Members of Congress have been repeatedly thwarted when attempting to learn basic information about the National Security Agency (NSA) and the secret FISA court which authorizes its activities, documents provided by two House members demonstrate.
From the beginning of the NSA controversy, the agency's defenders have insisted that Congress is aware of the disclosed programs and exercises robust supervision over them. "These programs are subject to congressional oversight and congressional reauthorization and congressional debate," President Obama said the day after the first story on NSA bulk collection of phone records was published in this space. "And if there are members of Congress who feel differently, then they should speak up."
But members of Congress, including those in Obama's party, have flatly denied knowing about them. On MSNBC on Wednesday night, Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Ct) was asked by host Chris Hayes: "How much are you learning about what the government that you are charged with overseeing and holding accountable is doing from the newspaper and how much of this do you know?" The Senator's reply:
The revelations about the magnitude, the scope and scale of these surveillances, the metadata and the invasive actions surveillance of social media Web sites were indeed revelations to me.But it is not merely that members of Congress are unaware of the very existence of these programs, let alone their capabilities. Beyond that, members who seek out basic information - including about NSA programs they are required to vote on and FISA court (FISC) rulings on the legality of those programs - find that they are unable to obtain it.
~ from Members of Congress Denied Access to Basic Information about NSA by Glenn Greenwald ~
This is the thing about secret dealings or operations: Few people are "in the know"! The larger the group of individuals with inside information, the greater the possibility that someone will say something to someone else that they aren't supposed to say. So, to guard against these types of disclosures, only the very few are in the loop.
Of course, in a representative government, this creates a serious problem. Our representatives are asked to vote on legislation about these secret operations with very little knowledge of what they entail. As Greenwald makes clear, it is next too impossible to make an informed decision when the representative him/herself is woefully uninformed. The situation is even worse when the representative tries to become better informed, but is continually rebuffed.
So, this is where we stand today. The NSA is conducting massive surveillance of Americans that violates the US Constitution and even some of the liberal laws that pertain to spying. The special court that oversees these intelligence programs is little more than a rubber stamp. The vast majority of Congress is kept out of the loop which means they can't provide even minimal oversight.
In essence, we could say that the Executive Branch is operating like the mafia and its henchman are the few members of Congress -- the small minority "in the know" -- who receive huge financial contributions from the military-intelligence-industrial complex. To top it all off, most of the actual spying is being done by Wall Street corporations who are rolling in billions upon billions of taxpayer dollars.
Splendid. Absolutely splendid!