By Brad Friedman on 7/26/2013, 5:19pm PT  

Earlier this week, Joe Conason, Editor-in-Chief of The National Memo, tweeted out word that he would be interviewing Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR). He was seeking questions for the Senator who has been a member of the Select Intelligence Committee since 2001, and among the most outspoken in his attempts to inform the public of the massive, out-of-control U.S. surveillance state. Wyden offered a detailed speech on this topic earlier this week, as Ernie Canning reported here and as I discussed on this week's BradCast.)

[DISCLOSURE: I contribute articles, from time to time, at National Memo.]

I sent a couple of questions to Conason via Twitter (here and here), and I'm happy to see that, during the course of his interview with Wyden on the surveillance issues, he asked those questions, almost verbatim --- particularly the first one, the answer to which became the basis for National Memo's headline to the interview: "Wyden: How We Forced the NSA to Curtail Email Spying Programs".

The news central to Wyden's answer --- at least it was news to me, since I missed this item if it has otherwise been reported before this --- is that, according to the Senator, "the Obama administration a few weeks ago said that they had closed the [email surveillance] program down for what they called operational reasons."

That would be very good news, if so, and along with this week's debate in the U.S. House, yet another apparent positive outcome to the disclosures of former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

Here are my two specific questions and Conason's use of them in the interview, along with the answers provided by Wyden...

Conason: Do you know whether the government is storing all telephone and email information, not just metadata? Are you aware of what the configurations of the data storage are that the government’s engaged in now?

Wyden: I know a substantial amount with respect to data storage, but I can’t get into those kinds of issues. The NSA had made public statements that they keep records. I believe it’s for five years… I want to go back and look at their precise statement, but I believe they have said that they keep the phone metadata for five years.

Conason: Well, we know they’re looking at emails, too, and the question is [whether they've been] storing emails.

Wyden: Well, there was an important development with respect to emails on that. This has now been declassified, but Senator Udall and I pushed very hard inside the Intelligence Committee to make the case that the bulk collection of the email records invaded people’s privacy and was not effectual. And the Obama administration a few weeks ago said that they had closed the program down for what they called operational reasons, and Senator Udall and I pointed out that we had spent a lot of time, and I believe the fact that two members of the committee made it clear that they were going to be relentless about exposing both the problems for Americans’ privacy rights and the ineffective nature of the program was the real reason it was closed down.

Conason: Would you have any reason to believe that NSA has monitored any members of Congress or the Senate?

Wyden: I have no reason to believe that any member of Congress has been monitored…Certainly members of Congress are going to be in the phone metadata. I mean, the question is, why wouldn’t they be? I guess the question is what monitoring means, but members of Congress and everyone else, their phone metadata, who they called, when they called, where they called from, is part of this program, and experts call it a human relations database. Some people say, “Well, nobody’s listening to my conversation, so what do I care that the government has these records?” Well, you learn an enormous amount about people from learning who they called, where they called from, and when they called. If somebody calls a psychiatrist a few times in 48 hours, you know, a couple of times after midnight, you learn a lot about that person — and that’s why it’s so important that there be a connection to terror here, rather than vacuuming up millions and millions of phone records.

Read the full interview at National Memo here...

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