By Ruth Conniff
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In a letter sent Friday, Senator Bernie Sanders demanded to know if the National Security Agency (NSA) has spied upon any members of Congress.
The independent senator said he is "deeply concerned" about recent revelations from whistleblower Edward Snowden, who provided documents showing that the NSA is syphoning up metadata from every phone call made in the U.S., and listening in to calls coming in from or going out overseas.
"In my view, these actions are clearly unconstitutional," Sanders wrote. "As U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon wrote recently, the NSA programs are 'almost Orwellian.'"
Sanders also cited the diplomatic fallout from revelations that the U.S. spied on the leaders of allied nations, such as Germany, Mexico, France, Brazil and others. "This particular revelation has caused serious foreign policy setbacks for the United States, weakened our ability to work cooperatively with our allies, and caused an increase in anti-American sentiment throughout the world," he explained.
It all led to one simple question: "Has the NSA spied, or is the NSA currently spying, on members of Congress or other American elected officials?" He added that "spying" would include collecting metadata from calls made by officials, observing web traffic, pulling details from personal emails or collecting "any other data from a third party" that's not normally available in the public sphere.
Of course, just because he's asking the question does not mean that the NSA will answer truthfully. NSA Director Keith Alexander has already admitted that he lied to Congress about the effectiveness of the agency's spying programs in stopping terrorist plots. After boasting to officials in June that the NSA had foiled up to 54 plots against U.S. national security, he revised the number down to one or two while being questioned by Senator Patrick Leahy in October.
Sanders is perhaps the most outspoken senator when it comes to matters of privacy and the NSA's activities. After Judge Leon ruled against the NSA's phone dragnet, Sanders applauded the decision and declared that the agency is "out of control" and operating without constitutional authority. He's since filed legislation that would impose broad new restrictions on how the agency gathers intelligence.
"Kids will grow up knowing that every damn thing that they do is going to be recorded somewhere in a file," he warned during a June appearance on MSNBC. "I think that will have a very Orwellian and inhibiting impact on our lives."
This video was aired by MSNBC on June 10, 2013.