Feinstein gives US a wake-up on spying

Updated: 2014-03-14 07:41

By Chen Weihua (China Daily)

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Veteran US Senator Dianne Feinstein probably never knew what it was like to be spied on until now.

Since last June's exposure of the National Security Agency's rampant surveillance scandals, the chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee has been a staunch defender of those surveillance programs, despite the fact that these programs have drawn sharp criticism and protests from both US citizens and people in nations around the world.

However, on Tuesday, Feinstein seemed somehow connected with the majority of people in the world, when she lashed out at the Central Intelligence Agency's spying on the Senate Intelligence Committee's staff and computers. She accused the CIA of trying to undermine the committee's work on an investigation report regarding the CIA's illegal torture and rendition programs following the Sept 11 attacks on the US in 2001.

Feinstein said that the CIA spying had broken the law and even violated the separation of power principles embodied in the US Constitution.

The courage demonstrated by Feinstein, a Democrat from California and a supporter of US President Barack Obama, should be applauded, but the 80-year-old may not have changed her mind as much as people think.

Feinstein is deeply concerned about CIA's spying on lawmakers, but she has not said it is wrong for the agency, and the NSA, to spy on ordinary people all over the world.

If US lawmakers' right to privacy is important, what about the privacy of ordinary US citizens and citizens in other nations, especially those which are not allies with the United States?

Sadly, most conversations in the US are about how wrong it is for NSA to spy on US citizens, few seem to care to what extent the NSA is conducting its invasive surveillance outside the US.

About 40 percent of US citizens still approve of the government's collection of telephone and Internet data, which it claims is for anti-terrorism purposes, and only 53 percent disapprove, according to a January survey by the Pew Research Center.

Feinstein revealed she came to the Senate floor on Tuesday reluctantly. She has asked for an apology and recognition that this CIA search on the Senate Intelligence Committee's computers was inappropriate. "I have received neither," she said.

In fact, the whole world, including a small group of world leaders such as German Chancellor Angela Merkel, has been waiting for an apology from NSA and from US President Barack Obama. But they have been waiting in vain.

On the contrary, Obama has been unapologetic when it comes to the US surveillance of governments and people outside the US. In his speech on Jan 17, he said the US will not apologize simply because its abilities are greater. The US does not want international rules and norms governing cyberspace given the huge technologcal edge it has in spying on other nations and nationals.

Yet that kind of thinking may well have to change, if other nations, be it China, Russia, Germany or Iran, develop more advanced surveillance technologies than the US. Although of course, we have not seen any other nation becoming as obsessed as the US in spying on others.

On Tuesday, CIA Director John Brennan quickly responded to Feinstein and said the CIA has done nothing wrong. But given that organization's track record few are likely to believe him. Many people in the US are waiting for the Justice Department investigation on Feinstein's allegation, just as they await the full report by the Senate Intelligence Committee to come out to show how CIA has conducted various illegal tortures, such as water-boarding.

It is to be hoped that Feinstein has opened the eyes of at least some in the US that it is wrong for the CIA or NSA to conduct widespread surveillance on people in the US and in other nations.

The author, based in Washington, is deputy editor of China Daily USA. chenweihua@chinadailyusa.com