Press Blamed Obama for NSA Spying, But Snowden Claims He Had Authority to Spy on POTUS


On the way to my group think media playdate to wax outrage over Obama’s egregious and unprecedented(/s) spying on my oh-so-fascinating private emails, I stumbled upon a logic fail.

Former defense subcontractor employee at Booz Allen Hamilton and now National Security Agency (NSA) leaker Ed Snowden claimed a few weeks ago that he was empowered to spy on even the President. ABC reported that he said, “I, sitting at my desk, certainly had the authority to wiretap anyone, from you or your accountant to a federal judge to even the president if I had a personal email.”

No one took his claims very seriously until Glenn Greenwald claimed that his new reporting bolsters Snowden’s claim that NSA programs allows low level analysts to search the private emails and phone calls of Americans. Today on ABC’s This Week, Greenwald confirmed Snowden’s claim and wondered why James Clapper still had his job after he allegedly “lied” to Congress about this issue.

Watch here:

Transcript from ABC (my bold):

STEPHANOPOULOS: Now, that claim was denied by intelligence officials, and the chair of the House Intelligence Committee, Mike Rogers, said that he was actually lying. But your new reporting, you say, bolsters Snowden’s claim.


The way that I know exactly what analysts have the capability to do when spying on Americans is the story I’ve been working on for the last month that we’re publishing this week very clearly sets forth what these programs are, that NSA analysts, low-level ones, not just ones who work for the NSA but private contractors like Mr. Snowden, are able to do.

The NSA has trillions of telephone calls and emails in their databases that they’ve collected over the last several years. And what these programs are, are very simple screens, like the ones that supermarket clerks or shipping and receiving clerks use, where all an analyst has to do is enter an email address or an IP address, and it does two things. It searches that database and lets them listen to the calls or read the emails of everything that the NSA has stored, or look at the browsing histories or Google search terms that you’ve entered, and it also alerts them to any further activity that people connected to that email address or that IP address do in the future. And it’s all done with no need to go to a court, with no need to even get supervisor approval on the part of the analyst.

There are legal constraints for how you can spy on Americans. You can’t target them without going to the FISA court, but these systems allow analysts to listen to whatever emails they want, whatever telephone calls, browsing histories, Microsoft Word documents. It’s an incredibly powerful and invasive tool, exactly of the type that Mr. Snowden described, and NSA officials are going to be testifying before the Senate on Wednesday, and I defy them to deny that these programs work exactly as I just said.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But do we have any evidence that this capability, pretty explosive capability, any evidence that it was used?

GREENWALD: Well, there’s lots of evidence that there has been abuse on the part of the NSA. There was a report actually by your network, ABC News and Brian Ross, from several years ago, where NSA analysts, low-level ones, got caught eavesdropping on the telephone conversations between soldiers and their girlfriends who were stationed in Iraq and America. There have been reports in the New York Times that the NSA has wildly exceeded the scope of the legal limits that the law allows. There are all sorts of admissions, including this week in a letter to Senator Wyden by James Clapper, that the NSA has exceeded even the legal authority that it acknowledges it has, and they write it off to inadvertent keystrokes or technological confusion.

The real issue here is that what the NSA does is done in complete secrecy. Nobody really monitors who they are eavesdropping on, and so the question of abuse is one that the Congress ought to be investigating much more aggressively.

That’s a no to providing evidence to the claim that these capabilities have been used, in case you missed it among the rhetorical bombs, but a lot of suspicious activity surrounding the issue. Greenwald is correct that “The real issue here is that what the NSA does is done in complete secrecy.” Furthermore, private corporations have even less transparency than the government, and thus the corporatization of the defense industry has taken an iffy situation and opened the door to all kinds of egregious opportunism for a for-profit corporation.

Fresher than that ongoing nightmare is this notion that a low level analyst like Snowden had authority to spy on the President. If this is true, and he says it is and Greenwald believes it as well, this means that the President is not in charge of what the NSA is doing.

This shouldn’t be news either, but apparently it is to some who still believe that Hope meant Superman was going to change the world overnight. If the President could be a possible victim of NSA spying, then he clearly isn’t driving the boat.

Someone really needs to alert the press, because we were told that Obama’s poll numbers were going down because Americans don’t want people reading their emails. (Actually, more Americans want national security concerns to take precedence over personal liberty in that same poll.)

Once again, the easy target is a fail. While Obama has changed DC in ways the media will never tell you about, because he doesn’t play their John McCain ranch BBQ party games and lobbyists no longer have direct access to the White House as they did under Bush, if anyone thinks any president can change our corporatized defense industry, they are in for a rude and frightening surprise.

Logic Fail: This is all Obama’s fault, but low level analysts at the NSA have the authority to spy on the President. Wouldn’t a real dictator make sure that they didn’t have authority to spy on said dictator? Either Obama is a really bad dictator, or he isn’t actually in charge of the defense industry which we’ve just been told doesn’t follow the law (shocking!).

Should the NSA be regulated and overseen by some agency since they’re pushing Congress around? Gosh, that would be nice. Now, who’s going to make that happen….

Playdate over.

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