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Dept of Justice official admits NSA ‘probably’ spying on members of Congress

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(RT.com) -- The US National Security Agency likely collects intelligence on congressional lawmakers and members of their staff, a Justice Department official admitted at a committee hearing on Tuesday.

Deputy Attorney General James Cole of the US Department of Justice testified during a House Judiciary Committee hearing which was examining proposals to reform the NSA surveillance policies that have been revealed in an ongoing series of disclosures since June. Among the most damning revelations leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden was the realization that the NSA indiscriminately forces companies to provide phone records belonging to millions of Americans.

Representative Darrell Issa (R-CA.) pressed Cole Tuesday on whether the NSA dragnet includes the number codes that pertain to congressional offices.

“Mr. Cole, do you collect 202-225 and four digits afterwards?” Issa asked, as quoted by the National Journal.

“We probably do, Mr. Congressman,” Cole replied. “But we’re not allowed to look at any of those, however, unless we have reasonable, articulable suspicion that those numbers are related to a known terrorist threat.”

This admission is not the first time members of Congress were given a clue that their activities might be being monitored. Earlier this month, Senator Bernie Sanders - an Independent who represents Vermont - sent a letter to the intelligence agency asking whether democratically elected legislators are being spied upon.

Sanders included in his definition of spying:

“gathering metadata on calls made from official or person phones, content from websites visited or emails sent, or collecting any other data from a third party not made available to the general public in the regular course of business.”

The agency replied to Sanders the next day with a somewhat cryptic response.

“NSA’s authorities to collect signals intelligence data include procedures that protect the privacy of US persons. Such privacy protections are built into and cut across the entire process. Members of Congress have the same privacy protections as all US persons,” the NSA stated.

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