Posts Tagged ‘national security’

FOI Daily Dose: Poll shows Americans support NSA surveillance but still want answers

A new Washington Post-ABC News poll shows that although 58 percent of Americans support the National Security Agency (NSA) intelligence-gathering program, an even larger majority is still eager for answers.

According to the poll conducted June 12-16 on a national random sample of 1,017 adults, 65 percent want Congress to hold public hearings on the NSA surveillance programs.

The Washington Post analyzed the results June 19, comparing the findings to previous public opinion polls about the NSA surveillance since the programs were unveiled June 6. A CNN/ORC poll on June 17 showed that 66 percent of Americans supported the federal government tracking foreign Internet activity, and yet a Pew Research Center/USA Today poll published the same day found only 48 percent approved of the phone and Internet data collection.

To help clear up confusion about the surveillance, NSA Director Keith Alexander told a House committee on June 18 that the programs helped foil more than 50 terror threats worldwide, including more than 10 in the U.S. Homeland, according to USA Today.

Alexander told lawmakers: “I would much rather be here today debating this than explaining why we were unable to prevent another 9/11” attack.”

Kara Hackett is SPJ’s Pulliam/Kilgore Freedom of Information intern, a freelance writer and a free press enthusiast. Contact her at or on Twitter: @KaraHackett.

FOI Daily Dose: Whistle-blowers wanted to call out curious NSA programs, Patriot Act under fire

As reporters continue to pull back the curtain on sweeping government surveillance, whistle-blowers are gaining wind as a vital and ever-threatened cog in the American democracy machine.

The Atlantic Monthly published an article June 6 calling all citizens to arms to help hold the government accountable  especially those working on the inside of National Security Agency (NSA) programs recently exposed for monitoring and mining information about the American public.

Since the revelation that the government has the ability to track every citizen like a potential terrorist (collecting personal phone records and using programs like PRISM to tap into information from U.S. Internet giants), The Atlantic is encouraging insiders to report these programs’ activities to the press so the public can learn more.

Now that we know phone lines and computers are being watched (and that’s only scratching the surface, The Atlantic says), we need whistle-blowers more than ever to expose secrets about other ways Feds are collecting information and how they’re using the information they have.

The Atlantic said these top secret NSA programs are “probably illegal,” so blowing the whistle on them is essentially “the moral response to immoral activity by those in power.”

On June 7, MSNBC published an article saying the author of the Patriot Act, Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), denounced the government’s overbroad interpretation of it as “un-American” and potentially un-Constitutional. But despite his apparent dismay, The Atlantic notes that Sensenbrenner has “a curious history of insisting that it is good law” since he first introduced it in 2001.

In their editorial board on June 6, The New York Times called for the infamous act to be either sharply curtailed or repealed to prevent overbroad interpretations in the future.

But intrusive government surveillance isn’t a problem unique to Patriots. The Human Rights Watch tracked the issue on Twitter, showing that appalling abuses of federal power are stirring up controversy everywhere from the European Union, to India, to Singapore, to Jordan and Azerbaijan — just to name a few.

Kara Hackett is SPJ’s Pulliam/Kilgore Freedom of Information intern, a freelance writer and a free press enthusiast. Contact her at or on Twitter: @KaraHackett.

UPDATE: House votes to hold Holder in contempt over ‘Fast and Furious’

Fast and Furious Contempt Vote

UPDATE: 4:44 p.m. ET: The House has voted to hold Eric Holder in contempt, 255-67.

The House Committee for Government Oversight and Reform will proceed today with the contempt vote against Attorney General Eric Holder. At this point, however, Representative Darrell Issa (R-CA) said he is not accusing theWhite House or Holder for knowing about the Fast and Furious operation. Rather, the Committee is looking for documents to reveal why the Department of Justice initially denied and later admitted to knowledge of the scandal.

“When did they know we were lied to and what did they do about it?”  Issa asked, according to CBS News.

The Fast and Furious operation refers to a 2009 gun-walking tactic resulting in more than 2000 guns to be walked across the Arizona/Mexico border in an attempt to trace the guns to suspected gun smugglers. The operation ultimately failed and resulted in unaccounted weapons and the death of border agent Brian Terry.

The National Rifle Association has given its support to the contempt proceedings and say today’s vote will influence which candidates they will back in the future. This move by the NRA may influence not only House Republicans but pro-gun House Democrats as well.

Whistleblower Involved in Gunwalking

Adding to the mess surrounding the contempt proceedings is the integrity of a key whistleblower, John Dodson, an ATF agent who has been implicated in a separate but concurrent gunwalking operation.  Dodson and his former supervisor, Dave Voth, have both claimed to have been against what has been termed the “Fernandez case,” referred to by Darrell Issa on ABC’s “This Week.”  Fernandez involves six guns that  Dodson purchased and delivered to gun-smuggling suspect Isaias Fernandez on June 1, 2010, according to Fox.  However, there is some dispute on whether Dodson instigated the transfer of guns or was simply following Voth’s orders.

An investigative report by Fortune claims the entire Fast and Furious episode is simply politics run out of control. In defense of Voth, Fortune says the ATF agents were legally limited by what they could do to curb the flow of guns. Arizona statute allows for easy purchase and resale of guns, and ATF had been in hot water for some of its earlier efforts at gun interception and agents’ hands were tied. In spite of ATF’s of gun walking, they unable to convince federal prosecutors to pursue the matter, Fortune said. Prosecutors said they needed more evidence than what had already been put forth.  In order to collect such evidence, the ATF unsuccessfully attempted a wiretap operation and subsequently, the gun smuggling continued.  The fallout was agent Brian Terry’s death and Dodson’s claim that Voth had pursued Fast and Furious despite his and others’ disapproval. Dodson also referred to an email in which Voth cites a “schism” between those who supported walking the guns and those who did not.  However, Voth claims Dodson and others reported events out of context as an attempt at retribution, and the schism referred to wire tapping, not gunwalking. *Update, 6/29/2012: The schism in the email actually referred to disputes among coworkers about the wiretap shift scheduling. Dodson was opposed to working weekends, and agents pulled in to help from other projects did not want to work the less desirable shifts.  Fortune further reported that Dodson walked the guns and then left on vacation without finalizing the operation or successfully tracking the guns.

Politically motivated? Does it matter?

Each side is decrying the political motivations of the other. Republicans cite an anti-gun agenda behind the gunwalking while Democrats see an attempt to embarrass the president during an election year. While there is likely some political motivation on both sides, my main question is whether the public has a right to the information Issa is requesting. Or is Obama’s use of executive privilege — the first in his administration — warranted in interest of preserving the integrity of an ongoing investigation and internal deliberations?

More info:

Whitney is the summer Pulliam/Killgore intern with SPJ. She recently graduated from Brigham Young University after studying journalism. Connect with her via email – –  or on twitter – @whitevs7

*Know something about Freedom of Information that you think we should cover in a blog post? We want to hear from you! Send information to It may be featured in a future post.



Twitter Facebook Google Plus RSS Instagram Pinterest Pinterest LinkedIn

© Society of Professional Journalists. All rights reserved. Legal

Society of Professional Journalists
Eugene S. Pulliam National Journalism Center, 3909 N. Meridian St., Indianapolis, IN 46208
317/927-8000 | Fax: 317/920-4789 | Contact SPJ Headquarters | Employment Opportunities | Advertise with SPJ