In the wake of the Edward Snowden leaks a few years ago, Congress approved changes as to how telecommunications data was supposed to be stored. Several days ago, we learned that the National Security Agency found some “irregularities” in the implementation of the system.
The NSA accessed a database maintained by telecommunications companies as part of government investigations, but the agency conceded last Thursday that it collected information it wasn’t supposed to keep – and in some case, wasn’t authorized to receive. The NSA said it’s deleting more than 685 million call records that its analysts recently discovered.
The agency added that the process that led to the problem has been corrected.
For privacy advocates and those concerned with the reach of the national security state, this was an important story. Nearly a week later, Donald Trump is apparently just learning about it.
President Donald Trump suggested Tuesday that the National Security Agency had violated Americans’ privacy through unauthorized collection of phone and text message data, seemingly attempting to tie the data collection to the investigation of special counsel Robert Mueller.
“Wow! The NSA has deleted 685 million phone calls and text messages. Privacy violations?” the president wrote on Twitter Tuesday. “They blame technical irregularities. Such a disgrace. The Witch Hunt continues!”
This is a great example of why governing via tweets is unwise. It’s unclear, for example, whether Trump believes deleting the data or collecting the data is “a disgrace.”
For that matter, given the president’s many condemnations of American intelligence agencies and professionals, this latest offensive – in response to a story the rest of us learned about five days ago – probably won’t improve the relationship between the White House and the intelligence community.
But even putting all of that aside, why in the world would Trump think this has something to do with what he calls “the Witch Hunt”?
Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into the Russia scandal is ongoing, but it has nothing to do with the NSA’s telecommunications data collection. They’re entirely unrelated.
It’s as if the president learned about a controversy involving his own administration, and thought to himself, “Maybe I can exploit this and connect the NSA’s mistake to the investigation into my political operation!”
The fact that this didn’t make any sense wasn’t relevant – and it didn’t occur to him to ask any of the many officials at his disposal who could’ve explained this to him.
It’s hard to escape the impression that Trump, who has practically limitless access to information and intelligence, just publicly reacts to whatever happens to cross his television screen, unconcerned with what this says about his presidency.