Holding the Government Accountable

NSA: Above the Constitution?

As you probably know, The New York Times revealed in December that the National Security Agency has been conducting a secret surveillance operation on American citizens without warrants. President Bush has said that Congress has been kept in the loop regarding the program. But, as this letter (pdf) from Jay Rockefeller, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, makes clear, at least some members of the congressional oversight committees felt that they did not have enough information or the time and expertise available to them to sign off on the program. Therefore POGO assumes this part of a 2001 Congressional Research Service report on the National Security Agency (pdf) will need to be updated:

An unmistakable change affecting NSA has been the openness with which its policies and problems are now discussed both by the Agency's leadership and by congressional oversight committees.

Perhaps the greatest concern with the NSA domestic surveillance operation has been the blatant attempt by the executive branch to operate outside of our constitutional government of checks and balances. Congress has not been adequately consulted and, as a result of the Times story, Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA), thankfully, is determined to hold hearings (though as Patrick Radden Keefe points out, why did it take so long for Congress to pay attention?). The executive has completely done an end run on the judiciary by cutting out even the compliant Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court by asserting that it does not need warrants from them.