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Snowden Leaks Force Senate Intelligence Chair to Change Tune on NSA Spying

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who called whistleblower a 'traitor' as she defended NSA, is now calling for agency-wide review. But don't applaud yet.

- Jon Queally, staff writer

If Feinstein is “totally opposed” to the surveillance of foreign leaders, why has she given a blank check for such surveillance of most Americans, violating their rights under the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution that she has taken an oath to defend? Sen. Dianne Feinstein is beginning to loosen her defense of the National Security Agency.

However— though some are calling for it—nothing suggests Edward Snowden is likely to receive credit for her shift or an apology from the senator anytime soon.

"If Feinstein is 'totally opposed' to the surveillance of foreign leaders, why has she given a blank check for such surveillance of most Americans, violating their rights under the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution that she has taken an oath to defend?" –Robert Scheer, TruthDig

Feinstein, chair of the powerful Senate Intelligence Committee and one of the NSA's staunchest supporters in the months since leaks by the whistleblower gave the U.S. and global public a look at the agency's vast domestic and international surveillance dragnet, is now saying she thinks a "total review" of their operations may, in fact, be warranted.

Following the most recent revelations over the last several days showing the NSA has spied on world leaders from over thirty countries—including close allies like France, Germany, and Spain—Feinstein claims that her committee was not "satisfactorily" briefed on these kinds of programs and, like President Obama, she was unaware of their scale and depth.

In a statement to the press on Monday, Feinstein said:

"It is abundantly clear that a total review of all intelligence programs is necessary so that members of the Senate Intelligence Committee are fully informed as to what is actually being carried out by the intelligence community."

"Unlike NSA's collection of phone records under a court order, it is clear to me that certain surveillance activities have been in effect for more than a decade and that the Senate Intelligence Committee was not satisfactorily informed."

"With respect to NSA collection of intelligence on leaders of US allies – including France, Spain, Mexico and Germany – let me state unequivocally: I am totally opposed."

However, as journalist Glenn Greenwald, one of the key journalists involved with reporting on the NSA documents and a longtime critic of Feinstein's stance on this and other matters, doesn't think Feinstein deserves much applause for these new statements. Putting Feinstein's statement in context, Greenwald tweeted:

As Greenwald and other critics have continually and repeatedly stated, the Senate Intelligence Committee under Feinstein's leadership has acted as a greenlight for the NSA, not a check on their vast surveillance powers. And despite a steady flow of information that began early in the year showing how the agency has spied on millions upon millions of everyday citizens in the U.S. and around the world, none of that was met with objection or shock by the committee chair.

Following Monday's statement by Feinstein, Foreign Policy cited one "unnamed" NSA offical who responded to the senator's call for an agency-wide review by saying, "We're really screwed now." According to the FP reporting:

The former official added that the "bottom line question is where was the Senate Intelligence Committee when it came to their oversight of these programs? And what were they being told by the NSA, because if they didn't know about this surveillance, that would imply they were being lied to."
A spokesperson for Feinstein did not respond to a request for more details in time for publication. And a spokesperson for Sen. Saxby Chambliss, the intelligence committee's vice chairman, said the senator had no comment at this time.

To the extent all of this flows from Snowden, who Feinstein has labeled as a traitor to his country, TruthDig editor Robert Scheer, in a Tuesday column titled "Obama, Congress Owe Snowden Thanks, and a Pardon," explores whether or not the Intelligence Committee chair and President Obama, who now admit how little they knew about certain NSA conduct, will change their accusatory approach towards the 30-year-old whistleblower.

Scheer writes:

... the fact of the matter is that [Feinstein] was clued in only thanks to the public service performed by Snowden in exposing the NSA’s despicable behavior. In June, Feinstein rushed to condemn Snowden as a traitor, saying, “I don’t look at this as being a whistle-blower. I think it’s an act of treason. ... He violated the oath. He violated the law. It’s treason.” She should now apologize to Snowden for honoring his oath to protect the Constitution.

But what of Feinstein’s dishonoring the Constitution? If Feinstein is “totally opposed” to the surveillance of foreign leaders, why has she given a blank check for such surveillance of most Americans, violating their rights under the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution that she has taken an oath to defend? That’s a question that also ought to be answered by the president, who should welcome Snowden back to his country and give him the Medal of Freedom for his public service.

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