Senator Ron Wyden thought he knew what was going on.
The Democrat from Oregon, who has served on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence since 2001, thought he knew the nature of the National Security Agencys surveillance activities. As a committee member with a classified clearance, he received regular briefings to conduct oversight.
But when the The New York Times broke the story in late 2005 that the spy agency was engaging in warrantless wiretapping, Wyden was as surprised as the rest of us.
He was surprised again when, six months later, USA Today published a different story revealing for the first time that the NSA was secretly collecting the phone call records of tens of millions of Americans, records that US telecoms were willingly handing over without a warrant. Two of the three identified telecoms denied the allegations, and the story quickly died. But its ghost lingered on, neither fully confirmed nor denied, haunting Wyden. It took another seven years for a document leaked in 2013 by Edward Snowden to end the speculation and finally confirm that the bulk-collection phone records program existed.
Wyden doesnt want to say when exactly he learned of the phone records program but says The New York Times story and the USA Today [piece] were both real wakeup calls. Speaking to WIRED during a recent visit to the Bay Area, he adds that it was very frustrating to have to wait seven years after the USA Today story broke for details of the program to come out.
Wyden has spent a lot of time biting his lip since those early revelations, unable to disclose what he knows but going as far as he could to drop hints over the years. In 2011, two years before the Snowden leaks, he warned fellow lawmakers that the government had devised secret interpretations of the Patriot Act to legally justify its surveillanceinterpretations dramatically different from how the public understood the law should be interpreted. Then in July 2013, as the first Snowden documents were leaking, he warned again that the public was seeing just the tip of a larger iceberg and that lawmakers were being misled by intelligence officials about their activities.
The senator hedged when asked by WIRED if the Snowden revelations have now fully exposed the iceberg, or if were still just seeing the tip. All he would say was that there are things that even he remains ignorant aboutsuch as the ways in which the government is using Executive Order 12333 to conduct overseas data collection without court oversight.
Wyden is gearing up for a battle on Capitol Hill to reform the Patriot Act, particularly Section 215, which the NSA used to authorize and justify its phone records collection program. This and other portions of the law, passed in the wake of 9/11,expire in June and are up for re-authorization.
Wyden spoke with WIRED about the difficulty of keeping mum over the years on classified matters; about his public showdown with intelligence chief James Clapper over the NSAs data collection on Americans; and about the governments use of zero-day exploits, a practice that undermines the Obama administrations assertions about the importance of securing the nations critical infrastructure systems. But one question he wouldnt answerabout allegations that US telecoms have been helping the NSA undermine foreign networks.
The rest is here:
Pro-Privacy Senator Wyden on Fighting the NSA From Inside the System