How is it that the government can charge Edward Snowden with espionage for telling a journalist that the feds have been spying on all Americans and many of our allies, but the NSA itself, in a public relations campaign intended to win support for its lawlessness, can reveal secrets and do so with impunity? That question goes to the heart of the rule of law in a free society.
Since Snowden’s June 6th revelations about massive NSA spying, we have learned that all Americans who communicate via telephone or the Internet (who doesn’t?) have had all of their communications swept up by the federal government for two-plus years.
The government initially claimed that the NSA has gathered only telephone numbers and billing data. Now we know that the NSA has captured and stored the content of trillions of telephone conversations, texts and emails, and can access that content at the press of a few computer keys.
All of this happened in the dark, with the permission of President Obama, with the knowledge and consent of fewer than 20 members of Congress who were forbidden from doing anything about it by the laws they themselves had written, and based on secret legal arguments accepted by a secret court that keeps its records secret even from the judges who sit on the court.
This massive spying — metadata gathering, as the NSA calls it — was also done notwithstanding statements NSA officials made in public under oath and in secret classified briefings to Congress, which effectively denied it.
The denials were in one case admitted to — “least untruthful,” as the director of national intelligence later called his own testimony. Then, when even members of Congress who usually support a muscular national security apparatus realized that they, too, had been lied to by the NSA, the NSA responded with its own leaks.
It has leaked, for example, that as a consequence of its spying it has prevented at least 50 foreign-originated plots from harming Americans.