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article imageOp-Ed: ACLU lawsuit enlightens shadowy NSA surveillance justification

By Bill Lindner     Oct 13, 2014 in Technology
Documents received by the American Civil Liberties Union in response to a lawsuit enlighten us to the deceptive language and tortured logic surrounding a secretive Executive Order being used by the NSA to justify illegally spying on every American.
A response from the Federal government to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) revealed that Executive Order (EO) 12333 signed by President Ronald Reagan in 1981 takes precedence over the National Security Agency's (NSA's) spying above and beyond the so-called PATRIOT Act and the FISA Amendments Act making it obvious that there is essentially no oversight from the U.S. Congress or the U.S. Court System. A recent report by Alex Abdo from the ACLU confirms that "The documents make it clearer than ever that the government's vast surveillance apparatus is collecting information -- including from Americans -- about much more than just terrorist threats."
Several key documents from the NSA, the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), and other agencies about EO 12333 released by the ACLU (PDF) confirm that the order, widely unmentioned in public debates, was actually used by the NSA to justify their alleged intelligence gathering through signal interruption (SIGNIT) and other means to spy on Americans and other non-terrorist threats. That information is hardly surprising given that it has been reported in the past, but it is surprising that the U.S. Congress's "reforms" have not addressed the EO and the government has failed to acknowledge its heavy reliance on EO 12333 to justify their actions.
EO 12333 was originally used for U.S. surveillance on foreign soil that targeted foreigners but it appears it has been conveniently manipulated to conduct surveillance on U.S. citizens now. That's important because EO 12333 is totally different from section 215 of the PATRIOT Act and the FISA Amendments Act which the government had previously claimed gave them the authority to conduct bulk collection of American's phone records and the PRISM program. Executive Orders are not overseen by Courts or Congress. As we've already seen, the NSA's "collect it all" mentality is running rampant because of the secret use and interpretations of EO 12333.
The documents (PDF) obtained by the ACLU reveal how the NSA has relied heavily on EO 12333 to justify out-of-control surveillance on Americans and closer examination of it is warranted. The documents also vindicate those who have repeatedly warned about the NSA's surveillance endeavors under EO 12333. It's important to shed light on EO 12333 because the NSA admittedly uses it as the primary source of their "intelligence gathering" authority for both foreign and domestic purposes.
Documents obtained by the ACLU (PDF) expose how EO 12333 is used as the primary tool by Washington to collect en masse information about everyone regardless of the fact that there is no threat of terrorism involved. EO 12333 is being deceptively used to account for the broad collection of communications on everyone, even when there is no threat to “National Security.” One document from the DIA (PDF) openly acknowledges the word games the government plays when describing its surveillance. The NSA manipulates words — using Orwellian double speak — to purposely misdirect what it says allowing it to say one thing while meaning something quite different from what was said, which has become standard operating procedure for Washington.
EO 12333 was updated in 1991 and has been continuously redefined since 2001 by the NSA without oversight to gather whatever information they desire. Twisting the interpretation around to fulfill clandestine operations with no oversight or accountability has resulted in everyone being considered guilty until proven innocent, which may explain why the public was never informed about it until the ACLU sued the government and revealed more information about it. It is impossible to guard a U.S. citizen’s privacy, rights and civil liberties when there is no oversight or accountability.
The NSA has regularly used EO 12333 to end run the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution which was once used to protect Americans against unreasonable and unwarranted searches. However, that changed after the appointment of George W. Bush to the presidency in 2000. In post-Constitutional America (2001-present) the rule of law has been rigged to apply to Americans but not the government. Using doublespeak and word play to justify illegal actions does not make them legal it only exacerbates the problems as well as the crimes. Using deceptive language and tortured logic that will not stand up to public or judicial review to continue illegal activities is quite revealing and troublesome, especially since EO 12333 is now being used to justify virtually everything.
As it stands now, the president is the only one that can negate Executive Orders issued by previous presidents. Congress can create new laws, but depending on what previous Executive Orders are still in play — and many of those are still classified and shrouded in secrecy — Congress’s authority may be limited. Before post-Constitution America, Executive Orders did not trump the Constitution, but they do now. To effectively put an end to EO 12333 and the mangled legalese being used by Washington to justify it, we need to know more about it. It’s necessary to shed more light on EO 12333 and for public debate since the way it’s being used now threatens what little is left of our Democracy.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
More about National security agency, Nsa, Patriot act, illegal spying, executive order 12333
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