Friday, March 24, 2017

GOP Chair of House Intel Committee Shocked to Learn What the NSA Does

Earlier this week, GOP Congressman Devin Nunes poured new gasoline on the Trump Wiretap saga when he told the press that Donald Trump and his associates were subjected to “incidental” surveillance by the US government during the transition period.
In reality, it’s virtually certain that some of Trump’s and his team’s communications, just like communications from other Americans, were swept by the US intelligence agencies. This is basically the official US policy–as plainly reported in such obscure, fringe media outlets as The Washington Post and The Guardian in the UK. In the words of The Washington Post, the goal of the National Security Agency (NSA) is to ‘Collect it all‘–that is, all of the communications of Americans and foreigners alike.
Now, they probably–thankfully–do not succeed in this goal, and there appear to be some minor residual legal constraints that still limit what they can collect on US citizens. My understanding is that they can’t intentionally collect communications that are strictly between American citizens within the US. But if those communications ever pass outside of the country–as Internet traffic is likely to do routinely–then it would be subject to collection. Thus, as a practical matter, the NSA has the ability and the goal of sweeping up a substantial portion of the communications made by even regular Americans.
Trump and his team would be no exception to this general practice, so it should not be surprising that their communications would also be picked up. That is the default.
This has been publicly reported in very established sources ever since the summer of 2013, when whistleblower Edward Snowden released documents that illustrated this fact.
And yet, to Rep. Nunes–who is the Chair of House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (!)–this appears to be a major discovery.
As absurd as this sounds, I’m convinced he really didn’t understand how this works until now–and perhaps he still doesn’t. Because if he did know how this worked, then he (and other Republicans) could have used this explanation to substantiate / justify the Trump Wiretap story from the beginning. It’s not technically a wiretap, perhaps, but it’s consistent with how that phrase is used informally. (And President Trump is not known for his careful or precise use of language.)
While substantiating the ‘wiretap’ story would have been useless in terms of any particular policy goal, it would have been useful politically by quickly dominating headlines with an argument that bolstered the president. The fact that Nunes and others didn’t use this argument earlier would seem to suggest they hadn’t thought of it.
Thus, we are drawn to a preposterous but delightful possibility–that the GOP Chair of the House intelligence committee, after being a reliable apologist for the NSA for some time, just now figured out what it is the NSA actually does. And he was shocked that it might be turned against his team, even though it’s been turned against regular Americans for years.

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