A Christmas Message From Edward Snowden

Go tell it on the mountain.

LOS ANGELES TIMES: In the mid-1970s, the Church Committee, named for its chairman, Sen. Frank Church (D-Idaho), made shocking and still-relevant findings. It found that J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI spied on hundreds of thousands of Americans who dissented against government policy, on the pretext that they were part of a Kremlin-controlled plot. […] The Church Committee also investigated NSA surveillance and its relationship to its “customer” agencies and their activities. From 1967 until 1973, the committee said, the NSA targeted the international communications of some 1,200 Americans on a “watch list” of names, submitted mainly by the FBI and other agencies, who ranged from members of radical political groups to celebrities to “ordinary citizens involved in protests against their government.” Among those listed were King, Muhammad Ali and even Church.

These NSA intercepts were an integral part of massive domestic surveillance that targeted citizens because they exercised their constitutional rights, the committee reported. The FBI used the information to develop leads at the same time the bureau was conducting COINTELPRO; the CIA used it to spy on antiwar activists under its “questionable” Operation CHAOS; and the Army to improperly amass files on more than 100,000 U.S. citizens engaged in dissent. In its defense, the NSA claimed that the communications of Americans had been collected “as an incidental and unintended act in the conduct of the interception of foreign communications.” Sound familiar? It is past time for another Church Committee. Congress should promptly conduct hearings and demand to know not only what the NSA is collecting but how its customer agencies are using it:

• Is the NSA again monitoring American citizens and organizations engaged in dissent, such as the Occupy movement and other groups that have come under federal scrutiny?

• Is the agency watching immigrants in the U.S., such as Muslim communities that have been the scene of invasive FBI investigations?

• Is the NSA being deployed to gather intelligence from academic communities, which attract people of many creeds and are natural sites of dissent?

• Which Americans have the NSA’s customer agencies requested information about, and to what end?

Congress must be insistent, and it must use subpoena power, especially because intelligence officials have repeatedly misled Congress, the courts and the public about the NSA’s doings.

Snowden’s disclosures have spurred authorities to reconsider the scope of NSA surveillance, but history tells us real reform requires a public accounting of how intelligence was used in regard to Americans. MORE