In a January 5 Fox News Channel interview, New York Republican Congressman Peter King (shown in blue suit) claimed that Senator Rand Paul tells “absolute lies” with respect to NSA surveillance of Americans, concluding of the Kentucky Republican that “he doesn’t deserve to be in the United States Senate for spreading that kind of misperception and – absolute lies – to be honest with you.”
The interview with Fox News reporter Jamie Colby focused on King’s defense of NSA surveillance of American citizens’ phone habits, where King claimed:
The NSA is doing exactly what it is supposed to be doing. No one’s privacy is being violated, despite what Senator Rand Paul is talking about. The NSA is not listening to Americans’ phone calls. All they are doing is they are taking the records from the phone companies of phone number to phone number – no names, no addresses, no content. The only time those numbers can even be looked at is if a foreign terrorist makes a call into the United States. Then the NSA can find out what number they called. Then they have to go to court so that the FBI, the Justice Department, can get a warrant to listen to those calls.
However, Senator Paul never claimed that the NSA was listening to Americans’ phone calls. He has instead filed a class-action lawsuit trying to stop bulk collection of the phone records that King described above. Asked if he was worried that the NSA was watching him or listening to his phone calls, Senator Rand Paul told the Fox News Channel:
I don’t really think so, but I think the potential for this kind of abuse exists. Think of it in this context: We now have an administration that has used the IRS to monitor people who are of conservative political bent or have certain religious beliefs. So they have already shown that they will use what is supposed to be impartial – the IRS – to do it.
Moreover, it’s not as if the NSA claims can be trusted. The NSA claimed under oath it wasn’t collecting even the metadata before whistleblower Edward Snowden made the program public by leaking documents to journalist Glenn Greenwald.
Senator Paul did claim that Americans’ privacy was being violated, as he believes Americans clearly have a right to privacy in their telephone habits. In claiming that Americans have no right to privacy in their telephone habits, King echoed the Obama administration’s policy that says the NSA should have the right to vacuum up everyone’s call records without a warrant. President Obama’s White Paper on NSA surveillance asserts that:
The telephony metadata collection program also complies with the Constitution. Supreme Court precedent makes clear that participants in telephone calls lack a reasonable expectation of privacy for purposes of the Fourth Amendment in the telephone numbers used to make and receive their calls.
King also stressed that – in addition to the claim that there’s no privacy right to telephone traffic – the federal government has not abused this information:
Peter King: “So far, the President’s Commission, Rand Paul, all of them, have not been able to find any abuses by the NSA.
Fox News Host Jamie Colby: …except what the NSA has come forward itself and said “we made these errors.”
Peter King: …self-reported, and these were minimal errors where no damage was done to anyone. No political intent. No criminal intent whatsoever.”
But King’s claims are at variance with publicly known facts. The Washington Post reported August 15, 2013 that the NSA committed “thousands” of privacy violations per year, citing a secret NSA internal audit that had been leaked by Edward Snowden. So not only has the NSA violated privacy on a regular basis, the “errors” were not “self-reported” as King claimed, unless one considers Snowden’s leaks an instance of “self-reporting.”
And not all the NSA violations of privacy were “errors.” In 2013, the NSA acknowledged a dozen instances of deliberate misuse of the phone logs, including some so-called “LOVEINT” infractions – violations where NSA employees spied on their wives and girlfriends using the phone data. According to the August 23 Wall Street Journal, “The LOVEINT violations involved overseas communications, officials said, such as spying on a partner or spouse. In each instance, the employee was punished either with an administrative action or termination. Most of the incidents, officials said, were self-reported. Such admissions can arise, for example, when an employee takes a polygraph tests as part of a renewal of a security clearance.”