Oversight over wiretapping program ‘dosen’t really exist, reporter reveals /NSA’s program to eavesdrop on overseas calls and emails without warrants had “inadvertently” included millions of Americans’ communications

John Byrne

Raw Story
Friday, April 17, 2009

Independent oversight over the National Security Agency’s warrantless wiretapping program “doesn’t really exist,” the New York Times reporter who exposed the program revealed in an interview Thursday night.

Speaking with MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann, Times reporter James Risen discussed revelations published Thursday that the agency had overstepped the legal boundaries set out by Congress last year. His statements appeared to go beyond the scope of his article, which documented that the NSA’s program to eavesdrop on overseas calls and emails without warrants had “inadvertently” included millions of Americans’ communications.

“I think what this shows is that the controls are much more lax than they ever wanted to admit, and that the spying on Americans may have gone far beyond anything we realized before,” Risen said of his article.

Risen’s comments are particularly significant in lieu of the fact the Times acknowledged when they exposed the program in 2005 that they’d kept particular details out of print and held the story for a year at the behest of the Bush Administration, which argued that its exposure would compromise US intelligence collection. It’s certainly possible that not all of the details known by the Times were published.

Risen said much of the trouble with wiretapping practices had to do with the program’s oversight — essentially, he said, the only way Congress can know the agency is doing something illegal is if they admit to it themselves.

“One of the real problems here, is getting some independent oversight over this program,” Risen said. “A lot of the oversight is really still being done by the NSA. And the NSA, working with the Justice Department, goes to the secret [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance] court and certifies that they’re doing it right. and then they tell Congress whether they’re doing it right. So it really requires the NSA to kind of admit that they’ve got a problem. Because the Justice Department really doesn’t have the technical expertise in a lot of ways to do this on their own.

“One of the real problems,” he added, “is having real independent oversight over this. This doesn’t really exist at this point.”

Asked if he knew just how broad the wiretapping net was, Risen demurred.

“We’re still trying to figure that out,” he said. “What we do know is over the last few months there has been increasing concern both at the Justice Department and in congress over what appears to be just an inability of the NSA to stay within the legal limits that were established by the new FISA bill last summer. They’re collecting far more domestic e-mail and telephone traffic than they’re supposed to under the — even the very broad and relaxed regulations that were imposed last year. It makes it — it appears to be a problem of the inability of the NSA to distinguish between foreign and domestic communications. but the technical details, we’re still trying to determine.”

This video is from MSNBC’s Countdown, broadcast Apr. 16, 2009.


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