NSA spying under fire: 'You've got a problem'

Congress said they never intended to allow the National Security Agency to build a database of every phone call in America.
Associated Press
Jul 17, 2013

In a heated confrontation over domestic spying, members of Congress said Wednesday they never intended to allow the National Security Agency to build a database of every phone call in America. And they threatened to curtail the government's surveillance authority.

Top Obama administration officials countered that the once-secret program was legal and necessary to keep America safe. And they left open the possibility they could build similar databases of people's credit card transactions, hotel records and Internet searches.

The clash on Capitol Hill undercut President Barack Obama's assurances that Congress had fully understood the dramatic expansion of government power it authorized repeatedly over the past decade.

The House Judiciary Committee hearing also represented perhaps the most public, substantive congressional debate on surveillance powers since the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Previous debates have been largely theoretical and legalistic, with officials in the Bush and Obama administrations keeping the details hidden behind the cloak of classified information.

That changed last month when former government contractor Edward Snowden leaked documents to the Guardian newspaper revealing that the NSA collects every American's phone records, knowing that the overwhelming majority of people have no ties to terrorism.

Civil rights groups have warned for years that the government would use the USA Patriot Act to conduct such wholesale data collection. The government denied it.

The Obama administration says it needs a library of everyone's phone records so that when it finds a suspected terrorist, it can search its archives for the suspect's calling habits. The administration says the database was authorized under a provision in the Patriot Act that Congress hurriedly passed after 9/11 and reauthorized in 2005 and 2010.

The sponsor of that bill, Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., said Wednesday that Congress meant only to allow seizures directly relevant to national security investigations. No one expected the government to obtain every phone record and store them in a huge database to search later.

As Deputy Attorney General James Cole explained why that was necessary, Sensenbrenner cut him off and reminded him that his surveillance authority expires in 2015.

"And unless you realize you've got a problem," Sensenbrenner said, "that is not going to be renewed."

He was followed by Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., who picked up where his colleague left off. The problem, he said, is that the administration considers "everything in the world" relevant to fighting terrorism.

Later, Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Texas, asked whether the NSA could build similar databases of everyone's Internet searches, hotel records and credit card transactions.

Robert S. Litt, general counsel in the Office of Director of National Intelligence, didn't directly answer, saying it would depend on whether the government believed those records — like phone records — to be relevant to terrorism investigations.

After the phone surveillance became public, Obama assured Americans that Congress was well aware of what was going on.

"When it comes to telephone calls, every member of Congress has been briefed on this program," he said.

Whether lawmakers willingly kept themselves in the dark or were misled, it was apparent Wednesday that one of the key oversight bodies in Congress remained unclear about the scope of surveillance, more than a decade after it was authorized.

The Judiciary Committee's senior Democrat, Rep. John Conyers of Michigan, noted that the panel had "primary jurisdiction" over the surveillance laws that were the foundation for the NSA programs. Yet one lawmaker, Rep. Ted Poe, R-Texas, said some members of Congress wouldn't have known about the NSA surveillance without the sensational leaks: "Snowden, I don't like him at all, but we would never have known what happened if he hadn't told us."

The NSA says it only looks at numbers as part of narrow terrorism investigations, but that doesn't tell the whole story.

For the first time, NSA deputy director John C. Inglis disclosed Wednesday that the agency sometimes conducts what's known as three-hop analysis. That means the government can look at the phone data of a suspect terrorist, plus the data of all of his contacts, then all of those people's contacts, and finally, all of those people's contacts.

If the average person calls 40 unique people, three-hop analysis could allow the government to mine the records of 2.5 million Americans when investigating one suspected terrorist.

Rep Randy Forbes, R-Va., said such a huge database was ripe for government abuse. When Inglis said there was no evidence of that, Forbes interrupted:

"I said I wasn't going to yell at you and I'm going to try not to. That's exactly what the American people are worried about," he said. "That's what's infuriating the American people. They're understanding that if you collect that amount of data, people can get access to it in ways that can harm them."

The government says it stores everybody's phone records for five years. Cole explained that because the phone companies don't keep records that long, the NSA had to build its own database.

Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, asked why the government didn't simply ask the phone companies to keep their data longer. That way, the government could ask for specific information, rather than collecting information on millions of innocent people.

Inglis said it would be challenging, but the government was looking into it.

Near the end of the hearing, Litt struck a compromising tone. He said national security officials had tried to balance privacy and security.

"If the people in Congress decide that we've struck that balance in the wrong place, that's a discussion we need to have," he said.

Obama, too, has said he welcomes the debate over surveillance. But his administration never wanted the debate to be quite so specific.

That was obvious when Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., asked Litt whether he really believed the government could keep such a vast surveillance program a secret forever.

"Well," Litt replied, "we tried."



Darwin's choice

And......we're off......!

Raoul Duke

So, anglo saxons can be terrorists too...


Oh shirt! Now I am in trouble, I was researching the internet for the best quality (pressure cooker) on the market.


There you go again

Doesn't this make you feel a little uneasy?!?


The only people it DOESN'T make uneasy are those who are either naive or stupid enough to believe that the government ALWAYS works in our best interests, that there are NO corrupt politicians or administrators, that nobody will EVER be charged with a crime in error, that no records will EVER be hacked or leaked...

In other words, yeah, just the stupid ones aren't uneasy. I'd also point out that, as much as I loathe Barack Obama, his minions, and his agenda, this whole nightmare scenario became possible because of a sweeping law passed as a knee jerk reaction under the auspices of the Bush administration. (I could also point out that, at the time, Senator Barack Obama was a vocal critic. But now that HE'S got the power, well, power does corrupt, doesn't it?)


Excellent comment! Well said.

The Hero Zone's picture
The Hero Zone

Agreed, Sam. Now let's just make sure that they won't have access to our medical re-

Hmmm. Ok, well how about making sure they can't spy on us in our own back ya-


Bank acco-

Internet sea-


What the heck is wrong with my keyboard? It keeps coming to sudden stops of realization. Aren't these things regulated yet? Sheesh. Can I please get some federal oversight on thi-



In the immortal (and frankly laughable in context) words of Nancy Reagan: Just. Say. NO.

Civil disobedience, spread broadly enough, will get us back to where we ought to be. But gosh, that might involve some inconvenience, so which of us can be bothered???

Here's some ideas to start: STOP USING GOOGLE. DuckDuckGo, Ixquick, and StartPage are all excellent search engines, and NONE of them track you. STOP USING GMAIL, YAHOO MAIL, etc. Yeah, they're free. Know how the companies make money? They scan, analyze, and USE the content of every email you send and receive. TURN OFF YOUR SMART PHONE unless you actually need it. DON'T USE WIFI unless you don't have a problem with data collection (by businesses and government) or data compromise (by criminals and government).

Oh, and most important: Get off your butt and get politically active. The one thing that all politicians of all stripes have in common? They're vote whores. Threaten their jobs, and they'll come around. That's why most are so poll-driven rather than principle-driven. So give them poll results to think about!

Oops. There I go again. Actually making people consider minor inconveniences in exchange for more privacy, and more freedom. SHAME on me!


Do you use Facebook or Twitter?
IF you do --- shut the hell up.


What do Facebook or Twitter have to do with anything (other than the fact the feds monitor them, too)? And why, if I DID have anything to do with Facebook (I don't; far too many privacy breaches there already) or Twitter, would that imply I should shut up, here or anywhere else?

Maybe I'm misunderstanding. On the other hand, maybe your disregard for the Fourth and Fifth Amendments extends to the First...


"What do Facebook or Twitter have to do with anything ..."
..............When you spill your guts out in the public , and tell people your every move and thought -- you can't cry "privacy"!
You open yourself to strangers , terrorists , gov't, but still want privacy? Amazing!


Oh, I agree that many people on Facebook, Twitter, their own blogs, etc. reveal far, FAR too much about themselves. But tell me, if you'd be so kind, what private information have I revealed about myself here today, eh?


" But tell me, if you'd be so kind, what private information have I revealed about myself here today, eh?"
.........Why, I'd be most happy to tell you :
You don't subscribe to Facebook.
You don't subscribe to Twitter.

You hate the President.
You encourage rebelling against the gov't.
(Those last two don't make you look too good.)
How's that , eh?


LOL! None of that is private; and you're wrong on more than one of them. So apparently I didn't give much away after all, did I?

For the record, I truly do hate the Obama agenda and everything that's being done to accomplish it. But do I encourage open rebellion? Nope. Civil disobedience? Yes. Peaceful protests? Yes. Political activism? Absolutely. REBELLION? Only if it consists of the aforementioned as opposed to anything more drastic.

Good try, though! And if it makes you feel any better, the only thing I know with certainty about YOU from your postings here is that you're a hypocrite. Go ahead and tell me you supported George W. Bush, John Ashcroft, and the USA PATRIOT Act. I won't hold my breath...


"LOL! None of that is private; and you're wrong on more than one of them. So apparently I didn't give much away after all, did I?"
..............It's not private any more. And if I'm wrong on any of them - that makes you a liar.
Rebel / disobey = semantics. No difference, except in your head.

"Good try, though! And if it makes you feel any better, the only thing I know with certainty about YOU from your postings here is that you're a hypocrite."
................I know that you are an irrational , frightened little person and I couldn't care less about your opinions.
Please hold your breath.


"the only thing I know with certainty about YOU from your postings here is that you're a hypocrite. Go ahead and tell me you supported George W. Bush, John Ashcroft, and the USA PATRIOT Act. I"
....................Hmmmm ,I've changed my mind. I realize now I got caught up in other people's BS and I didn't do my homework.

The Big Dog's back

I've got the power hey yeah heh
I've got the power
I've got the power

Like the crack of the whip I snap attack
Front to back in this thing called rap
Dig it like a shovel rhyme devil
On a heavenly level
Bang the bass turn up the treble
Radical mind day and night all the time
Seven to fourteen wise divine
Maniac brainiac winning the game
I'm the lyrical Jesse James

Oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh yeah-eah-eah-eah-eah-eah
I've got the power
Oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh yeah
Say Loud!
I've got the power

Quality I possess something I'm fresh
When my voice goes through the rest
Of the microphone that I am holdin'
Copywritten lyrics so they can't be stolen
If they are snap
Don't need the police to try to save them
Your voice will sink so please stay off my back
Or I will attack and you don't want that

It's gettin' it's gettin' it's gettin' kinda hectic
It's gettin' it's gettin' it's gettin' kinda hectic
It's gettin' it's gettin' it's gettin' kinda hectic
It's gettin' it's gettin' it's gettin' kinda hectic

I've got the power
I've got the power
I've got the power
I've got the power
Yeah! Yeah!
I've got the power


Really are you ...

"... never intended to allow the National Security Agency to build a data base of every phone call in America." The members of congress are probably upset because their phone calls are in that database also. Lets see who they have been trading insider secrets with. Lets see who their key lobbyists are? Exposing how corrupt they really are, and how much they only care obout themselves.



Both Eliot Spitzer's and David Petraeus' dalliances were discovered through phone records.

And their respective political enemies utilized the accidentally discovered info to its fullest extent.


Some of you people really have to get over yourselves and deal with your paranoia. Do you really think the government cares about you and your little trivial conversations? I say better safe than sorry.


Yes it is better to be safe. Maybe you should build yourself a nice safe shelter in you basement and make sure no one can get in. That would be safe, wouldn't it? After all, in your own words,"I say better safe than sorry". I just want you to be safe. We can make sure you are safe as long as you stay locked in your basement shelter.

How safe do you wish to REALLY be? II prefer to be more free than safe, but then that's me. Obviously, since you put no limits on what will make you safe, you prefer to live in your locked shelter in the basement. (sarcasm) Figured I better add that since some people are rather dense about obvious sarcasm.


While your were typing this did you have the National Anthem playing in the background or listening Glenn Beck? Why do police carry weapons? Why do we have nuclear bombs? Why do we have border patrols? Have an alarm in your car, home or maybe even around your neck? Why? TO BE SAFE! My freedom is not at stake here. I'm more concerned about the radical right and their love of guns and bibles!! I will fight to defend this nation--I have no desire to establish some crack-pot militia because I don't like the color of my President's skin!!!


I am listening to Blues in the background. I let others listen to the so-called political pundits and talking heads, which do you have on? We have nuclear bomb, well really I think most are installed on missiles now, there might be some for bombers for a second strike capability. We have them to use when and where needed. I don't have a car alarm as most people ignore car alarms since they tend to go off for little to no reason, and most people ignore them now. I have dogs that my wife has brought home and we foster for rescue groups. Much more effective than an alarm system. But I wouldn't have an alarm system where I live, not needed. I let you have your alarm system around your neck. Remember when danger is seconds away the police are 20 minutes away, unless they are on another call. Does that make you feel safe? You can decide to be scared of bibles and legally owned firearms all you wish, if that is how you wish to live your life in your locked shelter in your basement. Can you point me in the direction of these local crack-pot militias? I haven't noticed them yet and would like the chance to keep my eye on such misguided individuals, they sound like they should be made public so we can be informed of wakkos. Why don't you like the color of your President's skin? I would be more interested in the content of his policies if I were you. he is pushing for more power for the federal gov't by continuing bush's policies and expanding on them. Not a good thing to do for individuals in the country.

Peninsula Pundit

I'd hate to feel I have to live in this country and accept the level of surveillance meowmix and deertracker will before they feel 'safe'.
America is the Home of the Brave.
Sometimes Bravery doesn't consist of going into burning homes.
Sometimes Bravery means being unafraid American citizens.
It's really sad to see comments like theirs, so ignorant of the very founding principles the country they live in was founded upon.


I am puzzled by those of you who think I am "afraid". Quite the contrary, far from it. I don't base where I go or what I do on the possibility of a terrorist attack. Over 50 terrorist plots have been thwarted due to the NSA and their eavesdropping. People like you want to put up a 700 mile fence to keep out illegal aliens but have a problem with someone seeing that you called Aunt Fanny.


You are the one who wants the federal gov't to copy all communications to make you feel safe. We only have what you have said to know how far you wish to go for feeling safe. You have not put any type of limit on what the federal gov't or anyone else do as long as it makes you feel safe. Personally I feel safe without the federal gov't copying every communication made in this country. You seem to not want the borders fenced to keep out the people coming across borders. No matter who they are or what they want to do. Are you now guaranteeing that a terrorist can't and won't cross the border with intent to make a terrorist attack? If so with what are you backing up that guarantee with? Your life? your kid's lives? Your Aunt's Fanny?


I am puzzled also. Where did he get the idea anyone was afraid?


lololol---republican/conservatives don't need to eavesdrop..they can read minds... :}


lets see as far as reading minds goes: you have thus far claimed to know what radio program I have on in the background, what I think of the border fence, what reason I want a border fence, and that I have an Aunt Fanny. (again that last one is sarcasm for those who don't recognize it) Seems to me on what you have already written in just this thread you are the one who reads minds. But then that is only what you have written so far.

The Big Dog's back

deertracker, he looked in the mirror.