It is naive -- in fact, it is absurd -- to imagine that the scores or hundreds of NSA analysts given access to these databases will never commit abuses. There are bad apples in every human enterprise. Agencies that operate under the cover of secrecy are that much more vulnerable to abuses. U.S. surveillance agencies have a particularly sordid history of abusing the power given them. Illegal, warrantless spying on Americans was secretly conducted as recently as the Bush years, and the people responsible for the illegal abuses were granted retroactive immunity. Edward Snowden himself demonstrated that the NSA cannot predict when one of its own might suddenly abscond with top secret information that no one planned to be made public.
~ from The High Likelihood That Future NSA Abuses Will Occur by Conor Friedersdorf ~
While I certainly do not dispute Friedersdorf's thesis, we don't have to look into the future to prove it. It is happening right now! Just take a look at two recent news reports that clearly show that powers meant to thwart terrorism are being used for purposes that have nothing to do with it.
Story #1: Secret US Drug Agency Unit Passing Surveillance Information to Authorities
A secretive US Drug Enforcement Administration unit is funneling information from intelligence intercepts, wiretaps, informants and a massive database of telephone records to authorities across the nation to help them launch criminal investigations of Americans.
Although these cases rarely involve national security issues, documents reviewed by Reuters show that law enforcement agents have been directed to conceal how such investigations truly begin – not only from defense lawyers but also sometimes from prosecutors and judges.
The undated documents show that federal agents are trained to "recreate" the investigative trail to effectively cover up where the information originated, a practice that some experts say violates a defendant's constitutional right to a fair trial. If defendants don't know how an investigation began, they cannot know to ask to review potential sources of exculpatory evidence – information that could reveal entrapment, mistakes or biased witnesses.
Story #2: IRS Manual Detailed DEA's Use of Hidden Intel Evidence
Details of a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration program that feeds tips to federal agents and then instructs them to alter the investigative trail were published in a manual used by agents of the Internal Revenue Service for two years.
The practice of recreating the investigative trail, highly criticized by former prosecutors and defense lawyers after Reuters reported it this week, is now under review by the Justice Department. Two high-profile Republicans have also raised questions about the procedure.
A 350-word entry in the Internal Revenue Manual instructed agents of the U.S. tax agency to omit any reference to tips supplied by the DEA's Special Operations Division, especially from affidavits, court proceedings or investigative files.
People in Washington DC keep telling us that these expansive powers are not being used on Americans and to suggest such a thing is irresponsible. Yet it is their own documents that indicate otherwise.
You see, when the government operates in the dark, they can do whatever they damn well please. As these various revelations keep coming to light, it is more than evident that they damn well please to ignore the basic safeguards housed in the US Constitution.