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White House Lies Underscore the NSA's Indefensibility

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Does everyone still remember when Edward Snowden leaked all that information about the NSA spying on ordinary Americans? The White House is sure hoping you don't.

Despite repeated leaks showing the NSA programs routinely violated the privacy of ordinary Americans, including a series of revelations Wednesday that confirmed the practice was even broader than anyone had previously suggested, the White House is sticking to its story.

"There is no spying on Americans." That's the official position, and White House spokesman Josh Earnest reiterated it on Wednesday, just a couple of hours after a new flurry of documents showing that they are most assuredly spying on Americans.

The White House position is a flat out lie, and it's not the only one they've told in the past few weeks about the NSA. President Obama's press briefing on the matter centered on repeatedly claiming that the NSA surveillance is only carried out under intense, regular oversight from both Congress and the FISA courts.

That's untrue on both fronts. Several people in Congress, including top members of the intelligence committees, say that they have long felt "in the dark" about the details of the NSA program. As for FISA, that late 2011 ruling that ongoing surveillance was "unconstitutional" covered operational abuses that had been ongoing since 2008, meaning it took them four solid years to even notice a huge, systematic abuse of constitutional protections.

The abuses date back for many years, including a six-month span in the lead up to the 2002 Winter Olympics where the NSA just decided to collect everyone's emails in text messages in metro Salt Lake City because, why not? There was no plot, and no reason to think any of the people spied on were even theoretically involved in a plot, but they were spied on anyhow.

The NSA's history of abuses is so appalling that it doesn't even seem fair to call it "checkered," because that would imply that there were a lot of times when they weren't overtly abusing the privacy of ordinary Americans and innocents abroad. It's what they do, and presidents have always looked the other way.

But the American public isn't looking the other way. From Snowden leaks to forced document releases from Eff.org lawsuits, the ugly truth is there for all Americans to see, and the polls show a huge number of us aren't happy with what we're learning.

It seems absurd, then, for the Obama Administration to keep trying straight-faced lies. Lying may not make a lot of sense when the truth is already out there, but at least it's in the administration's wheelhouse.

They aren't trying to defend the facts, of course, because they are indefensible. Broad surveillance isn't even close to palatable, and there isn't enough spin in the world to make it seem so. It's long past the time for excuses and token reforms, and high time for Congress to implement wholesale cuts in the NSA's size and authority. The American people are watching, and with bi-elections next year, this Congress needs to accept that they're going to have to make these cuts or voters will find someone else who will.

Jason Ditz is news editor at Antiwar.com, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the cause of non-interventionism. His work has appeared in Forbes, Toronto Star, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Providence Journal, Washington Times and Detroit Free Press.