Members of Congress denied access to basic details of NSA spying

Members of Congress from both sides of the house have been denied access to details of NSA spying, even as they are being asked to vote on extending funding for continued surveillance. Both GOP Rep. Morgan Griffith of Virginia and Democratic Rep. Alan Grayson of Florida have been stonewalled for weeks by the their colleagues on the House Intelligence Committee, who will not even discuss whether a vote was taken to approve NSA spying, nor how that vote went. The existence of such a vote, let alone how it went, is a secret, as are the details of the programs that Congress are being asked to vote for.

But just over four weeks later, the Chairman of the Committee, GOP Rep. Mike Rogers, wrote to Grayson informing him that his requests had been denied by a Committee "voice vote".

In a follow-up email exchange, a staff member for Grayson wrote to the Chairman, advising him that Congressman Grayson had "discussed the committee's decision with Ranking Member [Dutch] Ruppersberger on the floor last night, and he told the Congressman that he was unaware of any committee action on this matter." Grayson wanted to know how a voice vote denying him access to these documents could have taken place without the knowledge of the ranking member on the Committee, and asked: "can you please share with us the recorded vote, Member-by-Member?" The reply from this Committee was as follows:

Thanks for your inquiry. The full Committee attends Business Meetings. At our July 18, 2013 Business Meeting, there were seven Democrat Members and nine Republican Members in attendance. The transcript is classified."

Members of Congress denied access to basic information about NSA [Glenn Greenwald/The Guardian]

(via Reddit)

Notable Replies

  1. Well, this is how things work in a free society that values freedom and fights for freedom to keep our freedom free. Freedom!

  2. Well, congresscritter, I don't think you'll be provided a much better reason to vote 'Aw, hell no' to any bills providing funding to the NSA...

    I'm not wildly impressed by the chances; but "We can't vote on funding until we receive the information requested" is probably the closest thing to leverage everyone in congress not cool enough to be on the intelligence committee and get lied to in person has.

  3. Time for a sequel -- Church Commission 2: The Republic Strikes Back

  4. Here's the thing that really scares me - remember that it is no longer standard operating procedure to deny information to the public. Now they lie.

    What if they start doing the same thing to Congress? I mean, they've already indicated a willingness to lie to congress, what if they just get their funding through a pile of other bills that simply, you know... lie, about what they are for?

  5. So I wrote Mike Rogers, my rep (lucky me) regarding my disapproval of his stance with this. This is the reply I got (this was on 7/31, btw):

    Thank you for contacting me with your concerns regarding the protection of your Fourth Amendment rights. I appreciate hearing from
    you on this important issue. As chairman of the House Intelligence
    Committee, it is my responsibility to ensure strict and thorough
    congressional oversight of the important work done by America’s
    intelligence agencies. I have been disheartened by dangerous national
    security leaks that have grossly distorted two vital National Security
    Agency programs that have proved very effective in preventing terror
    attacks in the U.S. without infringing on Americans’ privacy and civil
    liberties.
    **At a time when the Obama administration’s IRS, Benghazi and Justice Department scandals have understandably damaged Americans’ trust in
    their government** [bold is mine], *it is important to understand why
    these programs are different. Neither program allows the NSA to read
    e-mails or listen to phone calls of American citizens. Both programs
    are constitutional and do not violate any American’s Fourth Amendment
    rights. Both are strictly overseen by the Foreign Intelligence
    Surveillance Court, a federal court created in 1978 to protect the
    rights of American citizens in the course of foreign intelligence
    gathering. There are also several layers of checks and balances put in
    place around these programs within the executive branch and Congress.
    Both programs are overseen by lawyers and compliance auditors from the
    Department of Justice, the director of national intelligence and
    multiple independent inspectors general. Both have also been
    authorized by large bipartisan majorities in Congress and are
    regularly reviewed by the House and Senate intelligence committees.
    The effectiveness of these programs is without question. Both have
    produced vital intelligence that has prevented dozens of terrorist
    attacks within the U.S. and around the world. The first program allows
    the NSA to preserve a limited category of business records to help
    identify foreign terrorists and their plots to attack the U.S. This
    court-authorized program allows NSA to preserve only phone records
    such as the numbers dialed and the date, time and duration of calls.
    These records do not include the names or personal information of any
    American and do not include any content of calls. When the NSA wants
    to query the records, it must establish through a court-approved
    process that there is a reasonable suspicion a specific number is
    connected to a foreign terrorist. Only a limited number of analysts
    can obtain approval to conduct a narrow and targeted search of those
    numbers. If U.S. connections are found, they are passed to the FBI for
    further investigation. If the FBI wants to determine the identity of a
    phone number resulting from an NSA search, they must obtain a separate
    court order. These call record searches, which are regularly audited
    for compliance by all three branches of government, are a vital tool
    for connecting the dots between foreign terrorists plotting attacks in
    the U.S. and in other countries. The second program, known as PRISM,
    allows the NSA to obtain a court order to access the electronic
    communications of suspected foreign terrorists overseas. Because much
    of the world’s Internet traffic flows through U.S. infrastructure, the
    law allows the NSA to obtain the specific communications of foreign
    suspects from U.S. companies with a court order. This program does not
    create a “back door” to any U.S. company’s server. This program cannot
    and does not monitor the communications of any U.S. citizens. All 535
    members of Congress have had access to classified briefings describing
    the specific uses of these two programs, though not all members have
    chosen to attend these briefings. It is important to consider the
    source of the news media leaks about these two vital intelligence
    programs. These leaks came from a person not involved in the careful
    execution of these programs, and with access to only small pieces of a
    larger puzzle. He decided to break the law and the oath he took to the
    American people by publicly disclosing parts of these classified
    programs, and then fled to China. These are the actions of a felon,
    not a whistle-blower. The effectiveness of these programs depends on
    them being kept secret from the foreign terrorists they target. It is
    much easier for terrorists to hide from us if they understand the
    sources and methods of our intelligence gathering. We have already
    seen al-Qaeda begin to shift their communication tactics as a result
    of these leaks, and it will now be much harder for us to find them. It
    is no coincidence that the leaders from across the American political
    spectrum who take the time to understand these important programs are
    also their strongest supporters. They understand that these narrowly
    targeted programs are legal, do not invade Americans’ privacy rights,
    and are essential to detecting and disrupting future terrorist
    attacks. Rest assured I take the privacy rights of Americans very
    seriously. As Chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on
    Intelligence I will continue vigilant oversight of these programs to
    ensure they are not abused and would never allow such techniques to be
    used against American citizens, without due process. For a link to the
    House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence hearing on the issue,
    please click here: http://www.c-spanvideo.org/program/313429-1 Again,
    thank you for contacting me. Please keep in touch with any additional
    questions or concerns.

    Rich, huh? I emailed him today with the links to the http://www.alternet.org/civil-liberties/3-shocking-revelations-nsas-most-terrifying-program-yet?page=0%2C1 article and the http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/aug/04/congress-nsa-denied-access today to get his response.

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