NSA doesn’t deny spying on Congress

US Capitol

The National Security Agency did not deny it spies on Congress when pressed by Sen. Bernie Sanders  in a letter to Gen. Keith Alexander, the outgoing director of the agency.

In the Jan. 3 letter, Sanders defined spying as “gathering metadata on calls made from official or personal phones, content from websites visited or emails sent, or collecting any other data from a third party not made available to the general public in the regular course of business.”

The NSA, in damage control mode since June when leaks from former contractor Edward Snowden began detailing the agency’s surveillance efforts of foreign citizens and Americans, responded to the inquiry Jan. 4 in a statement that tiptoed around Sanders’ question but did not deny that the agency collects communications metadata from U.S. lawmakers.

“NSA’s authorities to collect signals intelligence data include procedures that protect the privacy of US persons,” the statement reads. “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.”

Whether that “interaction” includes NSA surveillance of lawmakers’ communications was not directly addressed by the agency’s reply, however.

“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,” the statement said.

In recent months, media reports – bolstered by information delivered by Snowden – have detailed how the NSA has been able to eavesdrop on leaders in Germany, Mexico, Brazil and a host of other allies.

Reports have also detailed how Americans’ metadata are also gobbled up by the NSA’s enormous surveillance systems, including those that tap into global fiber optic lines and others that harness data from tech companies such as Yahoo and Google. These actions particularly concerned Sanders, who cited in his letter a recent ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon that such dragnets by the NSA were likely unconstitutional and “almost Orwellian.”

In late December, another judicial ruling – this one by U.S. District Court Judge William Pauley of New York – ruled that the NSA’s phone spying was a reasonable tool to combat terrorism.

The privacy debate is sure to rage on politically and in the courts, but the NSA’s non-denial that it spies on its overseers is likely to spark even closer attention from Congress.

About the Author

Frank Konkel is a former staff writer for FCW.

FCW in Print

In the latest issue: Looking back on three decades of big stories in federal IT.


  • Anne Rung -- Commerce Department Photo

    Exit interview with Anne Rung

    The government's departing top acquisition official said she leaves behind a solid foundation on which to build more effective and efficient federal IT.

  • Charles Phalen

    Administration appoints first head of NBIB

    The National Background Investigations Bureau announced the appointment of its first director as the agency prepares to take over processing government background checks.

  • Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.)

    Senator: Rigid hiring process pushes millennials from federal work

    Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) said agencies are missing out on younger workers because of the government's rigidity, particularly its protracted hiring process.

  • FCW @ 30 GPS

    FCW @ 30

    Since 1987, FCW has covered it all -- the major contracts, the disruptive technologies, the picayune scandals and the many, many people who make federal IT function. Here's a look back at six of the most significant stories.

  • Shutterstock image.

    A 'minibus' appropriations package could be in the cards

    A short-term funding bill is expected by Sept. 30 to keep the federal government operating through early December, but after that the options get more complicated.

  • Defense Secretary Ash Carter speaks at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference in San Francisco

    DOD launches new tech hub in Austin

    The DOD is opening a new Defense Innovation Unit Experimental office in Austin, Texas, while Congress debates legislation that could defund DIUx.

Reader comments

Tue, Jan 7, 2014

1984.... No wait its 2014....

Tue, Jan 7, 2014 Gov Emp101

So is the fact that the NSA surveils members of Congress worse than the fact they surveilled the public? If any group needed oversight........

Mon, Jan 6, 2014 Brandt Hardin United States

The dystopian fantasies of yesteryear are now a reality. We’ve allowed the coming of an age where the civil liberties our forefathers fought so hard for are being eroded by the day. Freedom of Press, Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Assembly are mere ghostly images of their original intent. We’ve woken up to an Orwellian Society of Fear where anyone is at the mercy of being labeled a terrorist for standing up for rights we took for granted just over a decade ago. Read about how we’re waging war against ourselves at http://dregstudiosart.blogspot.com/2011/09/living-in-society-of-fear-ten-years.html

Please post your comments here. Comments are moderated, so they may not appear immediately after submitting. We will not post comments that we consider abusive or off-topic.

Please type the letters/numbers you see above

More from 1105 Public Sector Media Group