The “Consult with Congress” Stage of USA Freedumb

Remember how, in the days after President Obama announced his principles for reforming the dragnet, his Senior Administration Official pretended that any efforts to make the scope of the program worse would come from Congress?

First and very importantly, the conference call left unclear (and most subsequent reporting often didn’t directly address) whether Obama’s plan would apply just to counterterrorism purposes (as the current phone dragnet does) or more broadly (as the House Intelligence Committee RuppRoge proposal does). But SAO is clear: Obama’s plan focuses on specific terrorist groups.

The existing program only allows for queries of numbers associated with specified terrorist groups. Our operational focus is to make sure we preserve that counterterrorism authority in any new legislation. We will continue consulting with Congress on these issues.

This, then, is another way in which the President’s plan is significantly better than the RuppRoge plan — that it sets out to only cover CT, whereas RuppRoge sets out to cover foreign intelligence purposes broadly. Though that “consult with Congress” bit seems to allow the possibility that the White House will move towards broader use for the query system.

Well, it looks like the Administration isn’t so passive after all. They’re working with House leadership to gut the bill.

TROUBLE FOR USA FREEDOM? – House leadership and Obama administration officials met with committee members Sunday to negotiate changes to key NSA reform legislation, parting late in the evening without reaching a final resolution, said a congressional staffer close to the process. Still, it seems clear that the USA FREEDOM Act, approved by the House Judiciary and Intelligence committees little more than a week ago, will not reach the House floor intact. Some passages have been watered down already, the staffer acknowledged, declining to go into specifics. The bill is set for “possible consideration” this week, according to the schedule circulated by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s office.

Word of the talks caused some of the bill’s most ardent privacy and civil liberties backers to cry foul and say they could withdraw support. Areas of concern to watchdogs include possible removal of transparency language allowing companies to tell their customers about the broad numbers of lawful intercept requests they receive; and a debate on whether the search terms used by the NSA to search communications records should be narrowly defined in statute.

“The version we fear could now be negotiated in secret and introduced on the House floor may not move us forward on NSA reform,” said human rights organization Access. “I am gravely disappointed if the House leadership and the administration chose to disrupt the hard-fought compromise that so many of us were pleased to support just two weeks ago,” said Kevin Bankston, policy director of the New America Foundation’s Open Technology Institute.

And while it’s not clear these secret changes would broaden the scope outside of counterterrorism (though I think that’s possible already), it does seem clear the Administration is pushing for these changes because the already weak bill is too strong for them.

It’s really hard to conclude this bill was ever an attempt to do anything but outsource one aspect of the dragnet to the telecoms, so as to “legally” access geolocation data, and the rest is an attempt to broaden the dragnet.

11 replies
  1. orionATL says:

    how wonderfully convenient amidst this political struggle over the nsa spying on americans, to have five chinese hackers, by name, to draw attention away from constitutional concerns.

    • bsbafflesbrains says:

      Wait! There are Constitutional concerns? With this SC I’m not sure people violating “our” Constitution are concerned. “No” and “Shall” have lost their meaning; but yeah a distraction is good for them.

  2. Halle Bally says:

    Dateline:  June 2013.  Mr. Snowden revealed that the NSA has been feeding us wormy apples.  It was a SHOCKING revelation.  Mr. Snowden was roundly criticized for divulging the sickening facts.  Congress was supposed to return for the fall session & kill the Patriot Act IMMEDIATELY, so as to remedy the situation.  The nation waited breathlessly while they took their sweet time getting back.  Then––nothing happened.  (Spoiler alert:  Nothing is ever going to happen.)

    We’re still eating the wormy apples.  & we deserve ’em.  “It’s what’s for dinner.®”  Bon appétit.

  3. geoschmidt says:

    Good one! The Freedom to be Dumbass! Don’t you love them Media aholes, Ted Baxter would be in the forfront/cutting edge.. in these times… It’s worse than the story they used to put out about … Pravda…

    controlled media, and stick around it’ll get worse!

  4. anonymous says:

    Possible new name for USA FREEDUMB (stolen from another comment board) = WORLD SLAVERY . . .

  5. Max-1 says:

    We wouldn’t have to “restore” America or the USA “freedom” Act if Congress was doing their jobs in the first place…
    … By defending and supporting our Rights.

  6. sol says:

    So do these frequent Executive National Emergency declarations serve to constructively circumvent this and like legislation? If so, what’s the point of Congressional consultation? If not, how then does Congress restore its’ power to check the sovereign?

  7. spongebrain says:

    So we have the executive and both parties of both houses scrambling to outdo each other in appeasing the NSA. They can’t otherwise manage to agree on a damned thing, yet generally agree on surveillance reform-in-name-only. I can’t help but wonder if they, collectively, or even jointly and severally, are the targeted “who” Glenn Greenwald recently alluded to while announcing a forthcoming grand finale of disclosures, and that they’ve always sensed this if not even deep down known it. Now wouldn’t that be something.

    • orionATL says:

      thanks for the cite.

      we have long been and still are missing the central mystery explaining the extraordinary nsa excesses – the hole in the nsa donut, the real reason that the executive and legislative branches will not shut down the nsa’s domestic spying.

      that use of nsa has to be political in nature and is unlikely to be related to “stopping terrorism”.

      has greenwald found the missing bag of donut holes?

  8. Greg Bean (@GregLBean) says:

    Every effort to continue or extend the current 5 Eyes hegemony provides even stronger incentive for the BRICS countries to go their own way. In the end the only people 5 Eyes nations will be able to spy on are citizens of 5 Eyes’ nations. And those citizens, while not strongly vocally rebellious yet, object and will work against the effort to maintain or extend this oppressive surveillance regime.
    Add to that the push back from BRICS who are are sensing their growing power and we see a definite waning of 5 Eyes authority.
    In short, the more this stupidity continues the faster The Empire will collapse from both internal and external pressures.
    As an example of the BRICS pushback:

    ” Beijing reacted to Washington’s recent round of industrial espionage accusations by publishing its latest data on US cyber-attacks against China.

    China’s National Computer Network Emergency Response Technical Team Coordination Center of China (NCNERTTCC) reported that during just two months, from March 19 to May 18, the US directly controlled 1.18 million host computers in China using 2,077 Trojan horse networks or botnet servers.

    According to the NCNERTTCC, over the last two months 135 host computers stationed in the US conducted 14,000 phishing operations against Chinese websites using for the attacks 563 phishing pages. The other hacking activities through the same period of time included 57,000 backdoor attacks, performed from 2,016 IP addresses in the US through backdoors implanted on 1,754 Chinese websites. ”

Comments are closed.