The US has been long overdue serious conversations about the extensiveness of spying by the NSA and FBI, Salon reports. As a nation, the conversation we should have about the intrusiveness of national security into our daily lives has been drowned out by Donald Trump.
Trump has claimed time and time again that he’s the victim of a massive conspiracy by these institutions masterminded by the Democratic party. Of the FBI’s Russia investigation back in April, Trump said, “This was a coup, this was an attempted overthrow of the United States government…This was a coup. This wasn’t stealing information from an office in the Watergate apartments. This was an attempted coup, like a Third World country.”
Trump’s cries of conspiracy are to put it bluntly, mindless. Yet these trivial claims are the ones that make headlines, not leaving room for the criticisms of national security that arose with Edward Snowden’s revelations that haven’t really been talked about since they were released in 2013.
Secret surveillance court rulings partially declassified on Tuesday gave us an insight as to some of the wrong behavior enacted by the FBI. These rulings showed the FBI illegally utilized its foreign intelligence gathering apparatus to conduct tens of thousands of improper searches on FBI personnel and contractors. These court documents are partially redacted but show that beginning in March 2017, the FBI searched for information related to over 70,000 people with access to FBI buildings.
This breach threads into non-government workers as well. In December 2017, the FBI conducted nearly 7,000 searches in just one week of NSA databases using the Social Security numbers of US citizens in violation of the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution.
The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which is responsible for monitoring the upstandingness of these security institutions, found that the FBI didn’t keep specific records of these searches as required to by law. It’s a story that parallels those muddled transcripts of that phone call that launched the impeachment inquiry against Trump, except it’s not getting nearly as much news.
Judge James Boasberg of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court stated that “Today’s release demonstrates how baseless the FBI’s position was and highlights Congress constitutional obligation to act independently and strengthen the checks and balances on government surveillance. Finally, I am concerned that the government has redacted information in these releases that the public deserves to know.”
What the public deserves to know and what they are told are constantly diverging, the latter looming larger and the information we get seeming to shrink. What goes without saying is that Trump’s claims of a “witch hunt” against him mask the abuse of power is happening within the FBI and NSA under his administration, on an encrypted and more complicated level than headlines or his Twitter feed let on.