NSA won't say whether it spies on Congress
January 4th, 2014
05:04 PM ET
10 months ago

NSA won't say whether it spies on Congress

Washington (CNN) - Congress is just like everyone else. That's the message the National Security Agency has for Sen. Bernie Sanders.

The independent senator from Vermont sent a letter to the agency Friday, asking whether it has or is "spying" on members of Congress and other elected American officials.


The NSA provided a preliminary response Saturday that said Congress has "the same privacy protections as all U.S. persons."

"NSA's authorities to collect signals intelligence data include procedures that protect the privacy of U.S. persons. Such protections are built into and cut across the entire process. Members of Congress have the same privacy protections as all U.S. persons," said the agency in a statement obtained by CNN.

The response goes on to promise the agency will continue to work with Congress on the issues - without ever addressing the senator's real question.

Sanders defines "spying" in his letter as "gathering metadata on calls made from official or personal phones, content from websites visited or e-mails sent, or collecting any other data from a third party not made available to the general public in the regular course of business."

The NSA would say nothing more, except that it is further reviewing the letter.

"We will continue to work to ensure that all Members of Congress, including Sen. Sanders, have information about NSA's mission, authorities, and programs to fully inform the discharge of their duties," read the statement.

Attorney General Eric Holder similarly deflected answering the same question at a congressional hearing last summer, telling Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Illinois, that the NSA had no "intent" to spy on Congress, but the issue was better discussed in private.

The intelligence community has faced heated criticism from the right and left in 2013 after Edward Snowden's leaks, and the intensity has continued fiercely in 2014.

On Thursday, the New York Times and the Guardian published scathing editorials that slammed the "violations" Snowden's leaks revealed and advocated a presidential pardon for him.

Among those charges was the notion that James Clapper Jr., the director of National Intelligence, lied to Congress while testifying last March that the NSA was not collecting data on millions of Americans.

National Intelligence was quick to push back, with a letter to the editor from by general counsel Robert Litt, published in the New York Times on Saturday.

"As a witness to the relevant events and a participant in them, I know that allegation is not true," writes Litt, explaining that Clapper misunderstood the question, but couldn't publicly correct his mistake "because the program involved was classified."

"This incident shows the difficulty of discussing classified information in an unclassified setting and the danger of inferring a person's state of mind from extemporaneous answers given under pressure."

Litt said that Clapper was "surprised and distressed" when he was informed by staff that he gave a misleading answer after the testimony.

–CNN's Evan Perez contributed to this report.


Filed under: Bernie Sanders • Congress • NSA
soundoff (153 Responses)
  1. Steve

    of course they do. they also spy on the scotus. how else do you think justice roberts flipped at the last minute on the obamacare ruling.

    January 5, 2014 10:25 am at 10:25 am |
  2. NVRAT

    Obama being tied closely to the NSA Spying you can bet you last buck he and the DNC is spying on not only congress but every body they associate with. They (DNC) are looking for anything they believe they can use against them in future elections to attack them personally and politically. Have you ever wondered how they suddenly found out about affairs some generals were having and used the information to fire and disgrace them when they became to popular and might run against them for office and how suddenly some Republicans have capitulated and joined with Obama and his crime syndicate? Lets not be naive here. Politics is a nasty cut throat business and Obama with his Chicago cronies "know how and endless taxpayer money" would do anything to maintain power.

    January 5, 2014 10:27 am at 10:27 am |
  3. call it like i see it

    Pretty simple: No Answer, No Funding. End of stalemate. Period.

    January 5, 2014 10:28 am at 10:28 am |
  4. johnnyapples

    For now, just the Republicans.

    January 5, 2014 10:34 am at 10:34 am |
  5. Garys opinion

    Why should those in congress be any different than any other citizen?

    January 5, 2014 10:38 am at 10:38 am |
  6. hps

    of course they do and the USSC as well .. How do you think they got the drop on Roberts so he'd vote for Obamacare.. REMEMBER who you have in office a corrupt CHICAGO politicians well one that was brought to IL to be trained by the IL corrupt politicians and the CHICAGO machine? I know.. I am from Chicago.. remember BLACKMAIL is a strong tool..
    ALWAYS remember to say HI to the NSA when posting least they feel neglected..

    January 5, 2014 10:41 am at 10:41 am |
  7. me

    that's a yes if I've ever seen one!!!!

    The question he should be asking is who get's access to the data resulting from the spying that is directed at members of congress and the senate.

    Besides I get the feeling that he has a reason for sending the letter a personal one.

    January 5, 2014 10:58 am at 10:58 am |
  8. Piquerish

    I'll bet you one outrageous and inexplicable Supreme Court Chief Justice decision that judges are certainly snooped. Say it ain't so, Chief Justice Roberts. Say it ain't so.

    January 5, 2014 11:18 am at 11:18 am |
  9. David from San Diego

    (1) Edward Snowden for President! (2) John Poindexter, James Woolsey, James Clapper, and Keith Alexander are traitors who have perpetrated a military coups. They should be punished accordingly.

    January 5, 2014 11:23 am at 11:23 am |
  10. Obama_Dogeater

    Where are all the voices of outrage over this when Bush was president? Cat got your tongue?

    January 5, 2014 11:38 am at 11:38 am |
  11. saddlebum 1

    Congress exempts themselves from all laws. They are better than the people in which they serve. They are better than those that pays their wages through taxes. To think they put their britches on one leg at a time is just absurd. They are more intelligent than that. These dysfunctional politicians bring the people a failed government and can also bring nuclear war. When they no longer can maintain power they will destroy just as they are destroying America today from within.

    January 5, 2014 11:45 am at 11:45 am |
  12. Heretic

    Well, if their looking for the enemies of America, congress is a great place to start. It's full of traitors.

    January 5, 2014 11:51 am at 11:51 am |
  13. Barry The ChicagoStreetBagger

    Ask John Roberts about this he has firsthand knowledge they most certainly do spy on 'everyone'

    January 5, 2014 12:05 pm at 12:05 pm |
  14. bflat879

    I'd like to know how far access to these files goes. Anytime you have an administration that's willing to lie to get things done, just how far are they willing to go? Would they use the NSA to spy on political opponents? Given what we know they've been willing to do, these past 5 years, I'm not prepared to say I know the answer to that question, either way.

    WHen it comes to trust, it's quite apparent the Obama and company have to earn it back.

    January 5, 2014 12:17 pm at 12:17 pm |
  15. Gabriel

    The question is did ANYONE use the NSAs capability against Mitt Romney or any other candidate.....and will happen again??? Why is THIS possibility never mentioned?

    January 5, 2014 12:26 pm at 12:26 pm |
  16. Ed

    Does anyone actually think obama has NOT ordered his Gestapo to spy on the GOP in Congress?

    January 5, 2014 12:27 pm at 12:27 pm |
  17. clooney_art

    What next ? Coup-d'état ??

    January 5, 2014 12:32 pm at 12:32 pm |
  18. Kess

    Defund and dissolve this pile of unpatriotic trash.

    January 5, 2014 12:36 pm at 12:36 pm |
  19. JT

    I guess it is a big deal now but it wasnt when they were spying on every citizen. Sure is a crooked corrupt country

    January 5, 2014 01:01 pm at 1:01 pm |
  20. byron allen

    It is really amusing that the NYT is so upset at the NSA, yet ignores the fact that it is part of DOD, under control of the commander in chief Obama. Hey NYT, why don't you go after Obama as the guy doing the spying on citizens? I guess the truth never did interest you.

    January 5, 2014 01:05 pm at 1:05 pm |
  21. Grimey

    What this says is you should never verbalize or put your thoughts on paper. That stands today, but they are already claiming that in a few years they will have the ability to read your thoughts or at least the direction your mind is thinking in.

    January 5, 2014 01:08 pm at 1:08 pm |
  22. John

    Spying on elected officials is about the ONLY legitimate use of this power. If you are elected to represent the people, every phone conversation, email and face-to-face meeting transcript should be a matter of public record and available to everyone all the time.

    If you can't be that transparent, don't run for office.

    January 5, 2014 01:23 pm at 1:23 pm |
  23. Cassandra

    The Republic is in its final days. WAKE UP!!

    January 5, 2014 01:41 pm at 1:41 pm |
  24. Doc Holiday

    it is irrelevant wether they admit to it or not. Whistle blower Thomas Drake and others already have confirmed this. The NSA has already been proven liars so their admission is mute

    January 5, 2014 01:49 pm at 1:49 pm |
  25. Robert Lockwood

    Of course the the NSA spies on DC. It is how the White House blackmailed Justice Robert's to give a favorable decision regarding ACA. They reminded him about the illegal adoption of a foreign born child and held against him. It is also how the White House intimidates it's political opponents.

    January 5, 2014 01:52 pm at 1:52 pm |
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