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Slamming the NSA | The Nation

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Robert Dreyfuss

Bob Dreyfuss

News of America’s misadventures in foreign policy and defense.

Slamming the NSA

White House

(AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

The National Security Agency (NSA) and its high-tech spying cohorts have been slammed by a federal judge and, if a report in Politico is to be believed, the presidential commission set up earlier this year by President Obama, after the barrage of leaks from Edward Snowden, is going to be a “doozy” that rocks the NSA.

But it remains to be seen if Obama will carry out all, or any, of his own commission’s recommendations. The commission delivered its still-secret report to the White House last Friday.

We’ll get to the judge’s ruling in a second, but first, the report in Politico by intelligence writer Matthew M. Aid, who writes that although the Review Group won’t please many civil libertarians since it endorses some of the more controversial parts of the NSA’s work, it also won’t please the NSA one bit:

The Review Group’s preliminary findings and recommendations are anything but cosmetic. The still-classified report of the five-person panel, whose official moniker is the Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technology, recommends sweeping and far-reaching changes in the way the NSA conducts its electronic surveillance operations, from a greater degree of executive-branch oversight of the agency’s operations to the imposition of new limits on what data it can collect, especially inside the United States—a move almost certain to anger the NSA and its supporters inside the U.S. intelligence community.

Politico adds, “U.S. intelligence officials I spoke with were clearly shocked by the Review Group’s recommendations, with one official admitting that he felt ‘slobbernockered’ by some of the things the panel was reportedly recommending.”

I’m not sure what “slobbernockered” means, but it doesn’t sound good if you’re the NSA.

Politico’s Aid quotes a Review Group staffer thus:

We had to go this route. If we did not recommend placing some additional controls and checks and balances on the NSA’s operations, the high-tech companies were going to kill us and Congress was going to burn the house down.

Now to the judge. As The Washington Post reports it, “A federal judge ruled Monday that the National Security Agency’s daily collection of virtually all Americans’ phone records is almost certainly unconstitutional.”

Although the judge, Richard J. Leon, stayed his decision for six months to give the feds time to appeal, and although this lower court ruling is just the first trip on a path that will ultimately lead to the Supreme Court, it’s a major blow to the NSA. Leon’s ruling, sixty-eight pages long, contains scathing denunciations of the NSA’s spying and data collection overreach.

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In an editorial, The Wall Street Journal expresses frantic alarm over the coming report by Obama’s Review Group, saying,

But the word on Capitol Hill is that the scope and radicalism of the recommendations stunned even this White House, not least because the task force was stacked with Obama loyalists. If the details are anything like the leaks, then the panel is advising the government to seriously degrade U.S. counterterror defenses and shut down several valuable surveillance assets in a dangerous world.

And the Journal goes on to link the report with Judge Leon’s decision and political opponents of the NSA:

The report lands at a bad political moment, with tea party Republicans and anti-antiterror Democrats smelling opportunity and sociopaths with stolen documents campaigning to harm U.S. national security. Federal Judge Richard Leon ruled Monday that phone metadata collection is unconstitutional, part of a larger post-Snowden legal assault.

We can only hope.

Read Next: Zoë Carpenter on why IT companies oppose government surveillance.

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