Last week, a bunch of House Judiciary Committee members set James Clapper a letter stating that before the Committee deals with Section 702 reauthorization next year, they’d like:
They asked for those numbers by May 6.
In response, Clapper is humming and hawing about “several options” for disclosing how many Americans get spied on under Section 702.
Clapper said that “any methodology we come up with will not be completely satisfactory to all parties.”
“If we could have made such an estimate and if such an estimate were easy to do — explainable without compromise — we would’ve done it a long time ago,” he said.
We just learned there is, however, one number that should be easy-peasy to make public (and one I’m frankly alarmed the HJC members didn’t mention, as they should have known about it for some time): the number of back door searches FBI conducts on Section 702 data for reasons other than national security.
As I noted the other day, in response to FISC amicus (and former Eric Holder counsel) Amy Jeffress’ argument that FBI’s back door searches of Section 702 are unconstitutional, Thomas Hogan required FBI “submit in writing a report concerning each instance … in which FBI personnel receive and review Section 702-acquired information that the FBI identifies as concerning a United States person in response to a query that is not designed to find and extract foreign intelligence information.” As I noted, that’s an easily gamed number — I’m sure FBI treats a lot of criminal matters as national security ones, and FBI has the ability to see if there is 702 data without looking at it, permitting it to see if the same data is available under another authority.
Nevertheless, DOJ must have an exact number of reports they’ve submitted in response to this reporting requirement, which has been in place for over four months.
That’s not to say HJC shouldn’t insist on getting estimates for all the other numbers they’re seeking. But they should also demand that this number — the number of times FBI is using a foreign intelligence exception for criminal prosecutions that should be subject to a probable cause standard — be made public.
On May 18, 2011, 48 members of the House (mostly Republicans, but also including MI’s Hansen Clarke) attended a closed briefing given by FBI Director Robert Mueller and General Counsel Valerie Caproni on the USA PATRIOT Act authorities up for reauthorization. The hearing would serve as the sole opportunity for newly elected members to learn about the phone and Internet dragnets conducted under the PATRIOT Act, given Mike Rogers’ decision not to distribute the letter provided by DOJ to inform members on the secret dragnets they were about to reauthorize.
During the hearing, someone asked,
Russ Feingold said that Section 215 authorities have been abused. How does the FBI respond to that accusation?
One of the briefers — the summary released under FOIA does not say who — responded,
To the FBI’s knowledge, those authorities have not been abused.
As a reminder, hearing witness Robert Mueller had to write and sign a declaration for the FISC two years earlier to justify resuming full authorization for the phone dragnet because, as Judge Reggie Walton had discovered, the NSA had conducted “daily violations of the minimization procedures” for over two years. “The minimization procedures proposed by the government in each successive application and approved and adopted as binding by the orders of the FISC have been so frequently and systemically violated that it can fairly be said that this critical element of the overall BR regime has never functioned effectively,” Walton wrote in March 2009.
Now, I can imagine that whichever FBI witness claimed the FBI didn’t know about any “abuses” rationalized the answer to him or herself using the same claim the government has repeatedly made — that these were not willful abuses. But Walton stated then — and more evidence released since has made clear he was right since — that the government simply chose to subject the vast amount of US person data collected under the PATRIOT Act to EO 12333 standards, not more stringent PATRIOT Act ones. That is, the NSA, operating under FBI authorizations, made a willful choice to ignore the minimization procedures imposed by the 2006 reauthorization of the Act.
Whoever answered that question in 2011 lied, and lied all the more egregiously given that the questioner had no way of phrasing it to get an honest answer about violations of minimization procedures.
Which is why the House Judiciary Committee should pointedly refuse to permit the Intelligence Committee to conduct another such closed briefing, as they plan to do on Section 702 on February 2. Holding a hearing in secret permits the IC to lie to Congress, not to mention disinform some members in a venue where their colleagues can not correct the record (as Feingold might have done in 2011 had he learned what the FBI witnesses said in that briefing).
I mean, maybe HJC Chair Bob Goodlatte wants to be lied to? Otherwise, there’s no sound explanation for scheduling this entire hearing in closed session.
A penny dropped for me, earlier this week, when Marco Rubio revealed that authorities are asking “a large number of companies” for “phone records.” Then, yesterday, he made it clear that these companies don’t fall under FCC’s definition of “phone” companies, because they’re not subject to that regulator’s 18 month retention requirement.
His comments clear up a few things that have been uncertain since February 2014, when some credulous reporters started reporting that the Section 215 phone dragnet — though they didn’t know enough to call it that — got only 20 to 30% of “all US calls.”
The claim came not long after Judge Richard Leon had declared the 215 phone dragnet to be unconstitutional. It also came just as the President’s Review Group (scoped to include all of the government’s surveillance) and PCLOB (scoped to include only the 215 phone dragnet) were recommending the government come up with a better approach to the phone dragnet.
The report clearly did several things. First, it provided a way for the government to try to undermine the standing claim of other plaintiffs challenging the phone dragnet, by leaving the possibility their records were among the claimed 70% that was not collected. It gave a public excuse the Intelligence Community could use to explain why PRG and PCLOB showed the dragnet to be mostly useless. And it laid the ground work to use “reform” to fix the problems that had, at least since 2009, made the phone dragnet largely useless.
It did not, however, admit the truth about what the 215 phone dragnet really was: just a small part of the far vaster dragnet. The dragnet as a whole aspires to capture a complete record of communications and other metadata indicating relationships (with a focus on locales of concern) that would, in turn, offer the ability to visualize the networks of the world, and not just for terrorism. At first, when the Bush Administration moved the Internet (in 2004) and phone (in 2006) dragnets under FISC authority, NSA ignored FISC’s more stringent rules and instead treated all the data with much more lax EO 12333 rules(see this post for some historical background). When FISC forced the NSA to start following the rules in 2009, however, it meant NSA could no longer do as much with the data collected in the US. So from that point forward, it became even more of a gap-filler than it had been, offering a thinner network map of the US, one the NSA could not subject to as many kinds of analysis. As part of the reforms imposed in 2009, NSA had to start tracking where it got any piece of data and what authority’s rules it had to follow; in response, NSA trained analysts to try to use EO 12333 collected data for their queries, so as to apply the more permissive rules.
That, by itself, makes it clear that EO 12333 and Section 215 (and PRTT) data was significantly redundant. For every international phone call (or at least those to countries of terrorism interest, as the PATRIOT authorities were supposed to be restricted to terrorism and Iran), there might be two or more copies of any given phone call, one collected from a provider domestically, and one collected via a range of means overseas (in fact, the phone dragnet orders make it clear the same providers were also providing international collection not subject to 215). If you don’t believe me on this point, Mike Lee spelled it out last week. Not only might NSA get additional data with the international call — such as location data — but it could subject that data to more interesting analysis, such as co-location. Thus, once the distinction between EO 12333 and PATRIOT data became formalized in 2009 (years after it should have been) the PATRIOT data served primarily to get a thinner network map of the data they could only collect domestically.
Because the government didn’t want to admit they had a dragnet, they never tried to legislate fixes for it such that it would be more comprehensive in terms of reach or more permissive in terms of analysis.
So that’s a big part of why four beat journalists got that leak in February 2014, at virtually the same time President Obama decided to replace the 215 phone dragnet with something else.
The problem was, the government never admitted the extent of what they wanted to do with the dragnet. It wasn’t just telephony-carried voice calls they wanted to map, it was all communications a person might make from their phone, which increasingly means a smart phone. It wasn’t just call-chaining they wanted to do, it was connection chaining, linking identities, potentially using far more intrusive technological analysis.
Some of that was clear with the initial IC effort at “reform.” Significantly, it didn’t ask for Call Detail Records, understood to include either phone or Internet or both, but instead “records created as a result of communications of an individual or facility.” That language would have permitted the government to get backbone providers to collect all addressing records, regardless if it counted as content. The bill also permitted the use of such tools for all purposes, not just counterterrorism. In effect, this bill would have completed the dragnet, permitting the IC to conduct EO 12333 collection and analysis on records collected in the US, for any “intelligence” purpose.
But there was enough support for real reform, demonstrated most vividly in the votes on Amash-Conyers in July 2013, that whatever got passed had to look like real reform, so that effort was killed.
So we got the USA F-ReDux model, swapping more targeted collection (of communications, but not other kinds of records, which can still be collected in bulk) for the ability to require providers to hand over the data in usable form. This meant the government could get what it wanted, but it might have to work really hard to do so, as the communications provider market is so fragmented.
The GOP recognized, at least in the weeks before the passage of the bill, that this would be the case. I believe that Richard Burr’s claimed “mistake” in claiming there was an Internet dragnet was instead an effort to create legislative intent supporting an Internet dragnet. After that failed, Burr introduced a last minute bill using John Bates’ Dialing, Routing, Addressing, and Signaling language, meaning it would enable the government to bulk collect packet communications off switches again, along with EO 12333 minimization rules. That failed (in part because of Mitch McConnell’s parliamentary screw ups).
But now the IC is left with a law that does what it said it wanted (plus some, as it definitely gets non-telephony “phone” “calls”), rather than one that does what it wanted, which was to re-establish the full dragnet it had in the US at various times in the past.
I would expect they won’t stop trying for the latter, though.
Indeed, I suspect that’s the real reason Marco Rubio has been permitted to keep complaining about the dragnet’s shortcomings.
John Conyers, Jim Sensenbrenner, Darrell Issa, Steve Cohen, Jerry Nadler, Sheila Jackson Lee, Trey Gowdy, John Ratcliffe, Bob Goodlatte all voted to postpone the Fourth Amendment today.
At issue was Ted Poe’s amendment to the USA Freedom Act (USA F-ReDux; see the debate starting around 1:15), which prohibited warrantless back door searches and requiring companies from inserting technical back doors.
One after another House Judiciary Committee member claimed to support the amendment and, it seems, agreed that back door searches violate the Fourth Amendment. Though the claims of support from John Ratcliffe, who confessed to using back door searches as a US Attorney, and Bob Goodlatte, who voted against the Massie-Lofgren amendment last year, are suspect. But all of them claimed they needed to vote against the amendment to ensure the USA Freedom Act itself passed.
That judgment may or may not be correct, but it’s a fairly remarkable claim. Not because — in the case of people like Jerry Nader and John Conyers — there’s any question about their support for the Fourth Amendment. But because the committee in charge of guarding the Constitution could not do so because the Intelligence Committee had the sway to override their influence. That was a point made, at length, by both Jim Jordan and Ted Poe, with the latter introducing the point that those in support of the amendment but voting against it had basically agreed to postpone the Fourth Amendment until Section 702 reauthorization in 2017.
(1:37) Jordan: A vote for this amendment is not a vote to kill the bill. It’s not a vote for a poison pill. It’s not a vote to blow up the deal. It’s a vote for the Fourth Amendment. Plain and simple. All the Gentleman says in his amendment is, if you’re going to get information from an American citizen, you need a warrant. Imagine that? Consistent with the Fourth Amendment. And if this committee, the Judiciary Committee, the committee most responsible for protecting the Bill of Rights and the Constitution and fundamental liberties, if we can’t support this amendment, I just don’t see I it. I get all the arguments that you’re making, and they’re all good and the process and everything else but only in Congress does that trump — I mean, that should never trump the Fourth Amendment.
(1:49) Poe; We are it. The Judiciary Committee is it. We are the ones that are protecting or are supposed to protect, and I think we do, that Constitution that we have. And we’re not talking about postponing an Appropriations amount of money. We’re not talking about postponing building a bridge. We’re talking about postponing the Fourth Amendment — and letting it apply to American citizens — for at least two years. This is our opportunity. If the politics says that the Intel Committee — this amendment may be so important to them that they don’t like it they’ll kill the deal then maybe we need to reevaluate our position in that we ought to push forward for this amendment. Because it’s a constitutional protection that we demand occur for American citizens and we want it now. Not postpone it down the road to live to fight another day. I’ve heard that phrase so long in this Congress, for the last 10 years, live to fight another day, let’s kick the can down the road. You know? I think we have to do what we are supposed to do as a Committee. And most of the members of the Committee support this idea, they agree with the Fourth Amendment, that it ought to apply to American citizens under these circumstances. The Federal government is intrusive and abusive, trying to tell companies that they want to get information and the back door comments that Ms. Lofgren has talked about. We can prevent that. I think we should support the amendment and then we should fight to keep this in the legislation and bring the legislation to the floor and let the Intel Committee vote against the Fourth Amendment if that’s what they really want to do. And as far as leadership goes I think we ought to just bring it to the floor. Politely make sure that the law, the Constitution, trumps politics. Or we can let politics trump the Constitution. That’s really the decision.
Nevertheless, only Louie Gohmert, Raul Labrador, Zoe Lofgren, Suzan DelBene, Hakeem Jeffries, David Cicilline, and one other Congressman–possibly Farenthold–supported the amendment.
The committee purportedly overseeing the Intelligence Community and ensuring it doesn’t violate the Constitution has instead dictated to the committee that guards the Constitution it won’t be permitted to do its job.
Having been badly outmaneuvered on USA Freedumber — what was sold as reform but is in my opinion an expansion of spying in several ways — in the House, civil liberties groups are promising a real fight in the Senate.
“This is going to be the fight of the summer,” vowed Gabe Rottman, legislative counsel with the American Civil Liberties Union.
If advocates are able to change the House bill’s language to prohibit NSA agents from collecting large quantities of data, “then that’s a win,” he added.
“The bill still is not ideal even with those changes, but that would be an improvement,” Rottman said.
“We were of course very disappointed at the weakening of the bill,” said Robyn Greene, policy counsel at the New America Foundation’s Open Technology Institute. “Right now we really are turning our attention to the Senate to make sure that doesn’t happen again.”
One factor working in the reformers’ favor is the strong support of Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.).
Unlike House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), who only came to support the bill after negotiations to produce a manager’s amendment, Leahy was the lead Senate sponsor of the USA Freedom Act.
The fact that Leahy controls the committee gavel means he should be able to guide the bill through when it comes up for discussion next month, advocates said.
“The fact that he is the chairman and it’s his bill and this is an issue that he has been passionate about for many years” is comforting, Greene said.
I hope they prove me wrong. But claims this will get better in the Senate seem to ignore the recent history of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s involvement in surveillance bills, not to mention the likely vote counts.
It is true Pat Leahy wants real reform. And he has a few allies on SJC. But in recent years, every surveillance-related bill that came through SJC has been watered down when Dianne Feinstein offered an alternative (which Leahy sometimes adopted as a manager’s amendment, perhaps realizing he didn’t have the votes). After DiFi offered reform, Sheldon Whitehouse (who a number of less sophisticated SJC members look to as a guide on these issues) enthusiastically embraced it, and everyone fell into line. Often, a Republican comes in and offers a “bipartisan reform” (meaning conservative Republicans joining with the Deep State) that further guts the bill.
This is how the Administration (shacking up with Jeff Sessions) defeated an effort to rein in Section 215 and Pen Registers in 2009.
This is how DiFi defeated an effort to close the backdoor loophole in 2012.
As this was happening in 2009, Russ Feingold called out SJC for acting as if it were the “Prosecutors Committee,” rather than the Judiciary Committee.
(Note, in both of those cases as well as on the original passage of Section 702, I understood fairly clearly what the efforts to stymie reform would do, up to 4 years before those programs were publicly revealed; I’ve got a pretty good record on this front!)
And if you don’t believe this is going to happen again, tell me why this whip count is wrong:
If my read here is right, the best case scenario — short of convincing Sheldon Whitehouse some of what the government wants to do is unconstitutional, which John Bates has already ruled that it is — is relying on people like Ted Cruz (whose posturing on civil liberties is often no more than that) and Jeff Flake (who was great on these issues in the House but has been silent and absent throughout this entire debate). And that’s all to reach a 9-9 tie in SJC.
Which shouldn’t be surprising. Had Leahy had the votes to move USA Freedom Act through SJC, he would have done so in October.
That was the entire point of starting in the House: because there was such a large number of people (albeit, for the most part without gavels) supporting real reform in the House. But because reformers (starting with John Conyers and Jerry Nadler) uncritically accepted a bad compromise and then let it be gutted, that leverage was squandered.
Right now, we’re looking at a bill that outsources an expanded phone dragnet to the telecoms (with some advantages and some drawbacks), but along the way resets other programs to what they were before the FISC reined them in from 2009 to 2011. That’s the starting point. With a vote count that leaves us susceptible to further corruption of the bill along the way.
Edward Snowden risked his freedom to try to rein in the dragnet, and instead, as of right now it looks like Congress will expand it.
Update: I’ve moved Richard Blumenthal into the “pro reform” category based on this statement after the passage of USA Freedumber. Thanks to Katherine Hawkins for alerting me to the statement.
If you’ve spent much time in political party conventions, you likely know that the resolution process largely serves as an opportunity for active members to vent. While party resolutions might represent where the ideological base of the party is, nothing prevents the elected leaders of the party to blow off resolutions (though at times resolutions are deemed toxic enough for leaders to undermine by parliamentary stunts).
Which is why I find the response to the RNC’s resolution renouncing the NSA’s “Surveillance Prorgam” (it mentions PRISM and, implicitly, the phone dragnet) so interesting.
There are responses like this, from Kevin Drum, who spins it as pure politics.
I get that politics is politics, and the grass always looks browner when the other party occupies the Oval Office. And there are plenty of liberals who are less outraged by this program today than they were back when George Bush and Dick Cheney were in charge of it.
But holy cow! The RNC! Officially condemning a national security program that was designedby Republicans to fight terrorism!
Benjy Sarlin, in the account Drum linked, got the politics more clear, reading this, in part, as the influence of libertarians who largely gained ascendance as part of a backlash against Bush policies or at least failures.
But the resolution also is a sign of the increasing influence of the libertarian wing of the party, especially supporters of Ron Paul and his son, Rand Paul, who have made government overreach in pursuit of terrorists a top issue. Both Orrock and fellow Nevada Committeeman James Smack, who presented the resolution on her behalf, supported the elder Paul’s presidential campaign.
But I also think there’s more to it.
There is certainly a great deal of opportunism here (note, Democrats’ utter disdain for tech companies’ concerns about the dragnet make this a monetary, as well as political opportunity for the GOP, one already bearing fruit). And while the GOP establishment is still cautiously trying to regain control over the Tea Party forces that it once encouraged, there has also been a slow change in traditional conservatives’ stance, too, which I measure through Amash-Conyers opponent Bob Goodlatte’s changing position.
Goodlatte has issued three statements in recent weeks (January 9, January 17, and January 23) calling for reform (including more civil liberties protections and attention to tech companies’ concerns) and more transparency. In the most interesting of the statements, Goodlatte suggested that if Obama wanted to keep the dragnet he’d have to explain what purpose it was really serving and then argue that that purpose
Over the course of the past several months, I have urged President Obama to bring more transparency to the National Security Agency’s intelligence-gathering programs in order to regain the trust of the American people. In particular, if the President believes we need a bulk collection program of telephone data, then he needs to break his silence and clearly explain to the American people why it is needed for our national security. The President has unique information about the merits of these programs and the extent of their usefulness. This information is critical to informing Congress on how far to go in reforming the programs. Americans’ civil liberties are at stake in this debate. [my emphasis]
As I’ve been pointing out for some time, no dragnet defenders have yet to explain what purpose it really serves, and I’m struck that Goodlatte seems to suggest the same. Note, too, that Goodlatte was among the 6 Representatives who attended Bruce Schneier’s briefing on what NSA was really doing, along with leading GOP dragnet opponents Jim Sensenbrenner and Justin Amash and 3 Democrats.
I would suggest to Democrats who see this resolution exclusively as an overly cynical attack on Obama there may, in fact, be things that could explain why Republicans specifically or reasonable Americans more generally might have good reason to oppose the dragnet.
Now back to the resolution. As Sarlin notes, “Not a single member rose to object or call for further debate, as occurred for other resolutions.” (I like to think that had Michigan’s retrograde Dave Agema been able to participate rather than fending off calls for his resignation, he might have spoken up for authoritarianism.)
Instead of opposition from the Republican Party then, came first this quote to Sarlin,
“I think it probably does reflect the views of many of the people who really want to turn out the vote and who are viewing the world through the prism of the next election,” Stewart Baker, a former Bush-era Homeland Security official, told msnbc in an email. “It’s a widespread view among Republicans, but I think the ones that know this institution best and for whom national security is a high priority don’t share this view.”
Then what Eli Lake reports as a letter (Lake doesn’t say to whom) from just one elected official — KS Representative and House Intelligence Committee member Mike Pompeo — and 7 Bush officials (including Baker) blasting the resolution. Part of the letter, apparently, serves to waggle National Security seniority, as Baker already had.
Their letter says: “The Republican National Committee plays a vital role in political campaigns, but it has relatively little expertise in national security.”
And part of it serves to correct a technical inaccuracy that may not be one.
In particular the letter takes issue with the resolution’s claim that the NSA’s PRISM program “monitors searching habits of virtually every American on the internet.”
“In fact, there is no program that monitors the searches of all Americans,” the letter says. “And what has become known as the PRISM program is not aimed at collecting the communications of Americans. It is targeted at the international communications of foreign persons located outside the United States and is precisely the type of foreign-targeted surveillance that Congress approved in 2008 and 2012 when it enacted and reauthorized amendments to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.”
At issue is the language of the resolution, which starts by discussing PRISM, but then talks about what is clearly the phone (though it would encompass the Internet) dragnet, but then explicitly returns to both, by name of the authority that govern them.
WHEREAS, the secret surveillance program called PRISM targets, among other things, the surveillance of U.S. citizens on a vast scale and monitors searching habits of virtually every American on the internet;
WHEREAS, this dragnet program is, as far as we know, the largest surveillance effort ever launched by a democratic government against its own citizens, consisting of the mass acquisition of Americans’ call details encompassing all wireless and landline subscribers of the country’s three largest phone companies.
RESOLVED, the Republican National Committee encourages Republican lawmakers to enact legislation to amend Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act, the state secrets privilege, and the FISA Amendments Act to make it clear that blanket surveillance of the Internet activity, phone records and correspondence — electronic, physical, and otherwise — of any person residing in the U.S. is prohibited by law and that violations can be reviewed in adversarial proceedings before a public court;
RESOLVED, the Republican National Committee encourages Republican lawmakers to call for a special committee to investigate, report, and reveal to the public the extent of this domestic spying and the committee should create specific recommendations for legal and regulatory reform ot end unconstitutional surveillance as well as hold accountable those public officials who are found to be responsible for this unconstitutional surveillance; [my emphasis]
7 Bush officials and 1 HPSCI member (but not, oddly enough, the always boisterous Mike Rogers) have weighed in to say that the NSA doesn’t monitor the searches of some Americans and then trots out the tired “targeted at foreign persons” line, without addressing the question of blanket surveillance of communications more generally.
Sarlin, in his piece, similarly retreats to “targeting” claptrap, claiming only that “lawmakers have accused the agency of overreaching.”
Somehow both the Bush dead-enders and Sarlin neglect to mention backdoor searches, which allow the NSA to use metadata collected under a range of dragnets to obtain US content without even Reasonable Articulable Suspicion.
And while it’s not all that surprising that Sarlin chose not to discuss how NSA can get domestic content, as I will show in a follow-up post the collection of dead-enders (Lake fleshed out the list here) who weighed in to deny that the NSA dragnet gets US person content is particularly instructive, as I’ll show in a follow-up post.
Bob Goodlatte, the Chair of the House Judiciary Committee, voted against the Amash-Conyers Amendment that would have defunded the phone dragnet. Nor is he a named cosponsor of the USA Freedom Act, the Leahy-Sensenbrenner bill that would reform the dragnet.
Which is why it is particularly notable that he’s the one member of Congress cited by name in a story reporting on skepticism that Obama will actually reform the NSA.
President Obama met with hand-picked lawmakers at the White House on Thursday to discuss the National Security Agency’s controversial spying programs, the main event of a week full of meetings at the White House focusing on potential reforms for the maligned federal agency.
At least some of the lawmakers left the meeting unconvinced that the president is going to do enough to curtail the NSA’s activities. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., said “it’s increasingly clear that we need to take legislative action to reform” the NSA’s intelligence gathering.
“If the president believes we need a bulk collection program of telephone data, then he needs to break his silence and clearly explain to the American people why it is needed for our national security,” Goodlatte said in a statement. “Americans’ civil liberties are at stake in this debate.”
If the President has not yet been able to convince Goodlatte the phone dragnet is necessary, if Goodlatte walks out of meeting with the President calling to legislatively roll back the phone dragnet, it might just have a shot at passing.
Update: Here’s Goodlatte’s full statement.
Over the course of the past several months, I have urged President Obama to bring more transparency to the National Security Agency’s intelligence-gathering programs in order to regain the trust of the American people. In particular, if the President believes we need a bulk collection program of telephone data, then he needs to break his silence and clearly explain to the American people why it is needed for our national security. The President has unique information about the merits of these programs and the extent of their usefulness. This information is critical to informing Congress on how far to go in reforming the programs. Americans’ civil liberties are at stake in this debate.
With each new revelation of the scope of these programs, it’s increasingly clear that we need to take legislative action to reform some of our nation’s intelligence-gathering programs to ensure that they adequately protect Americans’ civil liberties and operate in a sensible manner. We also need to ensure the laws are clear so that the U.S. tech industry is not disadvantaged vis-à-vis their foreign competitors. The House Judiciary Committee, which has primary jurisdiction over the legal framework of these programs, has conducted aggressive oversight on this issue and will be instrumental to reforming the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. I am committed to working with members of Congress and Senators from both political parties, House leaders, and President Obama to ensure our nation’s intelligence collection programs include real protections for Americans’ civil liberties, robust oversight, and additional transparency. [my emphasis]
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.
In one of the closest votes in a long time for civil liberties, the Amash-Conyers amendment just failed, but only barely, by a vote of 205-217.
The debate was lively, with Mike Rogers, Michele Bachmann, and Iraq verteran Tom Cotton spoke against the amendment; Amash closely managed time to include a broad mix of Democrats and Republicans.
The only nasty point of the debate came when Mike Rogers (R-MI) suggested Justin Amash (R-MI) was leading this charge for Facebook likes.
Update: Here’s the roll call.
One of the four members of Congress with greatest influence over this country’s “intelligence,” House Intelligence Chair Mike Rogers, claims that the IRS scandal is real and the risk of NSA dragnet is not.
Rogers said Amash’s amendment, which stops the NSA from collecting data under the Patriot Act, was an attempt to take advantage of anger over recent scandals including the Internal Revenue Service’s targeting of conservative groups applying for tax exempt status and the Justice Department’s probe of Associated Press journalists in connection to a leak about a thwarted terrorist plot that originated in Yemen.
“It’s certainly inflammatory and certainly misleading,” Rogers said Wednesday in an interview on Michigan radio station WTKG 1230. “I think, he tried to take advantage at any rate of people’s anger of the IRS scandal, which is real, and the AP —Associated Press dragnet by the Attorney General, Benghazi —all of those things are very real and there’s no oversight function “What they’re talking about doing is turning off a program that after 9/11 we realized we missed —we the intelligence community- missed a huge clue.” [my emphasis]
Note, too, that Rogers calls the (completely inappropriate) collection of the phone records for 20 AP phone lines a “dragnet,” but somehow doesn’t think the collection of the phone records for every single American is also a dragnet.
Again, this dude plays a significant role in this country’s “intelligence.”
From there, Rogers declined into outright misinformation.
Rogers added that NSA’s telephone data collection program has helped thwart over 50 terrorist plots.
The Section 215 collection — the only thing that would be affected by the Amash-Conyers amendment — has had a role in (per Keith Alexander’s latest claims) 13 plots.
I can’t think of a better way for Mike Rogers to demonstrate that these programs have insufficient oversight — in which the Intelligence Committees play a crucial role — than to open his yap and make such ludicrous statements.