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Madame Feinstein and the NSA

Senator Diane Feinstein (D-Ca.) is the Chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee. She and her closest aides are privy to some of the nation’s most closely guarded secrets above and beyond that of an ordinary member of the intelligence committee. When a highly sensitive covert operation requiring a presidential “finding” be reported to Congress hers is one of the very few offices in the loop and one of the first to be briefed.

Senator Feinstein is also suddenly shocked that the NSA, which was set up to spy on foreign governments and has been briefing her for years – is allegedly spying on foreign governments:

“It is abundantly clear that a total review of all intelligence programs is necessary so that members of the Senate Intelligence Committee are fully informed as to what is actually being carried out by the intelligence community,” Feinstein said in a statement to reporters.

“Unlike NSA’s collection of phone records under a court order, it is clear to me that certain surveillance activities have been in effect for more than a decade and that the Senate Intelligence Committee was not satisfactorily informed.

With respect to NSA collection of intelligence on leaders of US allies – including France, Spain, Mexico and Germany – let me state unequivocally: I am totally opposed.

Lest you be forgiven for thinking that Senator Feinstein was chairing an intelligence committee in some other universe than the one in which we live, she recently had this to say about NSA domestic mass surveillance of ordinary Americans (which the NSA is not supposed to be doing at all except in very narrow circumstances):

The NSA call-records program is legal and subject to extensive congressional and judicial oversight. Above all, the program has been effective in helping to prevent terrorist plots against the U.S. and our allies. Congress should adopt reforms to improve transparency and privacy protections, but I believe the program should continue.

The call-records program is not surveillance. It does not collect the content of any communication, nor do the records include names or locations. The NSA only collects the type of information found on a telephone bill: phone numbers of calls placed and received, the time of the calls and duration. The Supreme Court has held this “metadata” is not protected under the Fourth Amendment.

Set aside the cutesy and deliberately misleading part about the underlying metadata case which was decided in a radically different context than NSA mass surveillance – these two statements together effectively mean that Senator Feinstein is ok with the NSA functioning unfettered as the world’s most powerful secret police agency but not as an agency tasked with acquiring foreign intelligence. Doing things, like, you know, espionage to discover the real views of other world leaders….


Now fairness admits that there are other possibilities for Chairman Feinstein’s public statements:

  • Senator Feinstein is giving “cover” for allied leaders to save face with their domestic critics up in arms about US spying by throwing them a bone to help them calm their voters and media.
  • Senator Feinstein is playing to the Left wing of her own Party and in the California electorate
  • Senator Feinstein is sticking a well-deserved knife in the backs of a few people high up in the NSA and the White House for previous slights directed at her personally and her committee
  • Senator Feinstein sees herself presiding in nationally televised Church Hearings II, starring the heroic Diane Feinstein
  • Senator Feinstein is a loose cannon

Your guess is as good as mine, but the idea of America getting out of the foreign intel business or taking German crocodile tears at face value is harebrained.

10 Responses to “Madame Feinstein and the NSA”

  1. Duncan Kinder Says:

    How many times do I have to post this?

    “As always, should you or any of your IM force be caught or killed, the Secretary will disavow any knowledge of your actions. Good luck, Jim. This tape will self-destruct in five seconds.”

  2. joey Says:

    A few quick points.

    *Thank you Edward Snowden, thanks, and thanks again,  you have done the world a solid, is this the first instance of the super empowered individual?  He took on the superpower, has he won? remains to be seen.
    What is very clear is he placed his moral considerations higher than his patriotism.  We need, as a race, more like this.

    *Merkel couldnt give a damn when she found out that the NSA was hoovering up German citizens data, she had a freakout when she realized her phone was being tapped (this has been noted in Germany)

    *Whatever the Senators motivations,  she is correct in the position she is taking.  From a Moral and Ethical  point of view,  and in an argument from common sense too. 

    *America has become an object of fear.  Merkels maybe crocodile tears,  but the tears and outrage of normal EU citizens is very real.

    *If the NSA is tapping the phones world and EU leaders as a matter of course,  It would would stand to reason that they have riddled every trade and diplomatic mission ever negotiating with Washington.  Untold billions..

    *The sneering has stopped,  oh no, it looks like the silly non English speaking peoples of the world are serious.  Americans seem to find the whole business of foreigners jumping up and down as amusing.
    The world has noted this attitude,  just saying. 

  3. Jay Says:

    The first super empowered individual? I don’t think so. The last one I can think of might be a Tunisian street vendor named Mohamed Bouazizi who set himself on fire roughly three years ago.
    Snowdens efforts don’t really seem to be accomplishing much more than occasional headlines and pissing off various national leaders and, likely, their intel services. If anything he’s taken the wind out of his own sails after a fashion with this latest leak by shifting the lime light away from the domestic operations the NSA was/is conducting. The huffing and puffing from across the pond is understandable theater but other than the embarrassment of getting caught there’s nothing terribly remarkable about allies spying on each other.

  4. joey Says:

    There huffing and puffing down south too,  but I’m sure you give even less of a shit about that.  More power to you sir.  I salute your pragmatism.  The only countries that seem to be keeping strum are the various allied dictators,  pragmatists too. 


  5. zen Says:

    *The sneering has stopped,  oh no, it looks like the silly non English speaking peoples of the world are serious.  Americans seem to find the whole business of foreigners jumping up and down as amusing”
    It is amusing because the Europeans – especially their media-  know very well that their governments are spying on the US, American businessmen and corporations as well as each other. I will take this seriously only from citizens of states without intelligence servives, a group that does not include that other indignant nation, the Brazilians, who are among the most aggressive at espionage in all of Latin America.
    A French intel official, with the admirably cynical candor for which the French are known, admitted frankly that the real issue is professional and nationalistic jealousy of US sigint capacity – they are doing the very same on a much smaller scale due to technical limitations, not from moral objections.

  6. Jay Says:

    Yep, I lean more toward pragmatism rather than juvenile outrage. Did you happen to catch today’s FP article on South Korea and the quiet investigation the US is conducting into suspicions that they’re stealing military technology?

  7. Grurray Says:

    Now it’s clear.
    So that’s what they meant by ‘pivot to Asia’
    Pivot all our technology to be copied.
    Of course, no one could have seen this coming right – Koreans copying American technology –

  8. Lynn C. Rees Says:

    If Snowden was Raven and holding off the wrath of the US by his lonesome, maybe he’d be super-empowered. Since he’s reliant on either American self-restraint or his continued usefulness to another Great Power to shield him, he’s no more super duper than Theodore Hall or Benedict Arnold.

  9. joey Says:

    I seen,  interesting timing on the release.

    (there all at it see….even our closest allies…) 

    Its cool guys I guess I was wrong,  I can see that now.  Cheers for putting me right. 


  10. zen Says:

    Joey –
    Nobody is trying to “put you right” – People here, readers and contributors alike are free to disagree and tell me I’m wrong, it doesn’t bother me. I’m responding to your comment and giving you my opinion that clean hands are scarce

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