2 Senators Say the NSA Is Still Feeding Us False Information

by CONOR FRIEDERSDORF | The Atlantic  |  published on June 25, 2013

President Obama avows that he welcomes a debate about the NSA, privacy, and national security. Before Edward Snowden’s leak, Americans lacked the information necessary for that debate; Obama would strongly prefer that we were still oblivious to his domestic surveillance activities. Still, national-security officials right up to Obama himself continue to give the impression that they’re eager to level with Americans about certain aspects of their behavior, if only to persuade the polity that what’s happening every day isn’t as alarming as we’ve been told.

Hence the NSA’s decision to release 15 talking points about its interpretation of surveillance law. Lots of ground is covered — do take a look — but the document basically portrays a surveillance agency going to great lengths to avoid spying on the private communications of U.S. citizens.

There’s just one problem: Senators Ron Wyden and Mark Udall say that at least one of the NSA’s statements is inaccurate, and another one is misleading. “We were disappointed to see that this fact sheet contains an inaccurate statement about how the section 702 authority has been interpreted by the US government,” they write. “In our judgment this inaccuracy is significant, as it portrays protections for Americans’ privacy as being significantly stronger than they actually are.”

Notice that these two senators feel unable to tell us what the false information is or to correct the record — just further evidence that classified programs subvert not only public debate, but also the ability of Congress to openly discuss policy and communicate with constituents.

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