During the drama over the so-called Amash Amendment General Keith Alexander, head of the NSA, went to Capitol Hill to lobby against the law. During the course of his lobbying members of Congress responded to his presentations with a reasonable question – can we see our own files? Alexander said no. According to David Sirota of NSFW Corp (paywalled) these exchanges are quite revealing as to how the NSA’s power works in Washington.

“Consider the deep messaging of the NSA’s brand. Only forty years removed from the blackmail-tinged reign of J. Edgar Hoover, the NSA has developed an image which implies the agency is vacuuming up more than enough incriminating phone records, emails and text/sext messages to politically torpedo any rank-and-file congressman, should that congressman step out of line.

And here’s the thing: for all the agita intelligence officials express about new disclosures, those disclosures illustrate the sheer size and scope of governement surveillance. That doesn’t weaken the NSA – on the contrary, it serves to politically strengthen the agency by constantly reminding lawmakers that the NSA 1) probably has absolutely everything on them and 2) could use that stuff against them.” 

Sirota also spoke with Rep. Alan Grayson who told him that in the course of the conversation about the NSA and files they might have on members of Congress said “one of my colleagues asked the NSA point blank will you give me a copy of my own record and the NSA said no, we won’t. They didn’t say no we don’t have one. They said no we won’t.” Dare anyone accuse the NSA of being cryptic?

Of course we already know that it was Nancy Pelosi that killed the Amash Amendment. What we don’t know is whether she did so out of fear of an NSA file, party interests or both. We also know she was involved in insider trading while in Congress. What more does the NSA know about her?

There was also a report by a former intelligence analyst and whistleblower Russell Tice that the NSA wiretapped Barack Obama in 2004. Is there some massive archive of politicians’ dirty secrets somewhere at the NSA? Surely the NSA at least has their metadata – they have everyone’s. It is hard to imagine when push comes to shove and its budget time that the NSA doesn’t take a peek at who they are doing business with in Congress. Intelligence is all about having as much information as possible, that’s the training and that’s the game. Old habits probably die hard.

It was a troubling thought, but I had no smoking gun evidence to support it, until I heard Mark Ames discussing Sirota’s story with Sirota yesterday. Ames referenced a blockbuster story broken by New York Times reporter Scott Shane. Published by the Baltimore Sun, the story Listening in: Though the National Security Agency can’t target Americans, it can — and does — listen to everyone from senators to lovers, provides smoking gun evidence that the NSA has been spying on members of Congress andallowing the information to be used for leverage since at least the Reagan Administration.

“We listened to all the calls in and out of Washington,” says one former NSA linguist, recalling a class at the Warrenton Training Center, a CIA communications school on a Virginia hilltop. “We’d listen to senators, representatives, government agencies, housewives talking to their lovers.”