Tech Dirt 
October 29, 2013
Dianne Feinstein, the NSA’s biggest defender in the Senate (which is ridiculous since she’s also in charge of “oversight”) has finally had enough. It’s not because she finally understands how crazy it is that the NSA is spying on every American, including all of her constituents in California. It’s not because she finally realized that the NSA specifically avoided  letting her know about their widespread abuses. No, it’s because she just found out that the NSA also spies on important people, like political leaders around the globe. It seems that has finally ticked off Feinstein , who has released a scathing statement about the latest revelations:
“Unlike NSA’s collection of phone records under a court order, it is clear to me that certain surveillance activities have been in effect for more than a decade and that the Senate Intelligence Committee was not satisfactorily informed. Therefore our oversight needs to be strengthened and increased.
“With respect to NSA collection of intelligence on leaders of U.S. allies—including France, Spain, Mexico and Germany—let me state unequivocally: I am totally opposed.
“Unless the United States is engaged in hostilities against a country or there is an emergency need for this type of surveillance, I do not believe the United States should be collecting phone calls or emails of friendly presidents and prime ministers. The president should be required to approve any collection of this sort.
There are so many different possible reactions to this. Let’s go to list form to go through a few:
- Most people seem a hell of a lot less concerned about spying on political leaders than the public. After all, you kind of expect espionage to target foreign leaders. It seems incredibly elitist for Feinstein to show concern about spying on political leaders, and not the public. It shows how she views the public as opposed to people on her level of political power. One of them doesn’t matter. The other gets privacy.
- For all the bluster and anger from Feinstein about this, the Senate Intelligence Committee’s mandate is only about intelligence activities that touch on US persons, so it’s not even clear that she has any power over their activities strictly in foreign countries targeting foreign individuals. Why she seems to have expected the NSA to let her know about that when the NSA itself has been pretty explicit that avoids  telling Congress about anything it can reasonably avoid telling them.
- Feinstein has referred to Ed Snowden’s leak as “an act of treason.”  Now that they’ve revealed something that she believes is improper and deserving of much greater scrutiny, is she willing to revisit that statement?
- Given that Feinstein has been angrily banging the drum for months about how her oversight of the intelligence community shows that everything’s great, and there’s no risk of rogue activity — yet now she’s finally admitting that perhaps the oversight isn’t particularly comprehensive, is she willing to admit that her earlier statements are reasonably considered hogwash and discredited? She even says in her statement: “Congress needs to know exactly what our intelligence community is doing. To that end, the committee will initiate a major review into all intelligence collection programs.” And yet she’s been claiming that oversight has been more than enough for years?
- The cynical viewpoint: Feinstein knows the USA Freedom Act is coming out Tuesday, and that it has tremendous political momentum. Sooner or later she was going to have to admit that NSA surveillance was going to be curbed. Did she just happen to choose this latest bit of news for a bit of political theater to join the “time to fix the NSA” crowd?
There are plenty of other things that could be added to the list, but the whole situation seems fairly ridiculous considering about whom we’re talking.