It didn’t take long for House Speaker John Boehner to exploit the arrest of an Ohio man accused of plotting to blow up the Capitol and sing the praises of the unconstitutional security state.
Boehner claimed that law enforcement used information collected through the FISA program to catch Christopher Lee Cornell, 20.
“The first thing that strikes me is that we would have never known about this had it not been for the FISA program and our ability to collect information on people who pose an imminent threat,” Boehner said.
I call B.S.!
The House Speaker likely lied
According to the criminal complaint, an FBI informant brought Cornell to law enforcement’s attention. Officials say Cornell posted messages in support of violent “jihad” on Twitter accounts under the alias “Raheel Mahrus Ubaydah.” According to charging documents, he also posted statements and videos expressing support of ISIS. The informant met with Cornell several times, feeding information back to authorities.
Based on the criminal complaint, it seems highly unlikely that the FBI would need to go to the FISA Court. A Democratic congressional aide who has worked on surveillance issues agreed, telling National Journal reporter Dustin Volz, “Based on the complaint, it looks like the FBI used traditional, targeted law-enforcement techniques to crack this case.”
With key provisions of the Patriot Act that expanded the FISA authority after 9/11 set to expire this summer, Boehner has good reason to credit the surveillance state with catching a potential terrorist. Of course, we will never know the truth because the FISA court acts in complete secrecy.
But if history provides any indication, we can safely say that the House Speaker is full of crap. After all, federal officials have a long and colorful history of lying about spy programs.
And after crediting FISA with catching the home-grown terror suspect, Boehner went on to tell a demonstrable whopper.
“I’m going to say this one more time because you’re going to hear about it for months and months to come as we attempt to reauthorize the FISA program,” he said at a news conference. “Our government does not spy on Americans unless there are Americans who are doing things that frankly tip off law enforcement officials to an imminent threat.”
An ACLU report last summer revealed the feds often spy on Americans through a back door. According to the report, the standard for determining if a target resides outside the US sits very low. It only requires that agents “reasonably believe” that the individual lives abroad. As a result, spies frequently vacuum up Americans’ data.
Once the government has collected this information, it stores it in enormous databases and can — through the “backdoor” search loophole — search it specifically for information about persons in the United States. In other words, even if officials claim they didn’t intend to collect information about you, once they have it, they can deliberately comb through it.
Around the same time, Glenn Greenwald released the names of five Americans targeted by the NSA and there existed no indication that they were an “imminent threat” as Boehner claims is necessary.
The Washington Post also revealed information through documents obtained from Snowden that show the NSA targets “everyday Americans.” According to the report, as many as nine out of 10 Internet users caught up in the spy dragnet were not the intended targets of surveillance. Not only that, but documents revealed that large amounts of data not relevant to any investigation was stored on NSA computers, even after it was deemed unimportant.
These revelations hint at the potential abuses inherent in secret spy programs run under the cloak of darkness. Documents released by Snowden indicate a far more insidious program than many imagined, and they reveal systematic lying by government officials. When one stops to consider what we now know about the NSA spy program, it boggles the mind to contemplate what remains hidden.
Simply put, we have ample evidence that government officials lie about the extent of the NSA spy programs, we know they spy on everyday Americans who pose no threat to national security, and we know they exaggerate the successes of surveillance programs to justify their existence.
Boehner might have been telling the truth. But he probably wasn’t.
We cannot trust the federal government to rein in these unconstitutional surveillance programs. The feds will continue to justify them, promote them and extend them. We have to take action through a different venue to end these blatant immoral violations of our basic right to privacy. OffNow has developed that alternative strategy – work through states to thwart unconstitutional spying.