WASHINGTON — Responding to an inquiry by Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, The National Security Agency director did not rule out collecting intelligence on members of Congress.
“In recent months, the American people have learned that a record of virtually every telephone call made in the United States is placed in an NSA database, that as many as 35 foreign leaders – including some of our strongest allies – have had their cell phones monitored, and that the NSA has intercepted Americans’ emails and monitored their Internet traffic,” Sanders said.
The senator called the NSA surveillance program “a clear violation of the Fourth Amendment ban on unreasonable searches” and said “strong new limits are needed to protect the privacy and civil liberties of the American people.” U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon, he noted, recently called the NSA program “almost Orwellian” and probably unconstitutional.
Sanders welcomed broad assurances by Gen. Keith Alexander, the NSA director, that the agency has not specifically targeted members of Congress or other elected officials in gathering records on millions of Americans.
“Nothing NSA does can fairly be characterized as ‘spying on members of Congress or other American elected officials,’” Alexander asserted in a letter to Sanders.
But the director’s letter and a separate statement that the NSA issued to reporters did not rule out that records swept up by the NSA may include data on elected officials.
“The NSA is collecting enormous amounts of information,” Sanders said. “They know about the phone calls made by every person in this country, where they’re calling, who they’re calling and how long they’re on the phone. Let us not forget that a mere 40 years ago we had a president of the United States who completely disregarded the law in an effort to destroy his political opponents. In my view, the information collected by the NSA has the potential to give an unscrupulous administration enormous power over elected officials.”
Sanders has introduced legislation that would bar the wholesale collection of phone records without a warrant.
The NSA or FBI would have to convince a judge that there was a reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing in order to justify each specific search for records.