Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) wants to know if the NSA is snooping on Congress, and asked the question of the agency’s director point-blank today.
Sanders wrote in the letter to National Security Agency Director Gen. Keith Alexander that he believes the metadata gathering exposed by Edward Snowden is “unconstitutional,” citing U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon’s description of the surveillance as “almost Orwellian.”
He noted as “equally disturbing” the revelations that the NSA has listened in on phone calls of world leaders, causing “serious foreign policy setbacks for the United States.”
“Indeed, we must be vigilant and aggressive in protecting the American people from the very real danger of terrorist attacks. I believe, however, that we can do that effectively without undermining the constitutional rights that make us a free country,” Sanders wrote.
“I am writing today to ask you one very simple question. Has the NSA spied, or is the NSA currently spying, on members of Congress or other American elected officials? ‘Spying’ would include gathering metadata on calls made from officials 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.”
Sanders has introduced legislation to put strict limits on sweeping powers used by the NSA and FBI to secretly track telephone calls. Authorities wouldn’t be able to get the sort of open-ended court order allowing for vast data collection and would have to establish reasonable suspicion to get a court order allowing a surveillance operation.
At a June Senate Appropriations subcommittee hearing, Attorney General Eric Holder brushed off a question from Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) on whether they were spying on the legislative branch.
“I want to just ask, could you assure to us that no phones inside the Capitol were monitored of members of Congress that would give a future executive branch, if they started pulling this kind of thing up, that would give them unique leverage over the legislature?” Kirk asked.
“With all due respect, Senator I don’t think this is an appropriate setting for me to discuss that issue. I’d be more than glad to come back in a — in an appropriate setting to discuss the issues that — that you have raised,” Holder responded.
“I would interrupt you and say the correct answer would be to say no, we stayed within our lane and I’m assuring you we did not spy on members of Congress,” Kirk interjected.