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Thirteen Things the Government is Trying to Keep Secret from You

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There is an 86 page 2011 top secret opinion of the FISA court which declared some of the National Security Agency's surveillance programs unconstitutional.  The Administration, through the Department of Justice, refused to hand this over to the Electronic Frontier Foundation which filed a public records request and a lawsuit to make this public.  First the government said it would hurt the FISA court to allow this to be made public.  Then the FISA court itself said it can be made public.  Despite this, the government is still fighting to keep it secret. 

Seven.  The Government uses secret National Security Letters (NSL) issued by the FBI to seize tens of thousands of records

With a NSL letter the FBI can demand financial records from any institution  from banks to casinos, all telephone records, subscriber information, credit reports, employment information, and all email records of the target as well as the email addresses and screen names for anyone who has contacted that account.  Those who received the NSLs from the FBI are supposed to keep them secret.  The reason is supposed to be for foreign counterintelligence.  There is no requirement for court approval at all.  So no requests have been denied.  The Patriot Act has made this much easier for the FBI. 

According to Congressional records, there have been over 50,000 of these FBI NSL requests in the last three years.   This does not count the numerous times where the FBI persuades the disclosure of information without getting a NSL.  Nor does it count FBI requests made just to find out who an email account belongs to.  These reported NSL numbers also do not include the very high numbers of administrative subpoenas issued by the FBI which only require approval of a member of the local US Attorney's office.

Eight.  The National Security Head was caught not telling the truth to Congress about the surveillance of millions of US citizens

The Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, told US Senate on March 12 2013 that the NSA did not wittingly collect information on millions of Americans.  After the Snowden Guardian disclosures, Clapper admitted to NBC that what he said to Congress was the "least untruthful" reply he could think of.    The agency no longer denies that it collects the emails of American citizens.   In a recent white paper, the NSA now admits  they do "collect telephony metadata in bulk," but they do not unconstitutionally "target" American citizens. 

Nine.  The Government falsely assured the US public in writing that privacy protections are significantly stronger than they actually are and Senators who knew better were not allowed to disclose the truth

Two US Senators wrote the NSA a letter objecting to one "inaccurate statement" and another "somewhat misleading statement" made by the NSA in their June 2013 public fact sheet about surveillance.  What are the inaccurate or misleading statements?  The public is not allowed to know because the Senators had to point out the details in a secret classified section of their letter. 

In the public part of their letter they did say "In our judgment this inaccuracy is significant, as it portrays protections for Americans' privacy as being significantly stronger than they actually are""  The Senators point out that the NSA public statement assures people that communications of US citizens which are accidently acquired are promptly destroyed unless it is evidence of a crime.  However, the Senators wrote that the NSA does in fact deliberately search the records of American citizens and that the NSA has said repeatedly that it is not reasonably possible to identify the number of people located in the US whose communications have been reviewed under the authority of the FISA laws.  The NSA responded to these claims in an odd way.  They did not say publicly what the misleading or inaccurate statements were nor did they correct the record, instead they just deleted the fact sheet from the NSA website. 

Ten.  The chief defender of spying in the House of Representatives, the Chair of the oversight intelligence subcommittee, did not tell the truth or maybe worse did not know the truth about surveillance

Mike Rogers, Chair of the House Permanent Intelligence Subcommittee, repeatedly told Congress and the public on TV talk shows in July that there was no government surveillance of phone calls or emails. "They do not record your e-mails"None of that was happening, none of it -- I mean, zero."   Later, Snowden and Glenn Greenwald of The Guardian disclosed the NSA program called X-keyscore, which intercepts maybe over a billion emails, phone calls and other types of communications each day.   Now the questions swirl about Rogers, whether he lied, or was lied to by those who engaged in surveillance, or did not understand the programs he was supposed to be providing oversight to.   

Eleven.  The House intelligence oversight committee repeatedly refused to provide basic surveillance information to elected members of the House of Representatives, Republican and Democrat

The House intelligence oversight committee refused to allow any members of Congress outside the committee to see a 2011 document that described the NSA mass phone record surveillance.  This has infuriated Republicans and Democrats who have tried to get basic information to carry out their mandated oversight obligations.  

Republican Representative Morgan Griffith of Virginia wrote the House Committee on Intelligence on June 25, 2013, July 12, 2013, July 22, 2013, and July 23 2013 asking for basic information on the authorization "allowing the NSA to continue collecting data about Americans' telephone calls."     He received no response to those requests.  

After asking for basic information from the House Committee about the surveillance programs, Democrat Congressman Alan Grayson was told the committee voted to deny his request on a voice vote.  When he followed up and asked for a copy of the recorded vote he was told he could not get the information because the transcript of the committee hearing was classified.  

Twelve.  The paranoia about secrecy of surveillance is so bad in the House of Representatives that an elected member of Congress was threatened for passing around copies of the Snowden disclosures which had been already printed in newspapers worldwide

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Bill Quigley is a human rights lawyer and professor of law at Loyola University New Orleans.

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