The more we learn about the National Security Agency's spying efforts, the more concerned we become.
Early on this seemed to be a story about spies getting caught doing what spies do, but recent revelations are shaping a much darker narrative.
The latest twist in this rapidly evolving story was a bomb dropped on the front page of The Washington Post. The Post revealed that the NSA had secretly broken into the main communications links that connect Yahoo and Google data centers around the world.
The Post story was based on documents obtained from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, who is in exile in Russia, as well as interviews with what it said were knowledgeable officials.
The NSA's secret connection allows it to selectively gather communications from among hundreds of millions of user accounts worldwide.
Even assuming the best of intentions, this secret, government-sanctioned activity is far too Orwellian for our taste.
Congress was already whirling about the diplomatic firestorm created by previous disclosures that the NSA had tapped into the phone of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and that its own intelligence committees had not been kept in the loop about such endeavors.
According to the Post's story, the Google/Yahoo incursion is part of a joint project with the British spy agency GCHQ and it seems to aggressively target American companies, which is a new wrinkle. That seems particularly odd given that the NSA already has access to Google and Yahoo user accounts through a court-approved process known as Prism.
The White House and the director of national intelligence have so far declined to confirm, deny or explain why Google and Yahoo networks were infiltrated.
We don't think that can be a long-term strategy. This discovery absolutely screams for Congress to do more than complain. Applying the where-there's-smoke-there's-fire principle, it seems clear to us that the NSA has been operating far outside of its purview and beyond its charge. It is time to find out just exactly how far outside of it the spy agency has been.
We are not yet convinced there would be productive value in holding public congressional hearings, such as the ones convened by former Idaho Sen. Frank Church in the early '70s regarding the CIA's activities. While such hearings would undoubtedly embarrass some in the NSA, they might also do further damage to the nation's security if the agency is forced to generally reveal details that might compromise important and serious investigations.
But we are convinced the NSA must be held to account for its actions by both the Congress and the president. The time to do so is now.