With such a massive list of targeted people, and low-level analysts able to make the decision to listen in without a warrant, how easy would it be for a request from a partisan operative to eavesdrop on the opposition to be slotted into the daily routine? Who’s keeping track of the analysts to make sure they are only listening in to targeted phone calls?

The potential for immediate abuse of this program is immense. You don’t have to be wearing a tin foil hat to imagine the worst. If the appetite to make a mockery of our constitutional protections is there, the NSA appears to have a program to sate it.

And it is equally clear that the entire upperlevels of American intelligence have been lying to Congress about how this program works. The NSA doesn’t need a FISA warrant to access the contents of domestic phone calls. That’s the bottom line, despite protestations to the contrary from the spooks.

AT&T and other telecommunications companies that allow the NSA to tap into their fiber links receive absolute immunity from civil liability or criminal prosecution, thanks to a law that Congress enacted in 2008 and renewed in 2012. It’s a series of amendments to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, also known as the FISA Amendments Act.

That law says surveillance may be authorized by the attorney general and director of national intelligence without prior approval by the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, as long as minimization requirements and general procedures blessed by the court are followed.

A requirement of the 2008 law is that the NSA “may not intentionally target any person known at the time of acquisition to be located in the United States.” A possible interpretation of that language, some legal experts said, is that the agency may vacuum up everything it can domestically — on the theory that indiscriminate data acquisition was not intended to “target” a specific American citizen.

The National Security State, the Surveillance State, the Military Industrial Complex — whatever you want to call it, it’s out of control and has become a serious threat to American liberty. Can it be tamed? The Church Committee in the 1970s uncovered serious abuses by the CIA, and their recommendations nearly destroyed the agency. Realizing the necessity for intelligence gathering in a post-9/11 world, there has to be a way to allow the CIA, NSA, DIA, and other intelligence agencies to do their jobs without threatening our privacy or 4th Amendment rights. The almost magical technology that allows our government to snoop can be employed to protect our rights as well. All that’s lacking is the effort and imagination to do so.

Note: Read Matt Vespa’s update to this story. Rep. Nadler apparently misspoke.

(Also read Ed Driscoll: “Warrants? The NSA Don’t Need No Steeenking Warrants!”)