What Else Can the Obama Administration Do to Undermine U.S. Security?

After the administration spied on Americans and lied to Congress, Feinstein’s bombshell now raises even more questions about its activities.

Activists demonstrate against the electronic surveillance tactics of the NSA and in support of whistleblowers Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden on July 27, 2013 in Berlin, Germany.
National Journal
Ron Fournier
March 11, 2014, 7:33 a.m.

They spied on you. They lied to the Sen­ate. They seized tele­phone re­cords from the As­so­ci­ated Press and con­sidered crim­in­al­iz­ing in­vest­ig­at­ive journ­al­ism at Fox News. What else can the U.S. in­tel­li­gence com­munity do to des­troy its cred­ib­il­ity, curb civil liber­ties, and ul­ti­mately un­der­mine U.S. se­cur­ity?

Spy on Con­gress.

Sen. Di­anne Fein­stein, a Demo­crat bravely chal­len­ging a Demo­crat­ic White House, ac­cused the CIA of search­ing com­puter files used by her staffers on the Sen­ate In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee to re­view the CIA’s now-de­funct in­ter­rog­a­tion pro­grams, po­ten­tially vi­ol­at­ing:

  • The con­sti­tu­tion­ally sac­red prin­ciple of sep­ar­a­tion of powers, which pro­hib­its one branch of gov­ern­ment (say, a run­away ex­ec­ut­ive branch) from strong-arm­ing the oth­er two branches.  
  • The Fourth Amend­ment, which pro­tects from un­reas­on­able search and seizure.
  • The Com­puter Fraud and Ab­use Act and Ex­ec­ut­ive Or­der 12333, which bar do­mest­ic sur­veil­lance.

Fein­stein said the CIA “may have un­der­mined the con­sti­tu­tion­al frame­work es­sen­tial to ef­fect­ive con­gres­sion­al over­sight of in­tel­li­gence activ­it­ies or any oth­er gov­ern­ment func­tion.”

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The sad irony here is that Con­gress has been more of a lap­dog than a watch­dog to the in­tel­li­gence com­munity as its powers grew in the af­ter­math of the 9/11 at­tacks. Un­der Pres­id­ents Bush and Obama, sur­veil­lance on the activ­it­ies of U.S. cit­izens, as well as people and lead­ers across the globe, mush­roomed to meet the chal­lenge of 21st-cen­tury threats, with bil­lions of dol­lars in­ves­ted in new tech­no­lo­gies that col­lect and ana­lyze our di­git­al trails.

Ed­ward Snowden, a con­tract­or with the Na­tion­al Se­cur­ity Agency, stole troves of doc­u­ments that re­vealed U.S. secrets, many of which had noth­ing to do with spy­ing in­side the United States and which jeop­ard­ize na­tion­al se­cur­ity. A por­tion of the doc­u­ments, however, re­vealed activ­it­ies that curbed civil liber­ties with no pub­lic de­bate, and ex­posed gov­ern­ment lies.

For in­stance, in­tel­li­gence chief James Clap­per was asked a year ago in a Sen­ate hear­ing wheth­er the NSA col­lects “any type of data at all on mil­lions or hun­dreds of mil­lions of Amer­ic­ans.” He said no, know­ing that the state­ment was false. “Not wit­tingly,” he said. “There are cases where they could in­ad­vert­ently per­haps col­lect, but not wit­tingly.”

It was a lie.

As a can­did­ate, Obama prom­ised to rein in the Bush-era ter­ror­ism tac­tics and strike a bet­ter bal­ance between se­cur­ity and liberty. As pres­id­ent, Obama ex­pan­ded the pro­grams and did so more secretly than ne­ces­sary. Polls show he has paid a price, both with voters (primar­ily young and lib­er­al) who don’t trust the in­tel­li­gence com­munity and with less-ideo­lo­gic­al Amer­ic­ans who’ve simply lost their trust in him.

This isn’t a mere polit­ic­al prob­lem. When the Amer­ic­an pub­lic doesn’t trust its na­tion­al-se­cur­ity lead­er­ship, their sup­port of na­tion­al-se­cur­ity policy crumbles, and that can be­come a crisis.

They spied on you and lied about it. Now they may have spied on Con­gress. Wit­tingly or not, for le­git­im­ate reas­ons or not, the ac­tions of the in­tel­li­gence com­munity and the White House have com­prom­ised na­tion­al se­cur­ity.

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