Ever since wistleblower Edward Snowden disclosed in June last year the scale with which the NSA has been bulk harvesting its own citizens’ phone data, a cornerstone of its defence has always been that it does so under full oversight, not least by the Pentagon’s deputy Defense Department Inspector General for intelligence and special program assessments, Anthony C Thomas.
Well, Thomas has now stated that ‘from my own personal knowledge, those programs, in and of themselves, I was not personally aware’, adding that he ‘can’t quantify’ the amount of oversight he performs on the NSA.
Um… so could you please remind us what is a watchdog for again? Even more confusingly, Thomas said that he had no plans to investigate NSA bulk surveillance either, although this seems to be contradicted by a press briefing from Thomas’s office yesterday, which said they were now investigating ‘substantiated allegations of unauthorized intelligence collection activities,’ but refused to go into any details.
As he left the NSA in October last year, director Keith Alexander, in what was clearly a deliberately misleading answer to a House intelligence committee question, said that,
‘The DNI has an inspector general and a general counsel that also oversees what we’re doing. The Department of Defense has a general counsel and an inspector general that oversees what we’re doing. And the Department of Justice, their national security division, oversees what we’re doing and works with us in the court and the White House.’