Congress denied access to classified document prior to NSA vote

In May 2011, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) took the floor of the Senate to warn his colleagues that Americans would one day be outraged to learn that the U.S. Government was actively engaged in surveillance activities that most citizens would consider outright criminal.

With carefully measured words, to avoid being reprimanded, the Senator from Oregon took the time to bring up an even more serious problem, which also worried his colleague Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM): the Obama administration’s unwillingness to cooperate by allowing for an open debate on the specifics of the government’s classified interpretation of the Section 215 of the Patriot Act, the particular section that allegedly authorizes the NSA to collect records on nearly every single American citizen.

The Obama administration managed to avoid looking into the query and Sen. Wyden’s amendment, which would declassify the Administration’s legal interpretation of Section 215, failed. Congress finally voted to reauthorize the Patriot Act for four more years despite not having access to one single classified document concerning the number of Americans affected by the surveillance activities authorized under the Patriot Act.

Fast forward to August, 2013. During a recent speech, President Obama claimed his administration had already begun the process of opening the debate on the NSA’s surveillance activities long before Mr. Edward Snowden stepped into the picture.

While apparently oblivious of the media’s capacity to fact-check his claims, President Obama seemed to simply focus on inspiring confidence in his audience while suggesting that Americans should simply trust the government not to abuse their privacy, making his stance a subject of reproach among some of the most liberal leaning editorial boards in the country.

While most news sources were concerned with President Obama’s seemingly misleading speech, Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI) took to Facebook to remind Americans that, while this administration claims to have released previously classified documents concerning the NSA’s secretive surveillance activities to all Members of Congress long before Edward Snowden’s leaks were made available, documents dated back to February 2, 2011 attest to the contrary.

According to Rep. Amash “the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence did not, in fact, make the 2011 document available to Representatives in Congress, meaning that the large class of Representatives elected in 2010 did not receive either of the now declassified documents detailing these programs.”

Congress wasn’t fully aware of the administration’s interpretation of the Patriot Act before members voted to have it reauthorized. This invalidates President Obama’s claims to transparency and raises even more questions, but as the number of critics grows, so does the intensity with which supporters attack.

According to The Guardian, NSA’s former director Michael Hayden recently called proponents of real transparency “nihilists, anarchists, activists, Lulzsec, Anonymous, twenty-somethings who haven’t talked to the opposite sex in five or six years.” The statement seems to indicate he’s frustrated at the public’s difficulty in trusting government not to abuse Americans’ right to privacy.

It also seems to support the notion that we don’t have a right to know what the government is doing with our records, on our behalf, and in the name of National Security.

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