Skip to main content
Michigan State University

Spartan DebateTopic 2015: U.S. Intelligence Agencies, Think Tanks, and Commentary

U.S. Intelligence Agenices

The U.S. Intelligence Community is a coalition of 17 agencies and organizations, including the ODNI, within the Executive Branch that work both independently and collaboratively to gather and analyze the intelligence necessary to conduct foreign relations and national security activities.


National Security Agency. The NSA uses technology to gather information and "gain a decision advantage for the Nation and our allies under all circumstances."

National Security News Stories from the Hill

NSA Report. Liberty and Security in a Changing World. December 12, 2013.  This is the official report that is helping shape the international debate about the unprecedented surveillance activities of the National Security Agency. Commissioned by President Obama following disclosures by former NSA contractor Edward J. Snowden, and written by a preeminent group of intelligence and legal experts, the report examines the extent of NSA programs and calls for dozens of urgent and practical reforms.

Consideration of recommendations for change : the surveillance programs operated pursuant to section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act and section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, November 4, 2013 / reported by Lynne Livingston.  [Washington, D.C.] : Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, 2013.  27pp. PREX 29.2:SU 7  Online

Think Tank Commentary

CATO Institute.  The Cato Institute is a public policy research organization — a think tank – dedicated to the principles of individual liberty, limited government, free markets and peace. Its scholars and analysts conduct independent, nonpartisan research on a wide range of policy issues.  Use the search box to find information about domestic surveillance.

Center for National Security Studies (CNSS).  Nongovernmental advocacy and research organization founded in 1974 to work for control of the FBI and CIA and to prevent violations of civil liberties.  Use the search box to find information about domestic surveillance.

Council of Foreign Relations Intelligence Collection.  Use the search box to find information about domestic surveillance.

Democracy Now's Collection of Domestic Surveillance Articles

Electronic Frontier Foundation.  Advocates for and litigates on technological issues involving privacy, free speech, freedom to innovate and consumer rights

Electronic Privacy Information Center. EPIC is a public interest research center in Washington, D.C. It was established in 1994 to focus public attention on emerging civil liberties issues and to protect privacy, the First Amendment, and constitutional values.

National Security News Stories from the Hill

Propublica Tracking Censorship and Surveillance.

Miscellaneous News Articles

The NSA Spying Debate, Explained.  Timothy B. Lee, Vox, June 6, 2015. : Since the 2013 revelations of Ed Snowden, the National Security Agency has faced greater scrutiny for its programs that spy on Americans.

"Spying Law : What Changes and What Stays the Same", MLive, June 3, 2015.  President Barack Obama has signed into law the USA Freedom Act, which extends three expiring surveillance provisions of the 9/11-era USA Patriot Act. It also overhauls the most controversial provision, which had been interpreted to allow bulk collection of U.S. phone records by the National Security Agency.

Bill Chappell, "Senate Approves USA Freedom Act, Obama Signs It, After Amendments Fail"</a>, NPR, June 2, 2015.  The Senate has approved the USA Freedom Act, which will alter the way U.S. agencies conduct surveillance and gather data.  Tuesday's vote on the Freedom Act comes less than a month after a federal appeals court ruled that the National Security Agency's practice of collecting bulk data about Americans' phone calls violates the Constitution.  Section 215 of that law will be changed to stop the NSA from continuing its mass phone data collection program. Instead, phone companies will retain the data and the NSA can obtain information about targeted individuals with permission from a federal court.The Senate's hard-fought passage of the USA Freedom Act represented a major victory for privacy rights advocates in Congress.

Erin Kelly, "Senate approves USA Freedom Act", USA Today, June 2, 2015.  The Senate overwhelmingly voted Tuesday to end the National Security Agency's controversial bulk collection of the phone data of millions of Americans who have no ties to terrorism.

Cindy Cohn and Mark Jaycox, "USA Freedom Act Passes: What We Celebrate, What We Mourn, and Where We Go From Here",   The Senate passed the USA Freedom Act today by 67-32, marking the first time in over thirty years that both houses of Congress have approved a bill placing real restrictions and oversight on the National Security Agency’s surveillance powers.  EFF has been in legal battles to stop the NSA’s mass Internet surveillance since January 2006. While the USA Freedom Act may have neutered the phone records surveillance program and provided much needed transparency to the secretive FISA Court overseeing the spying, it didn’t solve the broader digital surveillance problem. That’s still firmly on our agenda.  Certain provisions of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Amendments Act are scheduled to sunset in 2017, including Section 702, one of the main legal authorities the government relies on to engage in mass surveillance of people’s online communications.  We’ve also been speaking out publicly against Executive Order 12333, an executive order that the NSA relies on for most of its digital surveillance of people worldwide.  Above all, we’re taking aim at the problem of overclassification. The government has used secrecy and the claim of national security interests to ward off public oversight. No reform can be effective unless we bring more sunlight into how the government is interpreting the law and the surveillance programs it is turning against law-abiding citizens. This necessitates an overhauling of the classification system, reforms to the security clearance process, strong protections for whistleblowers, even more transparency to the FISA Court, and addressing the abuses of the state secrets privilege.

Ken Dilanian, "NSA Winds Down Phone-Records Collection",, May 26, 2015.The National Security Agency has begun winding down its collection and storage of American phone records after the Senate failed to agree on a path forward to change or extend the once-secret program ahead of its expiration at the end of the month.   Barring an 11th hour compromise when the Senate returns to session May 31, a much-debated provision of the Patriot Act — and some other lesser known surveillance tools — will sunset at midnight that day. The change also would have a major impact on the FBI, which uses the Patriot Act and the other provisions to gather records in investigations of suspected spies and terrorists.

John Whitehead, "The NSA’s Technotyranny: One Nation Under Surveillance", The Blaze, May. 26, 2015 Courtesy of the The Rutherford Institute.

Rand Paul and Tom McClintock, "NSA surveillance reform bill is a sham that violates our privacy", The Sacramento Bee, May 24, 2015.

Julian Hattem, "Senate Adjourns With No Clear Path Forward on Patriot Act", The Hill, May 23, 2015. The Senate struggled to prevent an interruption in critical government surveillance programs early May 23, rejecting both the House-passed USA Freedom Act and a short-term extension of the USA Patriot Act. The back-to-back votes left lawmakers without a clear fallback, although current law doesn’t expire until midnight May 31. The White House pressured the Senate to back the House bill, which would end the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of dome tic phone records. Instead, the records would remain with telephone companies subject to a case-by-case review. The vote was 57–42, short of the 60-vote threshold to move ahead. The next Senate vote is scheduled for May 31....

Zack Whittaker, "FBI admits it didn't crack any major cases with Patriot Act powers",, May 22, 2015.  The Federal Bureau of Investigation could not pinpoint a single notable case that was solved using far-reaching surveillance powers under the Patriot Act, findings from a new report say. In a lengthy 77-page report by the Justice Department's inspector general Michael Horowitz, agents could not recall a single memorable or major case during a two-year period that was cracked using the powers, which have been increasingly used to spy on Americans with no connection to criminality.  That's in contrast to what agents and attorneys said about the powers, describing it as a "valuable" for investigations. "The agents we interviewed did not identify any major case developments that resulted from the records obtained in response to Section 215 orders," the report said in its conclusion, "but told us that the authority is valuable when it is the only means to obtain certain information." Such information, though not specified, would help agents to other leads, and corroborate other information, the report says.  Section 215 of the Patriot Act allows the government to secretly demand any "tangible things" from a business on its customers, from credit card and banking records to phone records. The most notable case forced Verizon to continually hand over its entire store of customer data.  In a five-year period ending 2009, the FBI had more than doubled the number of bulk surveillance orders under its belt, despite no evidence suggesting the collection was working.  Provisions in the Patriot Act expire on June 1, but Congress has just a few hours -- at the time of writing -- to pass an extension, or let it sunset.

Kara Brandeisky, "NSA Surveillance Lawsuit Tracker", ProPublica, Updated May 13, 2015.  A federal appeals court recently ruled that the National Security Agency's bulk collection of Americans' phone records is illegal. The case was based on a lawsuit brought by the ACLU, and it's just one of many challenges to to government surveillance and secrecy. Here's a rundown of key suits.

Daniel Byman and Benjamin Wittes, "Reforming the NSA", Foreign Affairs, May/June 2014. The long-running debate over the tradeoffs the United States should make between national security and civil liberties flared up spectacularly last summer, when Edward Snowden, a National Security Agency contractor, handed journalists a huge trove of heavily classified documents that exposed, in excruciating detail, electronic surveillance programs and other operations carried out by the NSA. Americans suddenly learned that in recent years, the NSA had been acquiring the phone and Internet communications of hundreds of thousands of U.S. citizens, as well as collecting massive volumes of bulk telephone records known as "metadata" -- phone numbers and the time and length of calls.

Craig Mundie, "Privacy Pragmatism", Foreign Affairs, March/April 2014.   Ever since the Internet became a mass social phenomenon in the 1990s, people have worried about its effects on their privacy.

"The Surveillance Society," Time.     .

Emily Berman, "Domestic Intelligence : New Powers, New Risks", January 18, 2011.  New York University School of law Brennan Center for Justice. The Attorney General’s Guidelines for Domestic FBI Operations tip the scales too far in favor of relatively unchecked government power, allowing the FBI to sweep too much information about too many innocent people into the government’s view. In so doing, they pose significant threats to Americans’ civil liberties and risk undermining the very counterterrorism efforts they are meant to further.

Bruce Schneier, "The Eternal Value of Privacy", Wired, May 18, 2006. The most common retort against privacy advocates -- by those in favor of ID checks, cameras, databases, data mining and other wholesale surveillance measures -- is this line: "If you aren't doing anything wrong, what do you have to hide?" Some clever answers: "If I'm not doing anything wrong, then you have no cause to watch me." "Because the government gets to define what's wrong, and they keep changing the definition." "Because you might do something wrong with my information." My problem with quips like these -- as right as they are -- is that they accept the premise that privacy is about hiding a wrong. It's not. Privacy is an inherent human right, and a requirement for maintaining the human condition with dignity and respect.

Michigan State University