More Than Half The Senate Skips Town Rather Than Attend Briefing About NSA Surveillance

from the that-one-time-when-they-almost-seemed-to-care dept

The NSA leaks have opened up somewhat of a dialogue in Washington, DC. Sure, there's a lot of yelling (some outraged; some defensive), but it finally seems as though some legislators might finally be on the same page as their constituents.

The Director of National Intelligence (James Clapper) and the head of the FBI (Robert Mueller) have both been questioned about the specifics of their domestic surveillance programs. Though the roots of these programs have been around for years, it's the first time many Americans have seen black-and-white proof of government-approved domestic spying. You kind of get the feeling that it's the first time for many of our lawmakers as well, even though many have claimed the NSA/FBI surveillance was all signed off and routed through proper channels, etc.

So, with all this heat coming down on Washington, how is it possible that less than half of our senators could be bothered to stick around DC long enough to catch a classified briefing on domestic surveillance?

A recent briefing by senior intelligence officials on surveillance programs failed to attract even half of the Senate, showing the lack of enthusiasm in Congress for learning about classified security programs.

Many senators elected to leave Washington early Thursday afternoon instead of attending a briefing with James Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence, Keith Alexander, the head of the National Security Agency (NSA), and other officials.
It's not as if the senators would have even needed to stick around until Friday. The briefing was scheduled for 2-1/2 hours after the Senate's last vote of the week, which took place at noon. Granted, the week for most representatives ends on Thursday and no one would think anything of it if this week had gone like any other. But it didn't, and the American public is still closely watching their representatives.

When all classified hell breaks loose, you would expect your elected officials to stay on point until a critical briefing is finished, at the minimum. It's rather disheartening to see legislators working for the weekend by 10 AM Thursday morning. If they can't be bothered to stick around until the end of the day on Thursday in order to stay current on the biggest issue, we've no reason to believe they're really looking to solve this problem.

Dianne Feinstein, oddly, was in the right this time:
“It’s hard to get this story out. Even now we have this big briefing — we’ve got Alexander, we’ve got the FBI, we’ve got the Justice Department, we have the FISA Court there, we have Clapper there — and people are leaving,” she said.
One small point in the defense of the departing senators: this was a "briefing," not a "hearing." While some lively discussion might have been had (possibly taking the form of shouting or loud coughs of "bullshit!"), it's much more likely this would be a one-way blast from the aggrieved parties. And since most senators presumably received a copy of the talking points roughly around the same time Techdirt did, there's really no reason to hear these delivered live, in-person.

Still, this doesn't excuse their actions. This was a missed opportunity for those who left town before the briefing. Reps from nearly every entity currently under fire had been gathered in one room solely to address interested senate members, many of which claim to be very interested.
Lawmakers have been quick to call for increased congressional oversight of the phone and Internet monitoring programs, but many have been unwilling to skip flights or make other scheduling sacrifices to learn more of the secret details.
Unfortunately, a roll call wasn't provided, so we don't know definitely who needs to be asked to put their plane tickets where their mouths are. But we're used to this -- legislators making concerned noises until the national "Business As Usual" light is flipped on in the cabin of the national plane. (Not only that, but we're used to being handed terrible metaphors, although usually by the legislators themselves, rather than a writer in search of a solid closing paragraph.)

Hopefully, this headcount will be leaked as well, resulting in a bit of shame-based focus from our men and women in Washington, who should return tanned and rested from the extended weekend and ready to start earning their paychecks slashing away at our surveillance overgrowth.



Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    rw (profile), Jun 17th, 2013 @ 5:45am

    We need to contact our legislators to see if they attended and if not, why not. If they didn't attend make sure everyone of their constituents knows that they don't give a damn.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2.  
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    Ninja (profile), Jun 17th, 2013 @ 6:44am

    I'm not sure if this is enough reason to be outraged:

    And since most senators presumably received a copy of the talking points roughly around the same time Techdirt did, there's really no reason to hear these delivered live, in-person.

    Maybe some of those who didn't stay are really worried but they either had other appointments or they didn't expect the absence to be an issue so I don't think it was some ill-willed move by SOME of the absentees.

    We need to be reasonable at this point. We must not condemn the Senators for an isolated fact.

    But I do agree with this:

    This was a missed opportunity for those who left town before the briefing. Reps from nearly every entity currently under fire had been gathered in one room solely to address interested senate members, many of which claim to be very interested.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 17th, 2013 @ 7:32am

    Mistake? John Clapper -> James Clapper

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 17th, 2013 @ 7:48am

    Re:

    We need to contact our legislators to see if they attended…

    Meanwhile (and related to contacting senators), I'm still waiting to see the text of Senator Merkley's bill: S.1130.
    The text of S.1130 has not yet been received from GPO

    Bills are generally sent to the Library of Congress from the Government Printing Office a day or two after they are introduced on the floor of the House or Senate. Delays can occur when there are a large number of bills to prepare or when a very large bill has to be printed.

    From the Congressional Record, I understand that Mr Merkley introduced S.1130 on Tuesday, June 11, 2013.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 17th, 2013 @ 7:54am

    The Senators that sold the public out are not interested in hearing about it.

    I am shocked, shocked I say.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6.  
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    dreddsniik, Jun 17th, 2013 @ 7:58am

    Re: Re:

    That bill is probably meaningless. As long as there is a clause relating to 'National Security' This bill will do nothing. All they have to do is make the 'national security' claim and we'll never know for sure. 'National Security' is simply a euphemism for 'Anything we don't want you to know about'.

     

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  7.  
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    WysiWyg (profile), Jun 17th, 2013 @ 7:58am

    I'm sure they just figure they'll wait for the leak, just like everyone else.

     

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  8.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 17th, 2013 @ 8:05am

    Re: Re: Re:

    That bill is probably meaningless.

    I'm given to understand that a previous version of Senator Merkley's legislation was offered as S.Amdt. 3435 to H.R. 5949 (FISA Amendments Act Reauthorization Act of 2012).

    That amendment was defeated by a vote of 54 NAY to 37 YEA (with 9 not voting) on December 27, 2012.

    Of course, the text of S.1130 may differ from that earlier amendment.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 17th, 2013 @ 8:05am

    "One small point in the defense of the departing senators: this was a "briefing," not a "hearing." While some lively discussion might have been had (possibly taking the form of shouting or loud coughs of "bullshit!"), it's much more likely this would be a one-way blast from the aggrieved parties. And since most senators presumably received a copy of the talking points roughly around the same time Techdirt did, there's really no reason to hear these delivered live, in-person."

    It's called work. They should try doing it more often.

    Seriously, I also have to take a lot of bullshit from vendors and clients plus drama from co-workers at my job apart from my regular functions. If I tried to bail out on a thursday, I might as well not even bother showing up on monday, because my boss would fire my fat ass.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10.  
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    Zakida Paul (profile), Jun 17th, 2013 @ 8:09am

    Re: Re: Re:

    Yep, meaningless as long as 'National security' is defined so broadly.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 17th, 2013 @ 8:19am

    Re:

    For a bunch as obsessed with political posturing and "sending messages" as our Senators, one might think that they could, given the circumstances, be bothered to dedicate a couple of hours to doing something that has at least a little symbolic value to the voters that elected them to office, rather than just their cronies and corporate masters. Wait a minute... What am I thinking... ?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12.  
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    pixelpusher220 (profile), Jun 17th, 2013 @ 8:29am

    Re:

    Wouldn't you be just as pissed at your Reps/Sens if they *never* came home? Their leaving on a Thursday very likely means they are going home to districts to talk to constituents.

    Not being in Washington doesn't automatically mean they're on vacation.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 17th, 2013 @ 8:33am

    not only does this show what a bunch of gutless fuckers we've got as Senators, it also shows that they all fucking knew about it and exactly what was going on!!

     

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  14.  
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    Keroberos (profile), Jun 17th, 2013 @ 8:34am

    Re:

    We must not condemn the Senators for an isolated fact.
    This is not an isolated indecent. This is yet more evidence of an ever growing problem: Our elected officials just don't seem to care about us--their constitutes. Those Senators who skipped this briefing need to get all the fire that we can pile on them. This is the kind of behavior from our elected officials that created this problem in the first place. Not only should they have stayed until the end of the day on Thursday, they should have stayed in their offices all weekend sorting this debacle out.

    Pulling crap like this is why Congresses approval rating is at an all time low of 10%.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15.  
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    Jake, Jun 17th, 2013 @ 8:34am

    What I want to know is, who decided to schedule the damn thing at an hour when most Congresspersons would have a choice between attending it or blowing off a bunch of prior engagements in their constituencies and probably wasting a few hundred dollars in airline cancellation fees?

     

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  16.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 17th, 2013 @ 8:37am

    Re: Re:

    … if they *never* came home?

    When travel on this continent took place on horseback, and stagecoach, and river boat, and by foot, the legislators went to New York or Philiadelphia or to the City of Washington—for the session.

    Even as the railroads began to open up the country, a trip to California was a matter of days.

    We had —perhaps—   —according to legend— a more collegial Senate and House of Representatives back then. Back when legislators of all parties drank and dined and played poker and socialized together.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17.  
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    nasch (profile), Jun 17th, 2013 @ 8:39am

    Re:

    What I want to know is, who decided to schedule the damn thing at an hour when most Congresspersons would have a choice between attending it or blowing off a bunch of prior engagements in their constituencies and probably wasting a few hundred dollars in airline cancellation fees?

    That was my first thought - this was probably a bigger turnout than the executive branch was hoping for.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18.  
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    nasch (profile), Jun 17th, 2013 @ 8:39am

    Re: hearing

    One small point in the defense of the departing senators: this was a "briefing," not a "hearing."

    That's the key. At a briefing, the Senators are expected to listen rather than talk, so they're not interested.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19. This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
     
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 17th, 2013 @ 8:48am

    Hey Mikey,

    I enjoyed this story--when I read it the other day on another website. Do you ever have anything original? Is the real reason you don't like "permission culture" because all you do is copy other people?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 17th, 2013 @ 8:57am

    Re:

    Then read another website. What the hell are you doing here?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 17th, 2013 @ 9:03am

    I have this strange feeling that Democrats are going to be the ones who are hardest hit for defending the NSA and their secret spying program. While it may not have been technically illegal, most Americans are outraged over the government's blatant spying on all of its communications and simply represents a gross abuse of power within our own government.

    Fighting terrorists on our soil is a laudable goal but that the government should have never been given such unlimited power with no oversight.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 17th, 2013 @ 9:17am

    This ignorance is bliss approach the majority of Congress pulls on a daily basis is why their approval rating is so far below Obama's...


    ...and he's had what 7 "scandals" and counting?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23.  
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    Berenerd (profile), Jun 17th, 2013 @ 9:26am

    Re: Re:

    If only we had a means of travel faster than driving or trains....yes...like flying in the air! Perhaps someday we will invent..jets...tat could take a long leg of traveling and make it shorter....I want you to name one member of congress that actually went out to talk to their constituents? I bet most of them either stayed in DC or went home for Fathers day.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24.  
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    Danny Poppe, Jun 17th, 2013 @ 9:32am

    More Than Half The Senate Skips Town Rather Than Attend Briefing About NSA Surveillance

    Same old story skip town when things need done. just like when they skipped town when they needed to vote for the federal action that cost jobs the first of the year. Bet you will never see them skip town when their pay raise is up for a vote

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 17th, 2013 @ 10:25am

    A little late there!

    You might want to pick up your game, you commented quite late!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  26.  
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    Todd From Orlando, Jun 17th, 2013 @ 11:46am

    Who cares

    If you're worried your being spied on stop committing crimes. Otherwise go on with your lives and stop being dramatic chicken littles.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  27.  
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    John Fenderson (profile), Jun 17th, 2013 @ 12:53pm

    Re: Who cares

    The objection to being spied on has nothing whatsoever to do with criminality. But you know that.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  28.  
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    Mike Masnick (profile), Jun 17th, 2013 @ 12:59pm

    Re: Who cares

    If you're worried your being spied on stop committing crimes. Otherwise go on with your lives and stop being dramatic chicken littles.

    Cool. Then, feel free to post your name, age, social security number, bank account details, credit card numbers, past sexual partners, your medical files, every website you've surfed... etc.

    After all, you've got nothing to hide, right?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  29.  
    identicon
    anonymouse, Jun 17th, 2013 @ 1:03pm

    peace and happiness

    Can the president not just close the government down due to nothing being done and nobody doing their jobs, this congress is already voted as the worst in history, surely the president or someone must have the power to just send everyone back to their states and request the states to send different representatives. Come on the county is sitting with a congress that is doing nothing if it does not help the mega rich or big business. they are not doing their job surely someone can fire them.

    Maybe if those people voted in by the states are barred from going to congress due to a failure to do there jobs then maybe the states will send people who actually do the job.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  30.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 17th, 2013 @ 1:56pm

    When you look at the over all picture here, you have Washington that typically puts out bad news on Friday so that maybe it doesn't get in the news at all or if it does maybe the public has had time to forget about it by Monday. You can get the schedule of the briefing was very much intentional to be done on Friday.

    You've Obama saying that it really wasn't that big a deal collecting metadata but notice he totally avoided any mention of being able to hear any individual phone call. It's that being able to spy not just on the metadata but also the total contents of a phone message that is the big problem and our government minimizes the real bullet for something much smaller.

    You will remember the Patriot Act passed after 9/11 in a total of around 48 hours. Be sure that no congress critter actually read the bill in it's entirety. In other words they didn't know for sure what they were voting for any more than they knew what they were voting for with Obamacare. Pesoli, as speaker of the house, said you'll have to pass it to find out what's in it.

    These congress critters have no real intention of letting the American Public in on what all has gone down in the name of National Security. That is "if they know". There's been several of these congress critters claiming they didn't vote to give blanket approval but if they don't know what's in the bill, likely they did.

    This shows a very real breakdown of legislative actions. No one cares as long as they get theirs. Now if they were paid according to their job performance it might be different. As it is now, they don't even have to vote on their pay raises. It's automagically done at the end of the session so that these congress critters don't have to face the public questions over if they voted themselves a pay raise.

    Honestly this whole thing stinks. The international fallout on this spying alone is going to be interesting to see with Hong Kong, China, Russia, and several other countries wanting to know who was spied on during treaty negotiations, by whom, and for what reason. Sweden has already ruled against Google being used in country for fears of US spying. Several other countries are now demanding answers, such as Germany and the UK. Despite the UK being right in the middle of this spying along with the Dutch.

    The single thread has been pulled on the knitted sweater and I for one am curious how far this is going to unravel or if it fails to unravel. Either of which will tell you a lot about what's going on.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  31.  
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    nasch (profile), Jun 17th, 2013 @ 2:22pm

    Re: peace and happiness

    surely the president or someone must have the power to just send everyone back to their states and request the states to send different representatives.

    Thankfully, nobody has the unilateral power to remove a congressperson from office. I don't think there's even a recall process for them as there is for many state offices.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  32.  
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    John Fenderson (profile), Jun 17th, 2013 @ 2:39pm

    Re: Re: peace and happiness

    Congresspeople can be recalled by the voters of their districts. Also, there is a process by which congresspeople can be kicked out by the other members of congress regardless of the wishes of the voters from the relevant district. This requires a 2/3 majority, and has only been done 20 times (senate and house combined) in the history of the US.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  33.  
    identicon
    Taylor Sowders, Jun 17th, 2013 @ 4:41pm

    Stay focused

    Fine. This is all very well but can we stop talking about this and ask when it will be rescheduled? It IS getting rescheduled right?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  34.  
    identicon
    Taylor Sowders, Jun 17th, 2013 @ 4:41pm

    Stay focused

    Fine. This is all very well but can we stop talking about this and ask when it will be rescheduled? It IS getting rescheduled right?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  35.  
    identicon
    Taylor Sowders, Jun 17th, 2013 @ 4:41pm

    Stay focused

    Fine. This is all very well but can we stop talking about this and ask when it will be rescheduled? It IS getting rescheduled right?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  36.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 17th, 2013 @ 4:44pm

    Just like their overlords - they feel as though they can do anything they want.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  37.  
    identicon
    Frank Churchill, Jun 17th, 2013 @ 9:29pm

    Current Article

    That is because more than half the senate adopted a platform 68 years ago which is unsustainable. A map for you America http://ovisarie.com/multiple-sclerosis-b12-deficiency/

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  38.  
    icon
    JMT (profile), Jun 17th, 2013 @ 10:19pm

    Re: Who cares

    So you're trying to convince us that you've never done anything in your life that was completely legal but you'd still like to keep completely private? Man your life must be dull...

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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