National Security Agency Director Keith Alexander says the agency cannot "lawfully" search its own database to determine if lawmakers' phone records were swept up during its mass collections of data, but he insists that the NSA is not spying on U.S. politicians.
Responding Tuesday to a letter sent by Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders, Alexander said the NSA can't examine the database because it's only able to access records it reasonably suspects can be linked to foreign terrorism, The Hill reported
"For that reason, NSA cannot lawfully search to determine if any records NSA has received under the program have included metadata of the phone calls of any member of Congress, other American elected officials, or any other American without that predicate," Alexander said.
Alexander also said President Barack Obama's review of the NSA activity proved there was no proof that the agency used its metadata program to target political activity. The president is expected to outline his list of reforms for the agency on Friday.
"NSA may not target any American for foreign intelligence collection without a finding of probable cause that the proposed target of collection is a foreign power or an agent of a foreign power," Alexander said, noting that any information collected on Americans is handled with several privacy protections that also apply to Congress.
Sanders said he still has concerns, however, because Alexander has provided no proof the NSA has been collecting information on lawmakers or, as the senator calls it, "spying" on the nation's elected officials.
Further, the senator told The Huffington Post
, the NSA is collecting enormous amounts of information and knows about "the phone calls made by every person in this country, where they’re calling, who they’re calling and how long they’re on the phone."
Sanders compared the activity to the Watergate scandal and then President Richard Nixon's activities.
"Let us not forget that a mere 40 years ago, we had a president of the United States who completely disregarded the law in an effort to destroy his political opponents," Sanders said. "In my view, the information collected by the NSA has the potential to give an unscrupulous administration enormous power over elected officials."
He acknowledged that the United States "must do everything we can to protect our country from the serious potential of another terrorist attack but we can and must do so in a way that also protects the constitutional rights of the American people and maintains our free society."
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