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The 6,780 reports, current as of this month, comprise over 127,000 pages of material on some of the most contentious issues in the nation, from the U.S. relationship with Israel to the financial collapse... The release represents the total output of the Congressional Research Service (CRS) electronically available to Congressional offices. The CRS is Congress's analytical agency and has a budget in excess of $100M per year.
Open government lawmakers such as Senators John McCain (R-Arizona) and Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vermont) have fought for years to make the reports public, with bills being introduced--and rejected--almost every year since 1998. The CRS, as a branch of Congress, is exempt from the Freedom of Information Act.
non-partisan, in-depth, and timely
One might think that the CRS, as an agency of the Library of Congress, would institutionally support having a wider audience. But an internal memo reveals the CRS lobbying against bills (S. Res. 54 and H.R. 3630) which would have given the public access to its reports (Project on Government Secrecy, FAS, 2003).
The primary line pushed by the CRS is the one that appeals most to Congressional members--open publication would prevent spin control. The memo states this in delicate terms, referring to such spin failures as "Impairment of Member Communication with Constituents".
Of course the CRS doesn't really care about politicians facing much needed voter discipline, but it does have reasons of its own to avoid public oversight. Institutionally, the CRS has established an advisory relationship with members of Congress similar to the oversight-free relationship established between intelligence agencies and the office of the President.
Free from meaningful public oversight of its work, the CRS, as "Congress's brain", is able to influence Congressional outcomes, even when its reports contain errors. Arguably, its institutional power over congress is second only to the parties themselves. Public oversight would reduce its ability to exercise that influence without criticism. That is why it opposes such oversight, and that is why such oversight must be established immediately.
Journalist Duncan Campbell has spent much of his life investigating Echelon. In a report commissioned by the European Parliament he produced evidence that the NSA snooped on phone calls from a French firm bidding for a contract in Brazil. They passed the information on to an American competitor, which won the contract.
"There's no safeguards, no remedies, " he said, "There's nowhere you can go to say that they've been snooping on your international communications. Its a totally lawless world."
...[US] Colonel Dan Smith told the BBC that while this is feasible, it is not official policy: "Technically they can scoop all this information up, sort through it, and find what it is that might be asked for," he said. "But there is no policy to do this specifically in response to a particular company's interests."
There has been no official U.S. confirmation of the existence of Project Echelon, but the responsibilities of the National Security Agency (NSA) for signals intelligence (sigint) are widely known and reflected in statutory law and executive orders. Although there is no evidence that NSA has undertaken illegal sigint operations, some observers, in the U.S. as well as abroad, argue that electronic surveillance efforts, even if sanctioned by domestic laws, undercut universally guaranteed human rights. Others counter that a robust signals intelligence is essential to protect the Nation and its allies against hostile foreign governments, terrorists, and narcotics traffickers. This report will be updated as additional information becomes available.
Apprehension about NSA is found among European observers who suspect that U.S. intelligence agencies might be supporting U.S. corporations competing for international business–a suspicion not shared by most U.S. observers because of the complications that would be involved in transferring government intelligence to corporations in a highly competitive environment.
Many major U.S. corporations are not wholly U.S.-owned and in those cases there would be no way to provide sensitive intelligence without revealing it to non-U.S. persons.
U.S. intelligence agencies do, however, collect economic intelligence based on an established requirement to provide information to senior U.S. policymakers regarding unfair or illegal activities of foreign governments and corporations.
“We do not spy on foreign companies for the economic gain of American companies. We don’t do this. It’s our policy, it’s our regulation, we do not do this.” On the other hand, Tenet noted, “...if we find that an American company is being robbed, cheated and stolen or somebody is bribing and disenfranchising an American company, we will go to the Secretary of State or the Secretary of Commerce and say `we have this
information, you figure out how to deal with it."
Richard A. Best, Jr., Foreign Affairs, Defense, and Trade Division
Apprehension about NSA is found among European observers who suspect that U.S.intelligence agencies might be supporting U.S. corporations competing for international
business–a suspicion not shared by most U.S. observers
The major issue with regard to sigint, they suggest, is broader–namely, that the widespread dissemination of sophisticated intelligence and expansion of communications are creating a signals environment from which warning of armed attacks, terrorist activities, or narcotics smuggling can be gleaned only with enormous difficulty and greater costs. A number of observers believe that NSA, in particular, must be radically restructured if it is to continue to support national security objectives–an effort that will take years and require a substantial increase in budgetary authority.
Originally posted by Clearskies
Eschelon was around during the Clinton years, too.
I remember being careful about what I said on the phone!
Also, that report link is in pdf and it nearly shut my computer down. Mine's an older one.
The US intelligence services do not merely gather general economic intelligence, but also intercept communications between firms, particularly where contracts are being awarded, and they justify this on the grounds of combating attempted bribery. Detailed interception poses the risk that information may be used as competitive intelligence, rather than combating corruption, even though the US and the United Kingdom state that they do not do so. However, the role of the Advocacy Center of the US Department of Commerce is still not totally clear and talks arranged with the Center with a view to clarifying the matter were cancelled.
...In addition, terrorism and narcotics trafficking, formerly considered law enforcement matters, have been elevated to national security concerns, thus justifying the employment of intelligence resources.
Seeking to clarify statutory authorities, the FY1997 Intelligence Authorization Act (P.L. 104-293) authorized intelligence agencies, including NSA, to collect information outside the U.S. about individuals who are not U.S. persons at the request of U.S. law enforcement agencies.