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Ron Paul: “Authorized” Spying Is The Real Problem

Thanks to more documents leaked by Edward Snowden, this time to the Washington Post, we learned last week that a secret May 2012 internal audit by the National Security Agency (NSA) revealed 2,776 incidents of “unauthorized” collection of information on American citizens over the previous twelve months. They are routinely…

Thanks to more documents leaked by Edward Snowden, this time to the Washington Post, we learned last week that a secret May 2012 internal audit by the National Security Agency (NSA) revealed 2,776 incidents of “unauthorized” collection of information on American citizens over the previous twelve months. They are routinely breaking their own rules and covering it up.

The Post article quotes an NSA spokesman assuring the paper that the NSA attempts to identify such problems “at the earliest possible moment.” But what happened to all those communications intercepted improperly in the meantime? The answer is, they were logged and stored anyway.

We also learned that the NSA routinely intercepts information from Americans while actually targeting foreigners, and that this is not even considered a violation. These intercepts are not deleted once discovered, even though they violate the government’s own standards. As the article reports, “once added to its databases, absent other restrictions, the communications of Americans may be searched freely.”

The Post article quotes an NSA official explaining that the thousands of unauthorized communications intercepts yearly are relatively insignificant. “You can look at it as a percentage of our total activity that occurs each day. You look at a number in absolute terms that looks big, and when you look at it in relative terms, it looks a little different.”

So although the numbers of Americans who have had their information intercepted in violation of NSA’s own rules seems large, it is actually miniscule compared to the huge volume of our communications they intercept in total!

Though it made for a sensational headline last week, the fact is these 2,776 “violations” over the course of one year are completely irrelevant. The millions and millions of “authorized” intercepts of our communications are all illegal — except for the very few carried out in pursuit of a validly-issued search warrant in accordance with the Fourth Amendment. That is the real story. Drawing our attention to the violations unfortunately sends the message that the “authorized” spying on us is nothing to be concerned about.

When information about the massive NSA domestic spying program began leaking earlier in the summer, Deputy Attorney General James Cole assured us of the many levels of safeguards to prevent the unauthorized collection, storage, and distribution of our communications. He promised to explain the NSA’s record “in as transparent a way as we possibly can.”

Yet two months later we only discover from more leaked documents the thousands of times communications were intercepted in violation of their own standards! It is hardly reassuring, therefore, when they promise us they will be more forthcoming in the future. No one believes them because they have lied and covered up continuously. The only time any light at all is shone on these criminal acts by the government is when a whistleblower comes forth with new and ever more disturbing information.

Americans are increasingly concerned over these violations of their privacy. Calls for reform grow. However, whenever Washington finds itself in a scandal, the government responds by naming a government panel made up of current and former government employees to investigate any mistakes the government might have made. The recommendations invariably are that even more government employees must be hired to provide an additional layer or two of oversight. That is supposed to reassure us that reforms have been made, while in fact it is just insiders covering up for those who have hired them to investigate.

Let us hope the American people will decide that such trickery is no longer acceptable. It is time to take a very serious look at the activities of the US intelligence community. The first step would be a dramatic reduction in appropriations to force a focus on those real, not imagined, threats to our national security. We should not be considered the enemy.

Ron Paul is a former U.S. Congressman from Texas and the leader of the pro-liberty, pro-free market movement in the United States. His weekly column – reprinted with permission – can be found here.

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20 comments

Frank Pytel August 19, 2013 at 8:44 am

Excellent.

Reply
CNSYD August 19, 2013 at 9:09 am

Do you and Ron Paul check under your beds?

Reply
Frank Pytel August 19, 2013 at 8:44 am

Excellent.

Reply
CNSYD August 19, 2013 at 9:09 am

Do you and Ron Paul check under your beds?

Reply
Smirks August 19, 2013 at 8:48 am

Citizens being forced to give up their rights in exchange for a false sense of security against a terrorist threat that usually does not exist, that’s what post-9/11 America is now. It doesn’t matter how many rights you give up, terrorist acts like the Boston bombing are not stoppable. If your house can be broken into without a warrant, if you can be wiretapped without any justification, if you can have your private data rummaged through without an investigation actually being carried out on you, if you can be arrested and indefinitely detained without ever seeing your day in court, what should you be afraid of? Some random dude that’s screwed up in the head, or a huge organization with massive funding you cannot stop that has turned its ire onto you?

Being a victim of a terrorist attack at least requires that you be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Being a victim of aggressive government voyeurism only requires that you make a phone call, surf the web, send an email or an instant message. How long until indefinite detention is used on those who don’t accept it quietly?

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Frank Pytel August 19, 2013 at 9:16 am

What “if”? It’s happening now.

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Smirks August 19, 2013 at 8:48 am

Citizens being forced to give up their rights in exchange for a false sense of security against a terrorist threat that usually does not exist, that’s what post-9/11 America is now. It doesn’t matter how many rights you give up, terrorist acts like the Boston bombing are not stoppable. If your house can be broken into without a warrant, if you can be wiretapped without any justification, if you can have your private data rummaged through without an investigation actually being carried out on you, if you can be arrested and indefinitely detained without ever seeing your day in court, what should you be afraid of? Some random dude that’s screwed up in the head, or a huge organization with massive funding you cannot stop that has turned its ire onto you?

Being a victim of a terrorist attack at least requires that you be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Being a victim of aggressive government voyeurism only requires that you make a phone call, surf the web, send an email or an instant message. How long until indefinite detention is used on those who don’t accept it quietly?

Reply
Frank Pytel August 19, 2013 at 9:16 am

What “if”? It’s happening now.

Reply
idiotwind August 19, 2013 at 9:26 am

way to go Paul – terrorists have civil rights too. why isn’t this guy dead yet?

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Frank Pytel August 19, 2013 at 10:09 am

I will not submit my rights for destruction for your personal safety.

Buy a gun if you’re that skeered.

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CNSYD August 19, 2013 at 10:53 am

The problem with your “rights” is that you think they trump everyone else’s “rights”.

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? August 19, 2013 at 2:04 pm

Who decides who is a terrorist? Obama?

What does that have to do with the right to privacy? Are they mutually exclusive?

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idiotwind August 19, 2013 at 9:26 am

way to go Paul – terrorists have civil rights too. why isn’t this guy dead yet?

Reply
Frank Pytel August 19, 2013 at 10:09 am

I will not submit my rights for destruction for your personal safety.

Buy a gun if you’re that skeered.

Reply
CNSYD August 19, 2013 at 10:53 am

The problem with your “rights” is that you think they trump everyone else’s “rights”.

Reply
tomstickler August 19, 2013 at 11:29 am

I guess there are no US citizens that might be involved in “terrorist activities”, right? Like Dzhokhar Tsarnaev?

While the intercepts of Tsarnaev’s calls, emails, etc. metadata were not able to prevent the Marathon bombings, the fact that those intercepts remained on file may be available for after-the-fact analysis certainly offers the opportunity for discovering co-conspirators.

It is a Libertarian fantasy that you can have a functioning government with a “transparent” intelligence service.

Reply
JC August 19, 2013 at 4:49 pm

And what is your fantasy? To have an all-seeing government who collects data on its own citizens and threatens imprisonment or execution to someone brave enough to reveal the scope of said spying? That “intelligence service” is paid for by our tax dollars, and those authorized programs only exist through acts of politicians that are supposed to express our will. Who the hell are they to demand our money and then tell us we can’t know what they’re doing? People like you are the first to extol the virtues of American exceptionalism in justifying our never-ending wars, but yet are also the first to argue for the curbing all of the “freedoms” you say may America great. And lone-wolf acts of terrorism can almost never be prevented, unless you’re prepared to live in an East German/North Korean type of regime, which we are headed towards quicker than most people would like to admit. The real means of preventing terrorism is to end our military meddling in countries where we aren’t wanted. Fighting unnecessary wars based on lies, killing innocent civilians with predator drones, propping up strong men dictators and slavish support for Israel makes many sensible people in Muslim countries radical, and provides terrorist groups with men ready and willing to kill us, not because of our “freedom”, but because of our actions.

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CNSYD August 20, 2013 at 8:43 am

Why according to JC we should have publicized the fact that we had broken the German and Japanese codes in WWII. Hell we paid for it to happen so we have a right to know. Did the Rosenbergs do anything wrong? They were US citizens and their taxes paid for the Manhattan Project.

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JC August 20, 2013 at 12:07 pm

Your response is bs and you know it. You are talking apples and oranges. You mention codes related to the Japanese and German militaries. Nowhere in keeping these codes private is a citizen’s own right to privacy violated, and neither the German or Japanese pay for our government’s expenditures. What I am talking about is the government, via agencies paid for by tax dollars, violating the privacy of its citizens by secretly collecting hordes of metadata and emails of every American, and then lying about it to the public and Congress. Our government exists only so long as the governed consent to it. It exists through our will and our money. It is ridiculous for the government to assert that the very people who pay for its operation have no right to know they are being spied on, or that their data is being horded by a secretive agency more apropos in North Korea or China than in a country that claims itself free.

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tomstickler August 19, 2013 at 11:29 am

I guess there are no US citizens that might be involved in “terrorist activities”, right? Like Dzhokhar Tsarnaev?

While the intercepts of Tsarnaev’s calls, emails, etc. metadata were not able to prevent the Marathon bombings, the fact that those intercepts remained on file may be available for after-the-fact analysis certainly offers the opportunity for discovering co-conspirators.

It is a Libertarian fantasy that you can have a functioning government with a “transparent” intelligence service.

Reply

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