Glenn Greenwald provides new information on “powerful and invasive” NSA activities

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In an interview with ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos on “This Week,” columnist Glenn Greenwald provided new details of NSA surveillance, presumably based on materials obtained from NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.

“The NSA has trillions of telephone calls and emails in their databases that they’ve collected over the last several years . . . And what these programs are, are very simple screens, like the ones that supermarket clerks or shipping and receiving clerks use, where all an analyst has to do is enter an email address or an IP address, and it does two things.  It searches that database and lets them listen to the calls or read the emails of everything that the NSA has stored, or look at the browsing histories or Google search terms that you’ve entered, and it also alerts them to any further activity that people connected to that email address or that IP address do in the future.”

Greenwald explained that while there are “legal constraints” on surveillance that require approval by the FISA court, these programs still allow analysts to search through data with little court approval or supervision.  – ABC News

Appearing with Greenwald on the show, Sen. Saxby Chambliss, senior Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said he would be “shocked” if that was true.

I was back at NSA just last week. I spent a couple of hours there with high-level and low-level NSA officials. And what I’ve been assured of is that there is no capability at NSA for anyone without a court order to listen to any telephone conversation or to monitor any email. As a matter of fact, we don’t monitor email, that’s what kind of assures me that what the reporting is, is not correct. Because no emails are monitored now. They used to be. But that stopped two or three years ago. So I feel confident that there may have been some abuse, but if there was it was pure accidental. – ABC/The Atlantic

Confused?  You’re not alone. Conor Firedersdorf, The Atlantic, writes, “[I]f there is no “capability” to abuse the system in the way Greenwald claims, then how can there be accidental abuses?”

How could anyone still trust NSA officials to tell the truth after DNI James Clapper’s misleading testimony to Congress?

Wyden: So what I wanted to see is if you could give me a yes or no answer to the question, does the NSA collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?

Clapper: No, sir.

Wyden: It does not?

Clapper: Not wittingly. There are cases where they could inadvertently perhaps collect, but not wittingly.

Philip Bump (The Atlantic) writes, “The Director of National Intelligence and the NSA explicitly don’t want to share details about the programs they use. Every admission has been grudging and each has been tempered with the threat that it weakens domestic security.”  In the current environment of maximum reprisal against whistleblowers, it’s naive to expect NSA officials to volunteer information that the top intelligence boss wants to hide.