In a letter [PDF] released today, the Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell admits that the so-called "Terrorist Surveillance Program" (TSP) is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the NSA's spying on the American public.
To those closely following this issue, it is no secret that the government is engaging in dragnet surveillance of millions of ordinary Americans and has backdoor access to telecommunications providers' networks and records databases. The overwhelming evidence includes statements from fully briefed members of Congress, whistleblower evidence from a former AT&T employee, and numerous newspaper reports. Yet previously the Administration has only confirmed the TSP, characterized as the warrantless wiretapping of particular targets' communications where one party is in the U.S.
The Administration has finally copped to a broader program, and, even though it didn't reveal the details, that's a potentially critical concession. The Administration has steadfastly maintained that courts may not review any other NSA domestic spying activities unless their existence has been officially acknowledged. With this letter, Admiral McConnell has given that official acknowledgment.
The letter also provides even more reason for Congress to reject the Administration's "FISA Modernization" proposal and instead take action to halt the illegal surveillance. Time and again, the Administration has described the blatantly illegal TSP as a "narrow" and "targeted" program, and it's playing a similar game of linguistic misdirection with this bill. Rather than a mere "update" to the law focused on foreign-to-foreign communications, it could facilitate wide-ranging surveillance of Americans' private communications. It would be absurd for Congress to legislate in the dark, before the Administration comes clean about the domestic spying program.