By Eric Boehm | Watchdog.org
Even though the government is shut down, some things don’t change.
The Senate is still holding hearings to probe the depth of the National Security Agency’s privacy violations.
And the government officials charged with running those programs are still being less-than-honest about what they do.
During a Wednesday hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee, NSA Director Gen. Keith Alexander admitted that the Obama administration has exaggerated the extent to which the NSA’s domestic spying programs have helped thwart terror attacks.
The administration previously had claimed NSA surveillance helped stop as many as 54 separate plots.
But U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., pressured Alexander to admit most of those cases — all except 13 of them — were not stopped because of electronic surveillance by the NSA.
“These weren’t all plots, and they weren’t all foiled,” Leahy said, asking Alexander, “Would you agree with that, yes or no?”
“Yes,” replied Alexander, according to Salon’s Natasha Lennard.
Leahy later announced he would introduce a bill to overhaul the NSA’s electronic dragnet surveillance programs. His legislation would end the bulk collection of Americans’ cell phone and Internet data by the NSA, and it would add additional, public, oversight to the secret FISA court reviews requests for data by the NSA and other intelligence agencies.
“In addition to stopping bulk collection, our legislation would improve judicial review by the FISA Court and enhance public reporting on the use of a range of surveillance activities,” Leahy said. “The bill would also require Inspector General reviews of the implementation of these authorities.”
The bill comes on the heels of a bipartisan proposal from U.S. Sens. Rand Paul, R-Ky., Mark Udall, D-Colo., and Ron Wyden, D-Ore., that would do many of the same things.
Wyden also slammed Alexander during Wednesday’s hearing.
In response to a question about using NSA technology to track cell phones — another clear violation of privacy — Alexander said the agency had tested their ability to do so on a few occasions. However, he said, it did not actively employ the technology allowing them to do so.
While the NSA does not use such information directly, Alexander indicated they at times share data with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, if probable cause has been established.
Wyden said that answer was not sufficient.
“After years of stonewalling on whether the government has ever tracked or planned to track the location of law abiding Americans through their cellphones, once again, the intelligence leadership has decided to leave most of the real story secret — even when the truth would not compromise national security,” he said, according to a report on the hearing from The Japan Times.
Boehm is a reporter for Watchdog.org and can be contacted at Eboehm@watchdog.org. Follow him on Twitter @EricBoehm87