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We Live Under a Total Surveillance State in America -- Can We Prevent It from Evolving into a Full-Blown Police State? 5

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Feinstein then changed her story, claiming that she had received the report under a different name. But the point was undeniable: she has clearly failed her oversight duties, not even bothering to read whatever study she saw revealing NSA abuses, let alone doing anything about them or even informing her own constituents of them. 

--Numerous members have accused the House  Intelligence Committee of withholding information from them. As the Guardian reported on  August 14 , "Morgan Griffith, a Republican who represents Virginia's ninth district, has been critical of the committee for blocking attempts by non-members to obtain information about classified programs. On  August 4 , the Guardian published a series of letters he had written to the committee requesting more details, all of which had gone unanswered.

Congress needs to elect Members of the Senate and House Intelligence committees who see their job as checking and balancing Executive power, not merely serving as spokespeople for it.

B. Indict Executive Branch Officials When They Commit Perjury

Executive Branch officials not only regularly lie to but hide information from Congress, most notably recently when director of National Intelligence James Clapper denied in open session that the NSA was collecting data on American citizens, and then compounded his lie a few days later by claiming he had misunderstood the question. Senator Wyden quickly revealed that he had sent the question over to him the day before the hearing. NSA chief Keith Alexander has also repeatedly lied to Congress. The N.Y. Daily News reported on a  June 18 House Intelligence Committee hearing, for example, that "NSA Director Gen. Keith Alexander testified his agency's programs are subject to strict oversight." Alexander also testified at the same hearing that NSA surveillance had caught the N.Y.C. Subway and Mumbai bombers, another lie revealed by the Guardian as noted above.

But though senators and representatives know they are being lied to by Executive Branch officials, they have not had the courage to indict them for perjury when they do so. Congress has allowed director Clapper and General Alexander to remain in their posts after knowing beyond any doubt that they have committed perjury before it. This lack of courage must end. The only way to stop Executive officials from lying to Congress and the American people is for Congress to swear them in and punish them when they are caught lying, at very least by dismissal from their posts, but ideally by criminal prosecution.

C. Give Congress the Right to Declassify Data Indicating Waste, Fraud, Abuse and Crimes By the Executive

One of the most shocking revelations concerning congressional oversight is that even when a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee like Sen. Wyden learns that the Executive is committing crimes against the American people, that senator is muzzled from revealing it to them. Although the senator could release this information on the floor of the Senate without fear of prison, he or she fears being attacked for jeopardizing national security, being removed from the Intelligence Committee, censure by colleagues, and/or losing the next election.

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It is clearly time for the legislative representatives of people, not unelected members of the Executive, to be given the legal and moral right to declassify and make public Executive actions that they believe are illegal or immoral.

Someone must decide, after all, whether a given body of information should be kept secret from the American people. In a democracy, those who make this decision should represent the people of the nation, not gigantic, secret bureaucracies which regularly deceive the people and are accountable to no one but themselves. 

D.  Congress Must Have The Capacity To Genuinely Oversee Executive Agencies

Members of the Senate and House Intelligence Committees must assert their right to be treated as genuine representatives of the governed. To begin with, they must demand the right to take notes on classified material the Executive shows them and to have properly cleared staff members accompany or represent them at briefings. They must punish NSA staff members who play Orwellian word games with them, refusing to answer questions honestly unless the exact words are used as the NSA defines them, which they keep secret.

Members must also insist that they be given all information on NSA activities. At present, the NSA withholds significant information even from Senate and House Intelligence Committee members. Legislators must severely punish Executive Branch officials who continue to hide significant information from them.

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Most importantly, however, Congress cannot exercise constitutionally-required oversight of Executive Branch activities unless they can independently investigate them. The Intelligence Committees, like the FISA courts (please see below), must hire significantly more staff, with the knowledge, power and mandate to oversee Executive Branch military, intelligence and police activities that potentially threaten the democratic rights of the American people.

Give the Judiciary the Capacity to Genuinely Oversee Executive Agencies Like the NSA

Meaningful judicial oversight of Executive Branch officials is the other fundamental pillar of the constitutionally-mandated system of checks and balances  upon which democracy rests.

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Fred Branfman's writing has been published in the New York Times, the Washington Post, Harper's, and many other publications. He is the author of Voices From the Plain of Jars

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TOO LATE!  We are already a police state. But... by David McElroy on Monday, Sep 30, 2013 at 2:38:05 PM