From Irony To Irony: Senate Intel Committee Funds NSA, Especially For “Insider Threats”

From the Hill:

The Senate Intelligence Committee has advanced legislation to reauthorize funding for the National Security Agency and surveillance programs.

The bill includes new funding for technology to combat “insider threats” and leaks of classified information.

The committee approved the legislation in a 13-2 vote late Tuesday.

The approval of the annual funding measure comes after leaks by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden earlier this year revealed controversial details about the scope of the government’s secret surveillance programs.

The bill would empower the director of national intelligence to make improvements to the government’s process for investigating people with security clearances, such as Snowden.

Intelligence officials say the Snowden leaks have damaged the ability of the U.S. to spy on terrorists and thwart attacks.

The bill would create new protections for “legitimate” whistle-blowers to bring their concerns to Congress or agency leaders, the committee said.

The measure would also make the NSA director and inspector general subject to Senate confirmation.

“We recognize that budget reductions and sequestration are impacting our intelligence agencies, and Congress has a responsibility to ensure the [director of national intelligence] and other intelligence leaders have the resources and flexibility they need to protect the nation,” committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said in a statement.

The exact level of funding for the surveillance programs is classified.

First irony: “Senate Intelligence Committee”?

Second irony: The NSA is an “insider threat” to the United States.

It is interesting that the Senate is taking this opportunity to grab more authority over the NSA, by making both director and inspector general be confirmed by the Senate. Sadly, that doesn’t indicate any interest in curtailing the NSA to the limits imposed by the Fourth Amendment. If the NSA and the President are OK with this change, then I can only guess that they are really desperate for the Senate to back them up and defend their spying programs. They must have seen the opportunity to demand a concession.

But what is, “technology to combat ‘insider threats’ and leaks of classified information”? Does this mean monitoring equipment and surveillance computer programs so that contractors who might “go Snowden” can be monitored all the time?

If so, such surveillance seems like it will produce an onerous and demoralizing work environment. But until the NSA can recruit foreign mercenaries, ex-KGB agents, etc, I suppose there will always be a risk that Americans will find illegally spying on other Americans distasteful. I agree with Tim Cushing of TechDirt that this amounts to closing the barn door after the horse are already missing (or cows or whatever animal works in that metaphor). The NSA, having proven incompetent in preventing leaks which they insist are crucial to protecting the nation, is getting rewarded for that failure with more money.

Supposedly there will also be “new protections” for whistleblowers. I find this surprising. I thought that the protections were so good that there was no excuse for Edward Snowden to break the law. So why do we need “new protections” unless the old protections were, in fact, insufficient?