Steny Hoyer Thinks All Americans May Be Pre-Investigation Terrorist Communicators

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Like Glenn Greenwald, I’m appalled by the crazy language Steny Hoyer circulated yesterday to oppose the Amash-Conyers amendment. Here’s the language:

2) Amash/Conyers/Mulvaney/Polis/Massie Amendment – Bars the NSA and other agencies from using Section 215 of the Patriot Act (as codified by Section 501 of FISA) to collect records, including telephone call records, that pertain to persons who may be in communication with terrorist groups but are not already subject to an investigation under Section 215.

The language is crazy on the macro level, as Glenn notes, but I’m also fascinated by the structure of it. First, the language reverses the structure of the actual “relevant to” language that has been blown up beyond all meaning pretending it is instead specific: “pertain to persons who may be in communication with terrorist groups.” But this language is only true if you assume every single American is a pre-investigative terrorist communicator (and to be fair, with the permission to go three hops deep into the dragnet database, we probably all are “in communication with terrorist groups”). Steny then qualifies this group (all of us, really, now that we’ve all been defined to be terrorist communicators through the genius of the half-Bacon) as “not already subject to an investigation.”

But you will be, America. You will be subject to an investigation, according to Steny Hoyer.

Then there are details of the language that suggest why the Administration panicked so badly. This language would have defunded all bulk collection under Section 215, including phone records, but also including acetone and hydrogen peroxide and probably now pressure cookers. Presumably, that’s what Keith Alexander and James Clapper explained to Congress in their TS/SCI briefings the other day (not having learned they’re better off admitting their dragnets rather than having them exposed).

Which is why I find it interesting that Steny noted this would apply to NSA “and other agencies,” which includes, but is apparently not limited to, FBI.  And these other agencies are using 215 to collect, “records, including telephone call records.” And probably including health records and geolocation and gun records and the like.

And Steny wants to make sure the FBI and other agencies can get this information about us, because after all, once you go three hops deep, every American just becomes a terrorist communicator not yet under investigation.

13 replies
  1. lefty665 says:

    “…details of the language that suggest why the Administration panicked so badly.”

    Guess that lets us know who gave it to Steny to circulate. He has never come up with much on his own.

  2. Frank33 says: has been under investigation for ten years. Their crime is that they reported the “Dancing Arabs”, who were photographing the destruction of the Twin Towers. may have had all the communications recorded for posterity.

    Most interestingly, the memo states the FBI accessed unspecified supporting data through a secret FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) request.

  3. Scott Lazarowitz says:

    Frank33: I think you mean the “Dancing Israelis.” (

    And also, EW wrote: “and to be fair, with the permission to go three hops deep into the dragnet database, we probably all are “in communication with terrorist groups”

    Well, if you call the police for any reason, then I suppose you are “in communication with terrorist groups.”

    (That may also apply to when you have to call HHS medical bureaucrats, or the IRS regarding mistakes THEY made.)

  4. P J Evans says:

    Miss Lindsey wants us to Do Something about all those countries that have had their names associated with Snowden. (Someone should take him aside and explain jurisdiction to him, in simple words, since he doesn’t seem to understand that we aren’t in charge of the world. And then get him out of any position that involves laws.)

  5. greengiant says:

    “other agencies”, That certainly rings a bell. The secret service ala all threats to government and their involvement with cyber crime and Swartz, the BATF, ala Randy Weaver etc. Then they can play a shell game about which agency has access to which metadata or the products therefrom.
    Since the national reconnaissance agency went unnamed for decades one has to wonder what other agencies are unnamed to this day. An agency which might be responsible for the deaths of Swartz and Hastings springs to mind.

  6. thatvisionthing says:

    @Frank33: Hop, hop…

    Marcy Wheeler: Good. Thanks for having me, Scott.

    Horton: Well thanks very much for joining us today. I really appreciate it. And pretty important, the subject matter, to me anyway. Back, what, a couple of years ago, a blogger sued under the Freedom of Information Act looking into Israeli foreknowledge of the September 11th attack, perhaps, kind of a thing, and that ended up leading to the discovery that the FBI had been looking into And the way I remember it anyway was they were seemed to have been abusing their anti-terrorism powers with lower thresholds of evidence in order to investigate And so anyway, in the intervening years Eric Garris, the head of, has been trying to get the FBI to turn over anything and everything that they have on and they’ve been refusing him. So now the ACLU is representing and suing the FBI for everything, to try to get a judge to force them to turn over everything. And so anyway, you’re a genius and you look at paperwork like this and you always know exactly what it means and what’s most important about it all and how people can understand it and what have you, so I was hoping that maybe you could correct all the parts of what I just said that were wrong and then maybe explain what’s really going on here.

    Wheeler: There’s two things going on. One is,


    And here we are.

  7. Frank33 says:

    @Scott Lazarowitz:
    Oops. I stand corrected. It was Dancing Mossad Agents, celebrating the successful terror attack. And they documented the event with photos. Those real time photos would be useful for 9/11 conspiracy theories.

    The FBI thought this was important enough to put on their lists of targets to neutralize. So, the NSA and CIA and NBC are hiding…drum roll…9/11 Inside Job! NSA hippity hopping into your life 24 hours a day to catapult the propaganda.

  8. jerryy says:

    I am curious as to when they are going to start locking up the business community member over this…

    Lots of folks keep business phone numbers in their contacts lists, so, for example, they can call the local home improvement store and check on, oh say, those supplies of peroxide and pressure cookers. Lots of folks that would presumably be caught in those three hops, skips and jumps scenarios.

    Heck, some of those businesses have apps for their smart-phone using cutomers that let them check inventory and reserve supplies whilst driving to that store.

    So why are they not being shut down for ‘material support’ reasons? Not to mention the biggest supporter of them all, the phone company that allows the original bad folks (the ones at the beginning of the chain) to use the airwaves to begin with. (Just as a side question are the customer lists of these businesses somehow considered extra special proprietary secrets so the feds cannot touch them?)

  9. C says:

    Sadly he’s not entirely off about this. While the intent is horrific the fact remains that the entire PRISM system and the post-hoc investigations that rely upon it will not work unless they can pre-scan the data. Internet companies don’t keep the kind of data they want and what they do keep they get rid of when it is no longer useful. Unless the NSA gets to keep the yottobytes of data for eternity then they can’t really do the eternal sigint that they want. Thus the Amash-Conyers amendment would genuinely destroy that.

    The catch is most of us don’t see that as a bad thing.

  10. jawbone says:

    The information that US Senators have been promised that all their proposals for changes to US tax law will be kept secret for 50 years highlights just how little our elected officials think of us, the citizens, the voters.

    Mushrooms, to be kept in the dark and fed a lot of shit.

    We can be spied on, even our most intimate interactions (get tape over that laptop camera, ASAP), but we don’t deserve to know what our senators are proposing for the federal government’s tax laws.

    Now, eventually, anything which gets written into law or brought to floor votes will be knowable (but with very little help from vaunted free press); however, we won’t be able to know the provenance (ALEC??) or sponsors or the lobbyists so obviously responsible for the content.

    They’re going to get away with this, aren’t they?

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