How Big of a Deal Are the New Domestic-Spying Revelations?


The Times unveiled some fresh new abuses by the NSA today, reporting that the spy agency engaged in a "significant and systemic," but possibly unintentional, "overcollection" of domestic communications. The details are all very vague, but basically the NSA overstepped its bounds and spied on people it wasn't supposed to. And another startling revelation is that some in the NSA sought to wiretap a United States congressman without a warrant because they believed he'd come into contact with a suspected terrorist, but that request was denied. The Justice Department uncovered the agency's problems during a periodic review, and says they've now been resolved. So the system worked? Maybe. But the blogosphere seems to be reacting to the news with a big "I told you so."

• Marc Ambinder thinks experts would find it pretty unsurprising and unremarkable that the "National Security Agency is collecting more information than it should." [Atlantic]

• Steve Benen isn't surprised either: "Abuse of the already-weakened protections relating to the NSA's eavesdropping program? You don't say." [Poltical Animal/Washington Monthly]

• Adam Serwer found the abuses predictable as well, writing, "No one could have possibly anticipated the breach of the levees that giving the NSA the authority to eavesdrop on American citizens with almost no oversight would lead to them abusing that authority." [Tapped/American Prospect]

• Matthew Yglesias isn't shocked either, since Congress has merely "put some limits on the NSA’s ability to spy on people without warrants while simultaneously signaling that breaking the rules wouldn’t be penalized." Still, "[i]f members of congress are getting wiretapped without a warrant, something’s gone very badly wrong." [Think Progress]

• Spencer Ackerman tries to figure out the identity of the congressman. [Washington Independent]

• Kevin Drum says that the desire to warrantlessly wiretap a congressman should have "set off alarm bells at every possible level at NSA, rather than merely being 'ultimately blocked' because 'some' officials had 'concerns' about it." [Mother Jones]

• But his colleague David Corn doesn't see this "as a cause for much worry." The fact that the monitoring of the congressman was turned down "could be seen as an indication that all the protests about the NSA's warrantless wiretapping — the blogging, the op-eds, the lawsuits — has increased sensitivity within the intelligence community." [Mojo Blog/Mother Jones]

• Joe Klein calls it "bad news ... that the NSA apparently has been overstepping the law," but is pleased that "one of the safeguards in the law" did its job and caught it. Attorney General Eric Holder's "Justice Department is doing its job, calling out the NSA for its improper behavior," and hopefully that "vigilance sends a clear message to the NSA about its proper role — but if the illegal activity continues, those responsible should be fired and indicted." [Swampland/Time]

• Glenn Reynolds sarcastically calls this "change you can believe in," despite the fact that the reported abuses were first spotted during the Bush administration. [Instapundit]

• Greg Sargent points out that Republicans in Congress should be in a "political bind" now, because "when the 2008 FISA bill that ultimately made such abuses more likely was being debated in the Senate, leading Republican Senators dismissed those who raised concerns about this as traitors, terrorist-coddlers, and outright nut-jobs." [Plum Line/Who Runs Gov]

• Glenn Greenwald is harder on the Democrats who supported that bill. The abuses being reported are "unintended and unforeseeable consequence[s] of that bill. To the contrary, it was crystal clear that by gutting FISA's safeguards, the Democratic Congress was making these abuses inevitable." He also points out that the information from the Times article is an "isolated sliver" of the whole story, and that "most of the information about the NSA's abuses remain concealed." [Salon]