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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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The "reforms" proposed by Goodlatte and other Republican House leaders are clearly meant to head off any significant reform of NSA mass surveillance. A serious attempt to bring democracy to America must have the following bottom line: no mass surveillance of any kind of Americans about whom there is no evidence of wrongdoing. None.

The first and necessary  step toward creating a "functioning democracy" in America is for both the House and Senate to pass the Conyers-Amash amendment forbidding NSA mass collection of phone and Internet American records of innocent Americans.

Institute Genuine Congressional Oversight

At the moment, congressional oversight of the Executive has become a pathetic joke. The Senate and House Intelligence Committees have clearly failed in their constitutional obligation to provide "checks and balances" on the Executive. Three major reforms are needed.

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A. Elect Committees Who Oversee Not Promote Executive Wrongdoing, Beginning By Replacing Senator Dianne Feinstein And Rep. Mike Rogers.

The present heads of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees, Dianne Feinstein and Mike Rogers, and ranking minority party members Senator Saxby Chambliss and "Dutch" Ruppersberger, have merely served as spokespeople for the Executive, delivering a long series of deceptive "talking points" provided by the NSA meant to excuse rather than correct Executive abuses.

Mr. Rogers, a former Executive Branch FBI agent, has particularly distinguished himself by insulting the intelligence of both his fellow House members and the American people.

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He has declared on Meet the Press that Snowden "went outside all of the whistleblower venues that were available to anyone in this government, including people who have classified information. We get two or three visits from whistleblowers every single week in the committee, and we--we investigate every one thoroughly. He didn't choose that route."

This is absurd. Mr. Rogers already knew, and had done nothing about, Snowden's concern that the Executive was collecting Americans' phone and Internet records. There was obviously no point for Snowden to go to Rogers, and the latter is clearly insulting the intelligence of the American people in continuing to make this crude claim.

Rogers' claim that other whistleblowers have avenues within government to correct Executive abuses is also untrue. The New Yorker has reported on how although NSA whistleblower Thomas Drake did go through official channels, nothing was done. Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank recently reported how DOD whistleblower Gina Gray was fired for seeking to correct DOD mismanagement at the Arlington National Cemetery, after using internal channels.

Milbank also commented "President Obama, in his news conference this month, said that Edward Snowden was wrong to go public with revelations about secret surveillance programs because 'there were other avenues available for somebody whose conscience was stirred and thought that they needed to question government actions.' This is a common refrain among administration officials and some lawmakers. But it's a load of nonsense. Ask Gina Gray."

Among their many other major failures of NSA oversight:

--Both Feinstein and Rogers claimed on ABC News on  June 9  that NSA surveillance had been responsible for the capture of NY Subway Bomber Najibullah Zazi and Mumbai bomber David Headley. But two days later, in a story titled"NSA Surveillance Played Little Role In Foiling Terror Plots, Experts Say," the Guardian revealed that both men had been captured through surveillance in the UK, with no NSA input. 

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--Mr. Rogers first claimed that Snowden should be charged with espionage because his revelations had led to "changes in the way they communicate that we can already see being made by the folks who wish to do us harm." He then supported the administration's claim a few weeks later that a worldwide travelers' alert was based on the NSA overhearing the two top Al Qaeda "bad guys" --Ayman al-Zawari and Yemen's Wuhayashi--communicate with each other. Both statements cannot be true, and perhaps neither were. Furthermore, if true, releasing the information about this specific phone call was clearly a breach of national security, as it tipped off the two top Al Qaeda leaders  that their phone calls were being overheard. If true, Rogers clearly would have committed precisely the act of revealing "sources and methods" that he claimed justified the charge of treason for Mr. Snowden. 

--Both Feinstein and Rogers, like Obama, repeatedly claimed the NSA was not conducting illegal surveillance. Even after the Washington Post published its story on "thousands" of abuses involving tens of thousands of individual cases, Feinstein declared that "as I have said previously, the committee has never identified an instance in which the NSA has intentionally abused its authority to conduct surveillance for inappropriate purposes," and Roger  said that he had seen he had seen "no intentional and willful violation of the law."

The paper also reported that "Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) did not receive a copy of the 2012 audit until the Post asked her staff about it."

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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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