What Else Can the Obama Administration Do to Undermine U.S. Security?

After the administration spied on Americans and lied to Congress, Feinstein's bombshell now raises even more questions about its activities.

Activists demonstrate against the electronic surveillance tactics of the NSA and in support of whistleblowers Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden on July 27, 2013 in Berlin, Germany. (National Journal)

They spied on you. They lied to the Senate. They seized telephone records from the Associated Press and considered criminalizing investigative journalism at Fox News. What else can the U.S. intelligence community do to destroy its credibility, curb civil liberties, and ultimately undermine U.S. security?

Spy on Congress.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat bravely challenging a Democratic White House, accused the CIA of searching computer files used by her staffers on the Senate Intelligence Committee to review the CIA's now-defunct interrogation programs, potentially violating:

  • The constitutionally sacred principle of separation of powers, which prohibits one branch of government (say, a runaway executive branch) from strong-arming the other two branches.  
  • The Fourth Amendment, which protects from unreasonable search and seizure.
  • The Computer Fraud and Abuse Act and Executive Order 12333, which bar domestic surveillance.

Feinstein said the CIA "may have undermined the constitutional framework essential to effective congressional oversight of intelligence activities or any other government function."

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The sad irony here is that Congress has been more of a lapdog than a watchdog to the intelligence community as its powers grew in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. Under Presidents Bush and Obama, surveillance on the activities of U.S. citizens, as well as people and leaders across the globe, mushroomed to meet the challenge of 21st-century threats, with billions of dollars invested in new technologies that collect and analyze our digital trails.

Edward Snowden, a contractor with the National Security Agency, stole troves of documents that revealed U.S. secrets, many of which had nothing to do with spying inside the United States and which jeopardize national security. A portion of the documents, however, revealed activities that curbed civil liberties with no public debate, and exposed government lies.

For instance, intelligence chief James Clapper was asked a year ago in a Senate hearing whether the NSA collects "any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans." He said no, knowing that the statement was false. "Not wittingly," he said. "There are cases where they could inadvertently perhaps collect, but not wittingly."

It was a lie.

As a candidate, Obama promised to rein in the Bush-era terrorism tactics and strike a better balance between security and liberty. As president, Obama expanded the programs and did so more secretly than necessary. Polls show he has paid a price, both with voters (primarily young and liberal) who don't trust the intelligence community and with less-ideological Americans who've simply lost their trust in him.

This isn't a mere political problem. When the American public doesn't trust its national-security leadership, their support of national-security policy crumbles, and that can become a crisis.

They spied on you and lied about it. Now they may have spied on Congress. Wittingly or not, for legitimate reasons or not, the actions of the intelligence community and the White House have compromised national security.