To paraphrase Joseph Heller: Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t surveilling you.
In less than 24 hours, the spectre of the National Security Agency as a panopticon collecting data on every American has evolved from a conspiracy theory into reality. First, a leaked top secret order sent to Verizon and exposed on Wednesday evening showed that the agency requested the call records over three months of every American user of Verizon Business Network Services. A day later, the revelation of that surveillance has expanded to encompass Sprint and AT&T, too, as well as Internet service providers and even credit card companies. And now a separate leak has exposed another NSA program known as PRISM that reportedly created backdoors in every major tech firm, including Google GOOG +0.81%, Microsoft MSFT +1.53%, Facebook FB +0.96% and Apple.
The details of the last of those spying stories remain murky: All of the companies named in the leaked PowerPoint presentation outlining PRISM have now denied cooperating with the program.
But given the mounting evidence, the NSA will have a much harder time than those tech firms in denying that it’s engaged in massive domestic spying campaigns.
As the NSA’s surveillance scandal widens, I thought it would be worthwhile to look back at a few of the recorded moments over 2012 and 2013 when top NSA officials publicly denied–often with carefully hedged words–participating in the kind of snooping on Americans that has since become nearly undeniable.
In a congressional hearing in March of last year, for instance, NSA Director Keith Alexander was questioned about a Wired magazine cover story that included on-the-record interviews with multiple ex-NSA officials describing the agency’s collection of Americans’ voice and digital information. Speaking to Representative Hank Johnson, Alexander responded 14 times that the agency doesn’t collect the kind of domestic data Bamford had alleged:[youtube]http://youtu.be/oYNXVgYhPOc[/youtube]
Here’s a sample of that questioning:
Rep. Johnson: Does the NSA intercept Americans’ cell phone conversations?
Director Alexander: No.
What judicial consent is required for NSA to intercept communications and information involving American citizens?
Within the United States, that would be the FBI lead. If it were a foreign actor in the United States, the FBI would still have to lead. It could work that with NSA or other intelligence agencies as authorized. But to conduct that kind of collection in the United States it would have to go through a court order, and the court would have to authorize it. We’re not authorized to do it, nor do we do it.
A few months later, Alexander spoke at the Aspen Institute conference and addressed a question about a statement from ex-NSA official William Binney, who had said that the NSA is assembling a dossier on every American. “Is there any truth to that, and why do stories like this persist that you’re spying on all of us?”
The dishonesty is mindboggling