02:57 GMT04 December 2020
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    The US House of Representatives voted on Thursday to extend the National Security Agency’s (NSA) warrantless surveillance program for another six years. The controversial program, upbraided as an unconstitutional invasion of privacy by critics, is part of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).

    Brian Becker and John Kiriakou, hosts of Radio Sputnik's Loud & Clear, unveiled the specifics and history of FISA with the help of two guests: William Binney, a famous whistleblower who spent 30 years with the National Security Agency (NSA) before leaving the agency over what he has described as its "totalitarian" approach to surveillance "better than anything that the KGB, the Stasi, or the Gestapo and SS ever had;" and Coleen Rowley, an FBI agent-turned-whistleblower who gained her greatest fame for accusing the FBI of mishandling intelligence chatter that could have potentially prevented the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

    ​As the name suggests, FISA is meant only to surveil foreigners who may prove a security threat to the US. But according to Binney, the true purpose of the bill is to allow Washington to spy on American citizens.

    "FISA was actually the way that the NSA supplements the upstream collection that they do inside the United States and around the world," said Binney. "They go to the service providers and they ask for all data on any given target, doing it out in the open. They're trying to make it look like they're obeying the law, when in fact they've got the full collection off the fibre lines in the background. In case they miss something, they go to the companies and ask for all their data on a specific individual."

    "But they declare that and so people can review it and think, ‘oh yeah, that looks like they're going after a genuine target.' In fact, they collect data on everybody and they store it and search it. That's what been going on with inside the United States. The main program they do that with is the Fairview upstream collection system from AT&T: it's got about 80-110 fibre line points inside the United States. If they were only after foreigners on the fibres, all they'd have to do is tap eleven surface points for all the transoceanic cables coming into the United States along the coast."

    "If they tapped those," Binney explained, "they'd get all the foreigners' data coming into the US or going out from the US or transiting through the US. Instead they have all these tap points distributed with the population right across the United States. That means the target is the US population, not foreigners."

    Kiriakou voiced his concerns that the vast majority of Congress seemed to be perfectly happy to reauthorize FISA without batting an eye. Binney went one step further: their support for FISA isn't just worrisome, it's treasonous.

    "Anyone in Congress that voted for it has violated their oath of office to defend the Constitution," Binney said. "It's a direct violation of the first, fourth, fifth and sixth amendments to the Constitution. The Fairview system's obvious target is the US population, done under [former Vice President Dick] Cheney, who wanted to know everything about everybody who opposed him."

    "Since then it was used against the Tea Party by the IRS, who also had access to the NSA's database. So does the FBI and the DEA. It's only now coming out in some courts of law when they are getting caught using NSA data to convict people. It's only starting to break now, and some of the courts are starting to do the right thing."

    Rowley explained the history of FISA. "We better go the way back to 1978, when the FISA law was passed as a compromise after all of the abuses that the Church and Pike Committees had discovered that the FBI under J. Edgar Hoover had been doing for many years — black bag jobs, surveilling Martin Luther King Jr. as well as feminists and anti-war activists. He was doing these things under what he would say was the ‘inherent war powers,' which mean the commander in chief just has the inherent power in wartime to do anything they want, the Constitution just goes up in shreds."

    "There was a big debate and all they could do was compromise at the time and say, ‘we don't want to make it too hard for national security purposes to gather intelligence, so we will say that you go to a secret court.' In the years after the FISA law was passed, it came to be understood that there was what they called ‘The Wall,' between spying on American citizens and legal investigations of a bank robber or any other plain old crime."

    "But today I just listened to C-SPAN," Rowley said. "At the end of the debate is Paul Ryan, House majority leader, giving a speech. He said there is no wall, it was a big mistake, we weren't able to connect the dots and so now the United States is going to look at Americans just as they would look at terrorists. He said this in a much sneakier way, but if you listen to what he was saying, there is no more difference between what J. Edgar Hoover was doing before the FISA law passed."

    The views and opinions expressed in the article do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.


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    NSA spying, state surveillance, US Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), House of Representatives, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), National Security Agency (NSA), Paul Ryan, Coleen Rowley, William Binney, J. Edgar Hoover
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