Thanks, in part, to the recent unauthorized disclosures of Edward Snowden, the American people have come to accept the possibility that the National Security Agency may be peeping in on our communications, be it phone, Internet, what have you.
Now I am a simple man and I always believed the NSA only conducted foreign surveillance. That was their job; see what the bad guys were doing overseas and how their activities could imperil us here in the United States. Apparently, I may have been naive.
So I decided to check out the NSA's website for guidance....
On their "mission" online page, it reads in part:
"The Information Assurance mission confronts the formidable challenge of preventing foreign adversaries from gaining access to sensitive or classified national security information. The Signals Intelligence mission collects, processes, and disseminates intelligence information from foreign signals for intelligence and counterintelligence purposes and to support military operations. This Agency also enables Network Warfare operations to defeat terrorists and their organizations at home and abroad, consistent with U.S. laws and the protection of privacy and civil liberties."
Uh, oh. There are those pesky words "foreign" and according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, foreign is defined, "situated outside a place or country; especially: situated outside one's own country."
So, being a simple man, I would interpret the mission of the NSA as stopping "foreign adversaries" (either at home or abroad) from getting our secret stuff, while collecting Intel from "foreign signals for intelligence and counterintelligence purposes and to support military operations." Pretty cut-and-dry stuff here.
The NSA's mission page even gets more specific: "Collect (including through clandestine means), process, analyze, produce, and disseminate signals intelligence information and data for foreign intelligence and counterintelligence purposes to support national and departmental missions..."
Again, that word "foreign." In fact, I didn't seem to find anything that implied the opposite of "foreign", which would be "domestic" surveillance in their mission statement.
So whether we're talking about it happening on purpose or "not wittingly," spying (and I'm using the term loosely) on the communications of American citizens is simply something the NSA is not supposed to be doing.
But what do we know?
(That was not a rhetorical.)