Under the law that created the CIA in 1947, there was a bright line barring the agency from spying on Americans… partly over concerns about civil liberties, privacy and political abuse. After the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, there was widespread support for stepped up security even if it meant stepping on jealously-guarded constitutional protections. Some worried: Would the government take its new powers too far? With recent disclosures, the answer may be– yes. Today’s cover story examines, “The Surveillance State.”
Pete Hoekstra: They know who you’re talking to, they know your communications patterns. So whether you’re doing it through social media, or know through emails or through phone calls or these types of things, they know who you’re talking to.
Sharyl: Former Congressman Pete Hoekstra is describing the extent of government surveillance.
Pete Hoekstra: We use it to profile people who may be threats to the United States. But at the same time, they can profile you as to the kind of person you are, and the kind of people that you interact with.
Sharyl: Even if I’ve done nothing wrong?
Pete Hoekstra: Even if you’ve done nothing wrong.
Sharyl: Hoekstra helped usher in the modern surveillance state after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. He supported the Patriot Act that greatly expanded the powers of U.S. intelligence agencies.
In 2004, he became Chairman of the House Intelligence committee.
Pete Hoekstra: I was called over to the White House and I met with Mike Hayden who, at that time, was the Director of the NSA and I met with the Vice President.
Sharyl: They read him in on a government practice that was unheard of, by the public: a secret program to gather “bulk” data on nearly every American.
Pete Hoekstra: We collect Americans who, you know, who are part of the system and through this huge dragnet that we have out there and this is what we do to make sure that their conversations, quote-unquote, are minimized.
Sharyl: The program was so secretive, that Director of National Intelligence James Clapper was still publicly denying it in 2013.
Sen. Wyden: Does the NSA collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?
James Clapper: No, sir.
Sen. Wyden: It does not?
James Clapper: Not wittingly.
Sharyl: A month later, National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden exposed the shocking extent to which the U.S. government had been spying on law abiding citizen including so-called “incidental” surveillance, without a court warrant, of Americans who simply communicated with a foreign target. On that basis, the government has secretly recorded members of Congress, we’ve learned, including Jane Harmon speaking with pro-Israel lobbyists and Dennis Kucinich speaking with a Libyan official. Someone illegally leaked the conversations to the press.
Sharyl: Some people today may not realize that privacy of our citizens and controlling the government from doing these sorts of things is sort of a basic tenet in our society.
Elizabeth Goitien: It is. I mean, it’s right there in the Fourth Amendment.
Sharyl: Elizabeth Goitein leads the Liberty and National Security Program at the Brennan Center for Justice Policy group.
Elizabeth Goitein: Essentially every administration, starting from FDR up through Nixon had abused the surveillance authorities that were in their power in order to go after personal enemies, in order to go after political opponents, journalists, lobbyists, executive officials.
Sharyl: They had enemies lists.
Goitein: They had enemies lists; congressional staffers, disfavored minorities or political viewpoints.