Last week, following the release of Wikileaks’ Vault 7 documents, the CIA issued a statement intended to reassure Americans.

The statement said that the agency is “legally prohibited from conducting electronic surveillance targeting individuals here at home, including our fellow Americans,” adding that the “CIA’s activities are subject to rigorous oversight.” Considering the CIA’s reported ability to hack into our cell phones, our computers, and even our smart TVs, it is very easy to be skeptical of that statement.

However, let’s assume that the CIA is as good as its word. That does not mean that other intelligence agencies haven’t been eavesdropping on our private conversations without cause or authorization. Case in point: the National Security Agency (NSA).

In 1981, then-President Ronald Reagan signed Executive Order 12333. This authorized the NSA to begin conducting the most massive surveillance programs in history. By 2014, the NSA had created its own gargantuan search engine, similar to Google, known as ICREACH. At the time, that search engine and database contained well over 850 billion records of communications and data that include telephone and email conversation, online chats and cellphone locations – all of which is shared with the FBI and the DEA as well as Britain’s own spy agency, GCHQ. The ongoing objective has been to virtually “vacuum up” any and all online and telephone communications whether they are relevant to national security or not. According to an unidentified State Department official, this collection goes far beyond what was authorized by Congress.

Executive Order 12333 was amended twice under the Bush II Administration, each time giving the NSA greater power and latitude. Then, in January, just prior to leaving office, President Obama signed off on new rules, greatly expanding the NSA’s power to share its vast trove of personal communications with sixteen other intelligence agencies – including all four branches of the military, the Department of Homeland Security, the Treasury Department and yes – the CIA. It may now do so before any privacy safeguards are applied. The recent rules ease up on what limits existed on what the NSA was allowed to do with all of this data – which is obtained through operations that are subject to virtually no oversight or regulation. And now it’s all in the hands of the incredibly corrupt and paranoid Trump Administration.

Before these new rules took effect, the NSA would filter information in order to screen out identities of the innocent and passed on only that information judged relevant to real national security. Now, pretty much anyone in “Deep State” agencies can search through those unfiltered records as much as they like, for virtually any reason. Privacy has become an afterthought.

There is another sinister aspect to this issue. The Obama Administration’s loosening of restraints on the NSA and other intelligence agencies has helped to enable the “Deep State” in its ongoing “soft coup” – a virtual takeover of our democratically elected government. Jay Sekulow, Chief Counsel for the right-leaning American Center for Law and Justice, claims:

Obama’s Administration changed the rules, vastly expanding access to classified information to countless federal bureaucrats in over a dozen federal agencies. Now, it has led to dangerous classified leaks, criminal violations of the Espionage Act, and a bureaucratic attempt to undermine President Trump’s Administration.”

An article on the ACLJ website questions President Obama’s timing on signing off on the new rules. After all, Obama had eight years to expand the NSA’s powers under Executive Order 12333. Why now? The ACLJ has filed a FOIA request in order to find out.

In the meantime, these rules may make us a tiny bit safer from foreign and domestic terrorism – but that doesn’t change the fact that innocent Americans’ privacy is being thrown under the proverbial bus, while the Deep State has been given dangerous new tools to take power from and undermine elected officials.

K.J. McElrath is a former history and social studies teacher who has long maintained a keen interest in legal and social issues. In addition to writing for The Ring of Fire, he is the author of two published novels: Tamanous Cooley, a darkly comic environmental twist on Dante's Inferno, and The Missionary's Wife, a story of the conflict between human nature and fundamentalist religious dogma. When not engaged in journalistic or literary pursuits, K.J. works as an entertainer and film composer.