Today in Liberty: House GOP ready to give up on debt ceiling, minimum wage and jobs, fis-cons come out against Farm Bill
“There is all the difference in the world between treating people equally and attempting to make them equal.” — F.A. Hayek
— Yet another Republican surrender, debt ceiling edition: Remember when House Republicans were talking tough about the debt ceiling in mid-December after they completely surrendered on spending cuts. House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI), for example, said that they “don’t want ‘nothing’ out of the debt limit” debate. Yeah, they’re about to surrender on that issue, too. Via Politico: “The most senior figures in the House Republican Conference are privately acknowledging that they will almost certainly have to pass what’s called a clean debt ceiling increase in the next few months, abandoning the central fight that has defined their three-year majority.”
President Barack Obama’s case continuing the phone metadata collection program took another hit on Thursday. The Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, an executive-level panel created in 2004, has determined that the program is illegal and that the collection of Americans’ phone metadata should come to end:
An independent executive branch board has concluded that the National Security Agency’s long-running program to collect billions of Americans’ phone records is illegal and should end.
In a strongly worded report to be issued Thursday, the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB) said that the statute upon which the program was based, Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act, “does not provide an adequate basis to support this program.”
The divided panel also concluded that the program raises serious threats to civil liberties, has shown limited value in countering terrorism and is not sustainable from a policy perspective.
“We have not identified a single instance involving a threat to the United States in which the telephone records program made a concrete difference in the outcome of a counterterrorism investigation,” said the report, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Post. “Moreover, we are aware of no instance in which the program directly contributed to the discovery of a previously unknown terrorist plot or the disruption of a terrorist attack.”
Since the disclosures of the National Security Agency’s vast domestic surveillance programs became public knowledge, President Barack Obama and congressional supporters have repeatedly said that the bulk data collection of phone records is necessary to prevent terrorist attacks.
Intelligence officials have gone so far to claim that some 50 terror plots have been foiled because of the program. That number was repeated by President Obama. “Lives have been saved,” he insisted in June shortly after the initial disclosures by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.
The credibility of this claim was already significantly diminished in October, when NSA Director Gen. Keith Alexander admitted in congressional testimony that he had inflated the number of purportedly foiled plots.
“These weren’t all plots, and they weren’t all foiled, would you agree with that, yes or no?” Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) asked the NSA chief. “Yes,” said Alexander.
The claim has been even further undermined by the White House Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technology, the five-member panel that reviewed the programs and made a number recommendations to President Barack Obama that would reform the NSA and provide for more accountability and transparency.
The USA Freedom Act, which is cosponsored by 102 House members, would correct some issues with the Patriot Act by curbing the National Security Agency’s ability to administer communication sweeps and ensuring that searches of data of Americans would not be performed without warrants.
In spite of the great support this bill has been receiving, President Obama recently decided to maintain a previous arrangement that allows a single military official to direct the National Security Agency while also directing the military’s cyberwarfare command. This follows a recent statement delivered by President Obama himself concerning his commitment to restrain the spying agency’s power.
The Obama Administration decided to maintain the controversial arrangement despite criticism, showing that it might not be inclined to restrain the NSA’s activities anytime soon.
Top U.S. intelligence officials urged the administration to maintain the Cyber Command and the NSA under separate leadership due to accountability concerns. The administration was also warned that problems could stem from the undue concentration of power in case it decided to uphold the arrangement.
The administration vaguely described its decision to maintain one person as the NSA director and the Cyber Command commander as “the most effective approach to accomplishing both agencies’ missions.”
Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) wants the Obama Administration’s chief intelligence official prosecuted for lying under oath when he was asked during congressional testimony if the National Security Agency (NSA) was collecting data on Americans:
Rep. James Sensenbrenner Jr., the original author of the Patriot Act, says Director of National Intelligence James Clapper should be prosecuted for lying to Congress.
“Lying to Congress is a federal offense, and Clapper ought to be fired and prosecuted for it,” the Wisconsin Republican said in an interview with The Hill.
“The only way laws are effective is if they’re enforced,” Sensenbrenner said. “If it’s a criminal offense — and I believe Mr. Clapper has committed a criminal offense — then the Justice Department ought to do its job.”
Shawn Turner, a spokesman for Clapper, declined to comment.
Sensenbrenner also said President Obama should fire Clapper and NSA Director Keith Alexander in the wake of the revelations about the spying programs.
Clapper was asked a very direct question by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) during a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing in March: “Does the NSA collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?”
“No, sir,” replied Clapper. Still, Wyden pressed him. Clapper again denied that the NSA was collecting data on Americans, saying, “Not wittingly. There are cases where they could inadvertently perhaps collect, but not wittingly.”
The House of Representatives is planning to take up a measure soon, completely bypassing the committee process, that would ostensibly codify the National Security Agency’s bulk data collection surveillance programs. The bill is reportedly similar to a measure recently passed by the Senate Intelligence Committee.
But it seems that Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) is getting pushback from Republicans who want a vote on legislation that would reform the NSA snooping programs and protect Americans’ privacy, according to The Hill.
Boehner has apparently not learned much since the House took up an amendment, offered by Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI), in late July to the defense appropriations bill. That amendment would have limited the NSA’s ability to collect data that “pertain[s] to a person who is the subject of an investigation.”
Boehner, President Obama, and the intelligence community opposed the measure, and it was defeated on the House floor, though, by a very slim, 12-vote margin. It was a shot across the bow of the White House and the intelligence community, showing that the anger toward the programs is real.
Americans have been inundated with stories about the Obamacare meltdown, there has been some news about the NSA and domestic surveillance programs in the last few days, and none of it is good.
TechDirt reported on Tuesday that Justice Department is fighting a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) order to release the government’s secret interpretation of the USA PATRIOT Act.
Section 215 of the 2001 anti-terrorism law has been used to justify domestic spying programs employed by the NSA, despite a clear limitation on whom the government can collect information. At some point since its passage, however, the government came up with its own interpretation that says something entirely different.
Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI), who sponsored the law, contends that the NSA is defying congressional intent as the provision only allows intelligence agencies to seize records related to an actual investigation into terrorist activity.
“The phone records of innocent Americans do not relate to terrorism, whatsoever; and they are not reasonably likely to lead to information that relates to terrorism,” said Sensenbrenner in a speech last month at the Cato Institute. “Put simply, the phone calls we make to our friends, our families, and business associates are private and have nothing to do with terrorism or the government’s efforts to stop it.”
More than two weeks after outlining principles behind the USA FREEDOM Act in a speech at the Cato Institute, Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) will reportedly introduce the anti-domestic surveillance measure today with strong bipartisan support, according to Breitbart, a conservative news outlet.
Sensenbrenner, who sponsored the PATRIOT Act in 2001, has emerged as one of the primary critics of the NSA’s domestic surveillance programs and contends that the Justice Department and intelligence is relying on a broad interpretation of the anti-terrorism law, far beyond congressional intent, to collect Americans’ phone and Internet metadata.
The FREEDOM Act would limit the NSA’s ability to collect data “adopting a uniform standard for intelligence gathering under Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act,” according to Sensenbrenner.
What’s more, the measure would reform the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) by creating a civil liberties advocate, create new reporting requirements and oversight from Congress for the court, and allow the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board subpoena authority. The legislation will also reform National Security Letters (NSL) to ensure that the current administration or its predecessors don’t use another agency to collect bulk data.
The Heritage Foundation, considered to be one of Washington’s most influential think tanks, appears to have had a change of heart on government surveillance programs that it once supported.
Once a place where ignoring constitutionally protected civil liberties seemed to be a virtue, the conservative think tank, under the leadership of former Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC), recently declined to publish two papers that supported the National Security Agency’s snooping, according to Foreign Policy:
Heritage refused to publish two papers about the National Security Agency’s surveillance programs written by a prominent conservative attorney. Why? Because he concluded that the programs were legal and constitutional, according to sources familiar with the matter. It was a surprising move for a think tank that has supported extension of the Patriot Act — which authorizes some of NSA’s activities — and has long been associated with right-of-center positions on national security and foreign policy.
There is yet another new wrinkle in the ongoing coverage of the NSA’s vast surveillance apparatus. The Washington Post reported on Monday that the intelligence agency is harvesting some 500,000 email and instant messaging chat-lists everyday, including information from Americans who are not subject of an investigation (emphasis added):
The National Security Agency is harvesting hundreds of millions of contact lists from personal e-mail and instant messaging accounts around the world, many of them belonging to Americans, according to senior intelligence officials and top-secret documents provided by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.
Rather than targeting individual users, the NSA is gathering contact lists in large numbers that amount to a sizable fraction of the world’s e-mail and instant messaging accounts. Analysis of that data enables the agency to search for hidden connections and to map relationships within a much smaller universe of foreign intelligence targets.
During a single day last year, the NSA’s Special Source Operations branch collected 444,743 e-mail address books from Yahoo, 105,068 from Hotmail, 82,857 from Facebook, 33,697 from Gmail and 22,881 from unspecified other providers, according to an internal NSA PowerPoint presentation. Those figures, described as a typical daily intake in the document, correspond to a rate of more than 250 million a year.