our interaction with Congress has been extensive both before and since the media disclosures began last June.
We are reviewing Senator Sanders’s letter now, and we will continue to work to ensure that all members of Congress, including Senator Sanders, have information about NSA’s mission, authorities, and programs to fully inform the discharge of their duties.
Based on the NSA’s statement, the agency appears to be preparing a fuller response to Sanders’ letter. Perhaps that might put to rest any worries about domestic spying on our nation’s most powerful lawmakers. If it doesn’t, and if concerns about spying on Congress fester, we might see the House or Senate haul Gen. Keith Alexander, the director of the NSA, back to Capitol Hill to testify. That’ll make for exciting daytime television.
Who knows, maybe all of this excitement may actually lead to more legislation protecting Americans’ privacy now that policymakers are starting to become aware that they are likely not exempt from the agency’s all-seeing evil eye. And wouldn’t that be something to behold?
—Posted by Natasha Hakimi
An illustration by a Truthdig cartoonist, first published Sept. 7, 2013.