Earlier this week, Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-CA) dropped the bombshell accusation that the CIA hacked her intelligence committee's computers while the committee was investigating the CIA's Bush-era post-9/11 interrogation methods. Feinstein has been a longtime defender of NSA programs spying on Americans, but she doesn't like it one bit when the spies turn their eyes on her.
Now we have a letter from Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) to Deputy Attorney General James Cole about the CIA spying on members of Congress:
"Tapping into computers used by members of Congress and attempts to use the Justice Department to intimidate congressional staff is a gross violation of the constitutional principles of separation of powers...It paints an almost-Nixonian picture of an administration that believes it can act with impunity behind a veil of secrecy."
Executive branch spying on Congress certainly does raise Nixonian ghosts of Watergate, but notice who is making the accusations here, James Sensenbrenner. Why is that important ? Because SENSENBRENNER IS ONE OF THE ARCHITECTS OF THE PATRIOT ACT, which granted the government wide authority to spy on Americans following 9/11. Like Feinstein, Sensenbrenner defended government spying on Americans (to a point, more on that to follow), but objects when he becomes the target of spying.
And they say there's no bipartisanship in Congress.
The original 2001 Patriot Act contained a sunset provision in 2005, but it was reauthorized by President Bush in 2005, then again by President Bush in 2006, then again by President Obama in 2010, and then again by President Obama in 2011, which extended it for four more years.
More bipartisanship. Perhaps bipartisanship is overrated.
The Patriot Act isn't all bad, of course. We do want to root out potential terrorist attacks, but several parts of the Patriot Act have been struck down by the Courts, and other parts should be struck down, like Section 215, which is what gives the government the power to spy on all Americans.
Sensennbrenner was an architect of Section 215, but now he says the government has abused the authority it was given. Here's a relevant excerpt from Sensenbrenner's website:
Earlier this month [June 2013], The Guardian reported on the Obama Administration’s dragnet collection of phone data with rubberstamp approval by a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court. The scope of the NSA’s metadata program – peering into the lives of hundreds of millions of innocent Americans – is incredibly troubling. There is no legitimate explanation for tracking the numbers, locations, times and duration of the calls of every American.The collection and retention of all telephone records coming in and out of the United States is excessive and does not fall within the guidelines of Section 215.
Mr. Sensenbrenner, I can't speak to your intentions, but Section 215 DOES allow the government to spy on American citizens, because it doesn't forbid such activity, provided the government can come up with any thin veil of a national security interest, which it will always be able to do. So now, all our phone records are collected in order for the government to find the terrorist needle in the haystack, and the Fourth Amendment be damned.
Sensenbrenner promised to work to amend Section 215 to eliminate wholesale spying on the American people, for which I commend him, and he followed through. He and Sen. Pat Leahy (D-VT), created the USA Freedom Act, which would change Section 215 and end the NSA bulk collection of American phone call records. There's some bipartisanship I can get behind. The USA Freedom Act (H.R. 3361) was introduced in the House on 10/29/13, referred to a House Subcommittee on 1/9/14...and there it sits. A similar version is stuck in the Senate. According to The Hill, here's the holdup:
In the House, Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) seems to be waiting for the Obama administration to take a formal position on the USA Freedom Act, authored by Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), before scheduling a markup.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) wants to see what recommendations Attorney General Eric Holder and top intelligence leaders make by a March 28 deadline set by President Obama.
So, as of 2/17/14, Congress is still waiting for President Obama's opinion ??? Um, how can that be when Obama already authorized the changes in January, or so I thought:
President Obama on Friday announced five changes in US surveillance policy, a move he attributed in part to the revelations about the scope of US intelligence gathering made possible by documents leaked by ex-NSA contractor Edward Snowden.
The most significant change is an end to the bulk collection of telephone records -- phonecall meta-data -- under Section 215. The President said he is ordering the gradual discontinuation of this program and the establishment of "a mechanism that preserves the capabilities we need without the government holding this bulk meta-data."
Color me confused. In any case, Obama can promise to do anything, but we need legislation from Congress banning this type of universal spying. Hopefully, this will be cleared up by that March 28th deadline, and we can put this sad chapter behind us...and then we can watch the CIA squirm in front of Congress over Watergate II: The Hacking. I have a feeling we're about to re-live the Bush-era interrogation methods all over again, which were largely carried out by...the CIA...who, not so coincidentally, are also the alleged hackers. It doesn't take a Sherlock Holmes to see the connection.
What I would say to Sensenbrenner is this - THE GOVERNMENT ALWAYS ABUSES THE POWER IT'S GIVEN, so take great care to limit it's power, as the Founders intended.
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