My former colleague Spencer Ackerman got his hands on a deeply ironic letter written by the NSA to two senators, in which the agency claims that they can’t tell them how many people have been targeted for surveillance because that would violate the privacy of those who were targeted. I wish I was kidding.
The surveillance experts at the National Security Agency won’t tell two powerful United States Senators how many Americans have had their communications picked up by the agency as part of its sweeping new counterterrorism powers. The reason: it would violate your privacy to say so.
That claim comes in a short letter sent Monday to civil libertarian Senators Ron Wyden and Mark Udall. The two members of the Senate’s intelligence oversight committee asked the NSA a simple question last month: under the broad powers granted in 2008′s expansion of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, how many persons inside the United States have been spied upon by the NSA?
The query bounced around the intelligence bureaucracy until it reached I. Charles McCullough, the Inspector General of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the nominal head of the 16 U.S. spy agencies. In a letter acquired by Danger Room, McCullough told the senators that the NSA inspector general “and NSA leadership agreed that an IG review of the sort suggested would further violate the privacy of U.S. persons,” McCullough wrote.
See, spying on Americans without a warrant does not violate their privacy, but telling the oversight committee how many they’ve spied on without a warrant does. I’m glad they cleared that up.