Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) has written a letter to NSA's director, asking whether the agency has spied on members of Congress. It sounds like he's uncovered a scandal, until you read the fine print. It turns out that Sen. Sanders is simply asking whether NSA collects Americans' telephone metadata, and every sentient American already knows that answer: NSA's program collects metadata for all US calls. So Sen. Sanders's letter isn't an inquiry, it's a stunt.
The Guardian is an enthusiastic participant in the stunt, with Spencer Ackerman writing that NSA "did not deny collecting communications from legislators of the US Congress." Well, duh. Unfortunately, it looks as though Ted Cruz, who so far has avoided the worst fever swamps of NSA paranoia, also fell for the stunt, tweeting "@SenSanders asks ? millions of Americans would like answered: Are any law-abiding citizens safe from NSA spying?"
At the risk of being repetitive, Sen. Cruz, we've all known the answer for months. NSA's 215 program collects all domestic call metadata, and it protects all that data by requiring that any search of the data be based on a reasonable suspicion of terrorism. All means all. All Americans' metadata is collected. All Americans' privacy is protected by the minimization requirements. Sen. Sanders's stunt adds precisely nothing to what we know about the program, or to the debate.
But as long as the press covers the stunt as though it were a story, I think we can predict the next batch of letters that Sen. Sanders will send to NSA:
- Is the agency "spying on" Sarah Palin?
- Is the agency "spying on" Hilary Clinton?
- Is the agency "spying on" the Rev. Billy Graham?
- Is the agency "spying on" Clint Eastwood?
- Is the agency "spying on" Oprah Winfrey?
- Is the agency "spying on" Angeline Jolie -- and all those cute little kids, too? What about Brad?
- Would the agency be "spying on" Helen Keller if she were still alive?
- Was the agency spying on the Fonz when he jumped the shark, along with this story?