Should the NSA Be Watching Senator Sanders?

By: Cliff Kincaid
Accuracy in Media


Socialist Senator Bernie Sanders is making headlines with his letter to the NSA demanding to know if the spy agency has been monitoring Congress. Not one article has dared to ask whether Sanders and other “progressive” members of Congress should be under surveillance because of their contacts with foreign intelligence agencies.

“Is NSA spying on Congress?” asks Sanders, who has joined with Republican Senator Rand Paul to demand restrictions on various NSA programs. The senator claims to be “independent,” but is considered a member of the Senate Democratic Caucus. He was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2006 after serving 16 years in the House of Representatives, and before that as mayor of Burlington, Vermont.

Stories about the Sanders letter to the NSA on possible surveillance of Congress appeared in Politico, The Huffington Post, The Hill, Buzz Feed, Talking Points Memo, CNN and Fox News.

In a sense, the story is a bunch of hype. Like other Americans, certain data about members of Congress is being collected by the NSA, but not searched unless there is evidence of foreign and terrorist connections. Sanders wants the public to think this is sinister activity.

But no outlet bothered to go beyond Sanders’ publicity stunt to determine whether a case can be made that members of Congress, including Sanders himself, should be under investigation or surveillance. The fact is that no elected federal official in the U.S, including the president and members of Congress like Sanders, goes through a security background check.

The FBI is under the control of the Department of Justice and the President, who control its activities, while Congress is notorious about failing to investigate itself.

If any member of Congress should be under surveillance, it would be Sanders. During the 1980s he collaborated with Soviet and East German “peace committees” to stop President Reagan’s deployment of nuclear missiles in Europe, in order to counter a massive Soviet strategic nuclear advantage. Sanders had openly joined the Soviets’ “nuclear freeze” campaign to undercut Reagan’s military build-up.

The name of Bernie Sanders, then identified as former mayor of Burlington, Vermont, even shows up on a list of speakers at a 1989 U.S. Peace Council event to “end the Cold War” and “fund human needs.” Other speakers at the U.S. Peace Council event included Rep. John Conyers, a Democrat from Michigan; Gunther Dreifahl of the East German “Peace Council;” Jesse Jackson aide Jack O’Dell; and PLO official Zehdi Terzi.

Congressional hearings in 1982 demonstrated that the U.S. Peace Council was affiliated with the Soviet-controlled World Peace Council and run by the Communist Party USA. It was part of what the FBI called the Soviet “active measures” apparatus, designed to discredit the U.S. and support communist objectives.

The hearings on Soviet active measures featured testimony from Edward J. O’Malley, Assistant Director for Intelligence of the FBI. He said, “The Communist Party, United States of America, also has a number of front or affiliated organizations working to implement Soviet active measures. Foremost among them is the U.S. Peace Council, an affiliate of the World Peace Council. These organizations are often more effective than the CPUSA itself because the American people they are dealing with may not be aware that they are in fact fronts of the CP [Communist Party].”

He testified that the KGB, the Soviet intelligence service, had “clandestinely transferred funds to the CPUSA” on behalf of the Soviet Communist Party, adding, “Several Soviet officials affiliated with the KGB at the Soviet Embassy in Washington, D.C., and the Soviet Mission to the United Nations are in regular contact with CPUSA members and officials of CPUSA front groups. They monitor CPUSA activities and transmit guidance to the CPUSA officials…In 1979…the CPUSA assigned two of its longtime members to establish a U.S. chapter of the World Peace Council…The key leadership positions in the U.S. Peace Council were given to CPUSA members.”

Analyst Trevor Loudon reports that, as mayor of Burlington, Sanders hung the Soviet flag in his mayoral office, in honor of the city’s Soviet sister city Yaroslavl. (They are still “sister cities” to this day.) Sanders celebrated the victory of the Soviet-backed communist Sandinistas in Nicaragua and made Burlington a “sister city” with the city of Puerto Cabezas in Nicaragua.

In addition to evidence of Sanders’ relationship with communist and Soviet front organizations, an FBI memorandum has surfaced from 1970 examining “contacts between representatives of the Soviet Union and members of staff personnel of the United States Congress.” The memo carries the notation “Internal Security—Russia” and lists several senators, including Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts, as being among the Soviet contacts. In fact, dozens of senators and representatives, and hundreds of congressional staff were said to have been contacted by communist officials.

However, 13 senators and representatives—all but three of them Democrats—were listed by name as being preferred by Soviet officials, and targeted. Another senator listed as being among the preferred Soviet contacts was George McGovern of South Dakota, the Democratic presidential candidate in 1972. Another was Walter Mondale of Minnesota, President Jimmy Carter’s vice president, who ran against President Reagan in 1984.

The document says that “…the majority of Soviet personnel maintaining contacts on Capitol Hill are either known to us or suspected to be connected with the Soviet Intelligence Services.”

The document was obtained by anti-communist researcher Max Friedman after he got it declassified from the John Dean White House files at the National Archives in College Park, Maryland. It is now in the Nixon Presidential Library and Museum in California.

In sending off a letter to the NSA inquiring about its alleged “spying” on Congress, Sanders is apparently counting on the media not to tell people about his own personal history of collaborating with enemies of the United States. The media played along with his stunt.

It is significant that he has introduced legislation to put “strict limits” on what he calls the “sweeping powers used by the National Security Agency and Federal Bureau of Investigation to secretly track telephone calls by millions of innocent Americans who are not suspected of any wrongdoing.”

It is noteworthy that he lists the NSA and the FBI as using these powers. The NSA turns over evidence of foreign connections to the FBI for the necessary follow-up. But one can be sure, as long as a Democratic president occupies the White House, that Sanders and his fellow “progressive” Democrats in Congress will escape the scrutiny of the FBI.

We know, however, that one of the NSA’s greatest successes was known as Venona, the code name given to the intercepted and deciphered KGB and GRU (Russian military intelligence) messages between Moscow and the Soviet espionage network in the United States. The project led to the apprehension of such spies as State Department official Alger Hiss.

Cliff Kincaid is the Director of the AIM Center for Investigative Journalism and can be contacted at View the complete archives from Cliff Kincaid.


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