Congress: The Real Culprit in Security Leak Probe! Louisiana delegation split on oversight

By JIM BROWN

In the 2014 congressional elections, one major issue should be front and center: Incumbents are failing to do their job. We send them to Washington to oversee this massive federal bureaucracy, and to ensure that it is being run properly. We expect them to pass laws, and then to provide proper monitoring to see that these laws are carried out. The failure of Congress to properly monitor the executive branch has resulted in the wholesale exposure of the entire surveillance system that is supposed to be overseen by the NSA. Some say that this congressional dereliction of duty has caused an irreparable breech in our national security.

Every single member of Congress should be livid at the incompetence of those running the NSA. This top secret federal agency, that is responsible for gathering and securing the reams of data that will protect us from the bad guys, has proven to be inept at running its own operation. Why would they turn over the keys of our most sensitive data to a 29-year-old high school dropout? That’s the real scandal. The maladroit and ineffectual handling of America’s secrets makes us wonder if our federal spy network is being run by the Keystone Cops!

Edward Snowden, the “whistleblower” at the center of this firestorm, dropped out of high school, was forced to leave the military, and developed his “top secret” information access wizardry by taking a few computer classes at a community college in an effort to get a high school diploma, which he failed to get. He couldn’t complete the courses. So he gets a job at the NSA as a security guard. The next thing you know, he’s hired by one of the NSA’s big private contractors, Booz Allen Hamilton, which receives hundreds of millions of dollars from the NSA. In fact, over 70 percent of the national intelligence budget is now spent on private companies such as Booz Allen, Northrop Grumman and the Boeing subsidiary Narus.

So this high school dropout is paid $200,000 a year by a private contractor and given an open door to a top-secret national security database. He was not prepped by the FBI, the CIA, or the State Department. He’s just an IT guy and not a very good one at that. Simply put, he had no background in anything related to national security. Yet working for a private contractor, with apparently little or no oversight by the NSA, Snowden is allowed to spread America’s intelligence gathering system to the entire world.

The Guardian, the newspaper that initially broke this spy scandal by interviewing Snowden, reported that the NSA let him see “everything.” “He was accorded the NSA’s top security clearance, which allowed him to see and to download the agency’s most sensitive documents. But he didn’t just know about the NSA surveillance systems — he says he had the ability to use them. “I, sitting at my desk, certainly had the authority to wiretap anyone from you or your accountant to a federal judge to even the president if I had a personal email.”

He told the Washington Post that: “The NSA has built an infrastructure that allows it to intercept almost everything. With this capability, the vast majority of human communications are automatically ingested without targeting. If I wanted to see your emails or your wife’s phone, all I have to do is use intercepts. I can get your emails, passwords, phone records, credit cards.”

OK, so the NSA blew it. Their incompetence allowed this underling to compromise America’s security network. They obviously were way too lax about monitoring all these private contractors who were receiving multi-million dollar contracts from the NSA. So where are the checks and balances? Who is watching the watchers? Easy answer here. They are the folks whom in many instances you rarely see until election time, and then they’re everywhere, seeking your vote. They are our senators and congressmen. That’s their job. That’s what we send these people up to the nation’s capitol to do. They are elected by us and paid by us to see that a system is put into place, and monitored regularly to assure us that the system is working.

Many members of Congress expressed outrage. So to tone down the firestorm, a briefing was scheduled for the entire U.S. Senate to ask questions, and probe more into the breakdown in classified security programs. All the top security folks were there. The FBI, the Justice Department, the national security agency, and even the FISA court, which is supposed to oversee this whole group of the so-called protectors. The hearing was scheduled for this past Thursday afternoon. Of the hundred U.S. senators, only 47 of them showed up. The rest were apparently bee lining home for the Fourth of July weekend.

In my home state of Louisiana, there was mixed reaction from the congressional delegation over lax security oversight. Fifth District Congressman Rodney Alexander was forthright in complaining that the government had over stepped its boundaries. “Congress is just as much to blame for giving the government the legal leeway to collect sweeping information.” He deserves credit in calling for much more stringent oversight.

Sen. Mary Landrieu, who chairs the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security, seems fairly oblivious to the security leaks and reluctant to take any firm stand. “I’ve been following the story like everyone else,” Landrieu said, “and have mixed feelings because my constituents are happy that the federal government has been aggressive in breaking up some terrorist plots.” She went on to say: “On the other hand, there’s some concern about an invasion of privacy, so I’m just going to listen.” Landrieu apparently espouses the old political line that “I have friends on one side of the issue, and friends on the other side, so I’m just going to stand by and support my friends.”

Unfortunately, too many members of Congress have become cheerleaders for the intelligence community rather than aggressively asserting their constitutional role of being a watchdog over the federal bureaucracy. Americans want to be safe and they want to be assured that that their representatives are giving them the best bang for their buck.

When it comes to insisting on an efficient monitoring of the nation’s security system, the NSA has dropped the ball. But so have members of congress. They should forget the short workweeks and get back to the job their constituents elected them, and are paying them to do. That means being an aggressive watchdog, asking tough questions and protecting both our security and our freedom.

“Government’s first duty is to protect people, not run their lives.” — Ronald Reagan

Peace and Justice,

Jim Brown

Jim Brown’s syndicated column appears each week in numerous newspapers throughout the nation and on websites worldwide. You can read all his past columns and see continuing updates at www.jimbrownusa.com.

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