Lamar Smith & House Judiciary Committee Don't Want To Know How Often The NSA Spies On Americans

from the fingers-in-ears-approach dept

Once again, we are left stunned by the sheer ridiculousness of Congress. In a House Judiciary Committee markup concerning the FISA Amendments Act (FAA), a proposed amendment to require the NSA to reveal how many times it had spied on Americans was voted down 20 – 11, led by chair Lamar Smith who just kept talking about how “important” it was get past the markup phase and pass the bill. Meanwhile, Rep. Dan Lungren lashed out at those who wanted the NSA to explain how often it had spied on Americans without warrants under this bill by saying (and I kid you not): “What evidence is there that it is being used to spy on Americans?”

You see, that’s the problem. The NSA doesn’t have to tell anyone — and whenever officials ask, they’re given ridiculous answers, like the claim that it would violate the privacy of Americans to tell Congress how many Americans’ privacy the NSA violated. It’s stunning that our elected officials — many of whom don’t know themselves what the NSA is doing — seem to have no qualms passing this update to the bill without even being willing to ask a simple question: how many Americans have been spied on using this regulation?

On the Senate side, as we’ve noted, Senators Wyden and Udall have been indicating (within the limitations they have, due to security clearances) that the NSA is quite clearly using this law incredibly broadly — perhaps to the level of scooping up all phone data, which goes way, way, way beyond the text of the law. If some in Congress are so sure that there’s no evidence that it’s being used to spy on Americans, then have the NSA answer the damn question. But, no, instead, they insist that we just have to push it through, or, as Lamar Smith says, “We have a duty to ensure the intelligence community can gather the intelligence they need to protect our country.”

You know who you have an even bigger duty to? The American public. That’s who you represent. Not the intelligence community. The failure of our elected officials to give even the most basic oversight to the NSA is astonishing. It’s shameful. We all deserve better.

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Comments on “Lamar Smith & House Judiciary Committee Don't Want To Know How Often The NSA Spies On Americans”

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DogBreath says:

Just another in the long list of examples proving the government always has a way around investigations of itself

Latest case in point:

White House grants executive privilege over Fast and Furious documents

June 20, 2012

Updated 10:48 p.m. ET

(CBS News) The showdown between the White House and key congressional Republicans over the administration’s response to a controversial program that allowed thousands of guns into the hand of Mexican drug cartels kicked into high gear Wednesday.

President Obama granted Attorney General Eric Holder executive privilege on the matter, while the head of the House panel overseeing government conduct moved forward with proceedings to hold the nation’s top law enforcement official in contempt of Congress.

By asserting executive privilege, the Justice Department can withhold documents from Congress, even if Congress has issued a subpoena, as the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee has.

In a letter to Rep. Darrell Issa, R.-Cal., head of the Oversight Committee, Deputy Attorney General James Cole wrote, “Although we are deeply disappointed that the Committee appears intent on proceeding with a contempt vote, the Department remains willing to work with the Committee to reach a mutually satisfactory resolution of the outstanding issues.”

At issue is documents over Operation Fast and Furious, an Arizona gunwalking program that put guns in the hands of illicit gun purchasers as a way to track Mexican smuggling cartels. As a result of the program, hundreds of guns showed up in Mexico and one was found at where a U.S. border agent was killed. Issa and his counterpart in the Senate, Charles Grassley, R-Iowa., opened an investigation into the case more than a year ago.

The contempt proceedings have led to a face-off between the Executive and Legislative branches. The Justice Department Wednesday asked the White House to get involved.

In a letter to President Obama asking for executive privilege, the attorney general wrote “that the Committee has not established that privileged documents are demonstrably critical to the responsible fulfillment of the Committee’s legitimate legislative functions.”

A White House aide told CBS News that this is the first time President Obama has asserted executive privilege, and noted that President George W. Bush used the privilege six times and President Bill Clinton used it 14 times.

A meeting held Tuesday evening between Rep. Issa and Holder was an attempt to work out an agreement over handing out documents pertaining to the Fast and Furious case. But it ended without an agreement being reached.

Issa told reporters after the meeting, “If we receive no documents, we’ll go forward. If we receive documents we will evaluate them.”

In a letter to Issa sent later Tuesday evening, Deputy Attorney General James Cole wrote, “We regret that the Committee rejected our proposal. Our offer would have provided the Committee with unprecedented access to these documents, many of which are not covered by the Committee’s subpoenas in this matter.”

“We’re not looking to hold people responsible. We’re looking for document production,” Issa said.

Issa’s committee is looking for documents dating from February to December 2011 on how the Justice Department handled the Fast and Furious case.

Holder says he made Issa an “extraordinary” offer that includes documents, a briefing on those documents and answers to questions Issa and his committee might have.

“The ball is in their court,” Holder said. “They rejected what I think is an extraordinary offer.”

Sen. Grassley, who attended the meeting, told CBS News that Issa is right to proceed with contempt vote against Holder.

Anonymous Coward says:

The system here in America is majorly fucked up.. We give the power to make important decisions that is meant to better us however that’s rarely the case.

I think it’s absurd that we give far less than 1% of the population the power to really fuck shit up.

With the internet everyone should have the right to vote for every single fucking bill plain and simple. They should also have to be explained in terms we all understand. 6000 pages of mumbo jumbo is fucking meaningless to me.

I don’t know why people have not demanded that they have their power returned when it’s so easy to collect information.

It’s not like the votes have to filled out sent in and counted. Is there room for abuse? Of course but over time with the power back in the peoples hands shit would get fixed.

Our governments corrupt spending is insane.. We get ourselves involved in wars even if it’s not in the countries best interest. Look at Bin Laden we were gung ho to get that mother fucker but instead we go straight for Iraq for the oil.

I guess since Bin Laden lived close to Iraq the people would not know the difference.

We spend billions on the “War on drugs” that has had zero effect in actually slowing down drug abuse. We have the TSA that is literally getting paid to fuck with people. They’re all worthless scum and fucking leeches. Thank god I don’t fly.

We spend absurd amounts on our military when we have enough nuclear bombs to destroy all life on earth many times over.

There are so many agencies that are being paid to do jack shit it makes me sick..

hegemon13 says:

Re: Re:

That would be no better. Pure democracy has never worked, either, and has always led to the downfall of nations.

If you want government to work, you have to shrink it. When you have a massive, authoritarian federal government, it doesn’t matter what system you use. It will eventually tend toward tyranny by an elite few.

But smaller government doesn’t simply mean cutting programs and taking stuff away. It means moving power to the most local level possible. When this country was founded, states had more power in most issues than the Federal government.

The are countless advantages to more localized government.

– People have have more direct control over their leadership.
– Leadership can take local needs and culture into account.
– It’s very hard to “buy off.” The more power is centralized, the easier it is for lobbyists to consolidate their funds and efforts on that central government. This is the core issue causing most of our problems today.
– It’s easier to flee or resist. If a local government becomes oppressive, you can leave. If a federal government with massive power and international influence becomes oppressive…you’re pretty much screwed.
– It’s more creative and efficient. Instead of massive bureaucratic planning for a one-size-fits-all solution, we have many smaller regions in competition, most of which will be looking for ever better solutions to attract population.
– It eliminate corporate favoritism. Monsanto, telecoms, broadcasters, tech companies, too-big-to-fail banks could never have become what they did without centralized government protectionism. Every one of them benefited from huge subsidies, national monopoly protections, and taxpayer-funded insurance that eliminates the consequences of unreasonable risk.

I could go on and on. But, in short, if you think our problems will be solved by having a media/propaganda-controlled national vote for issues, driven more by emotion and party loyalty than research and reason, you will sorely disappointed. If nothing else, consider this: direct democracy removes power from our elected representatives and moves it to an even smaller, more elite, authoritarian, dictatorial authority — the one(s) who count the votes.

State v Fed says:

Re: Re: Re:

So far as individuals are concerned, the appropriate role of the Federal government is to protect the rights of citizens in any potential competition with their local state government, so that local rule does not degrade into tyrannies of localized majorities.

They should not have any other role in respect of individual citizens or natural persons legally present anywhere in their jurisdiction.

hegemon13 says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Even then, only in extreme cases. Rights must be clearly defined and the federal role strictly limited. Local tyrannies are not nearly as problematic because it is easier for a movement to swing a smaller population pool, and it is much easier to flee if all else fails. The danger of having the federal government determining whether local law infringes rights, is that you’re giving the federal government the power to supersede local laws, which over time will bloat into another massive, unwieldy federal govt.

Jay (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I don’t know why people have not demanded that they have their power returned when it’s so easy to collect information.

The core problem here is electoral and campaign finance reform. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. We’ve allowed the US to be turned into a corporate oligarchy similar to Fascist Italy. And both parties are to blame. We’ve had a number of problems. One being that we allow the US to take away people’s fundamental right to vote, which came from ALEC in the 1980 election of Reagan who gave it to Lee Atwater to begin to deprive Democrats of votes. His “tough on crime” rhetoric translated to the War on Drugs that we’ve essentially been waging ever since. Cost of that electoral problem? 5.3 million felons in private prisons, being deprived of their rights daily while prosecutors fight for convictions instead of justice. Such is the problem with our criminal justice system.

So what we need is reform of the prison system. Get private industry out of our prisons. Give people their rights to vote in prison. Less prison sentences and more humane treatment.

Now on to campaign finance reform… Gotta say, all of the dirty party tricks we see now were the result of one man: Richard Nixon. This is the man that had a strong relationship with the media in order to pass his agenda and pass legislation that Republicans and Democrats supported that again, lead to poor protections for those that need it most.

Essentially, we do need a grass roots movement to allow people to have their democracy back. It was one thing that Henry Wallace warned us about in regards to fascist government. While we fought for freedom abroad, it is the threats at home that begin to try to usurp the people the most.

Several leaders of industry in this country who have gained a new vision of the meaning of opportunity through co-operation with government have warned the public openly that there are some selfish groups in industry who are willing to jeopardize the structure of American liberty to gain some temporary advantage. We all know the part that the cartels played in bringing Hitler to power, and the rule the giant German trusts have played in Nazi conquests. Monopolists who fear competition and who distrust democracy because it stands for equal opportunity would like to secure their position against small and energetic enterprise. In an effort to eliminate the possibility of any rival growing up, some monopolists would sacrifice democracy itself.

People, our constitutional republic is in peril. Long ago, Henry Wallace, Vice President to FDR warned us about fascism (better known as corporatism) might take hold in America. The Citizens United case stands as the point in the sand when our republic was threatened.

Giving the Supreme Court the ability to make laws was horrible. In Federalist Paper 78, we see that the Founders did not allow for this power to be given to the Supreme Court at all. Instead, they were to just review these actions which the government could ignore. What is most troubling about the Supreme Court as it is today, we have to rely on their bad calls that aren’t based on anything but their opinions. With a stroke of the pen, we were given the INDUCE Act even though Congress never passed it. After 200 years, Congress should take back this power. Also, there should be a Constitutional Amendment to ensure that no Supreme Court will usurp the will of the people. return the power to the states

Instead of allowing the federal government to review itself and give itself more power, it’s time to recognize that we have plenty of work to do on preventing the government from getting larger. But that’s just my views.

Anonymous Coward says:

It's all about the benjamins....

Lobbying budget of “the public” = 0.00

Lobbying budget of “intelligence community” supporters = BAZILLIONS

I kid you not, there are huge sums of money to be made by those who have the knowledge, and those who are willing to pay to get that knowledge.

If knowledge is power, and power corrupts, than absolute knowledge corrupts absolutely….

Call me Al says:

Re: It's all about the benjamins....

Don’t forget that a large amount of lobbying is done by the intelligence community itself. They want to make their lives easier and they will shout and scream for more powers.

The way the system is designed (both in the US and UK where I’m from) is that the elected representative is supposed to weigh the requests of the intelligence community against the public good. Trouble is that these days they only weigh such things in the direction from which they hear the most noise and that will always be from government officials because they have the easiest and most cohesive route of communication.

The various non-government groups who stand up for personal liberties and freedoms simply aren’t large or vocal enough to counterbalance the inbuilt lobbying. Maybe it is a case that those of us concerned on these issues should consider donating to such groups to give them some way to fight back. We wouldn’t have to if the elected official was doing their job but as they aren’t…

FM Hilton says:

That's half the problem

The other half-the voters who say that we don’t deserve to know about this, either.

There’s lots of them.

No, it’s not just the Judiciary Committee people.

It’s those people who vote for them believing they actually do care about the best interests for the American citizens.

I wish we could clone Wyden and Udall for the entire US Senate.

That would not only stop this crap, it might even get things done.

Wally (profile) says:

Re: When two opposites agree

Its just as bad in the current presidential Administration. I remember with the previous administration, the Ececutive Office was run like a Business, Congress our departmental representatives, and we, the people were the Chairmen of the Board. Bush Jr. may not have been a terrible speaker, but his business sense and moral responsibility made him a force to be reccond with. He was humble and full of human humility. I am very very wary of charismatics in the presidency. And your statement is something I whole heartedly agree upon. Our presidency, and a few of our congressmen, need to be outed and voted against.

hegemon13 says:

Re: When two opposites agree

“…truly independent party…”

That’s an oxymoron. I’m not trying to be funny, either. “Independent” and “party identity” cannot possibly coexist. We don’t need a new independent party to quickly become more powerful and corrupt. We need to eliminate political parties completely.

gorehound (profile) says:

Re: When two opposites agree

I am one of the oldest punk rockers in the State of Maine and the vocal/founder of the oldest punk band in Maine “Big Meat Hammer”……….I am Liberal Minded and somewhere to the left.
My Brother is a Far-Right Conservative Exec Businessman.Of Course we do not agree on a lot of things.We love each other and are brothers but it is hard for us to agree.
I replied to you because of what you said.
My Brother and I both do agree that this Government is:
A) Trying to control the Internet
B) Spying on US Citizens
C) Putting more Regulations on Business which makes it harder for him to do his work
D) Taking away more of our Rights

We at least can agree on those points.And he is a fierce Right Wing Type but he would Vote for a better Party in his direction if there was one.
We could use two more really good and strong INDIE Parties so both of us could Vote for new people with our views.

Digger says:

For the good of the country = for the good of the citizens.

We the people… Not we the corporations or we the government or we the intelligence community, but we the people…

For the good of the country means for the good of the people.

Anything that acts against the country, ie against the people is treason. Pure and simple.

Congress by passing these laws, the intelligence community by acting on them and the President for not putting a stop to it have all committed acts of treason.

Wally (profile) says:

The truth and it's not Left or Right

The simple truth is this. Everything you do and say goes through the NSA’s computer system. The warrant can only be given in a criminal investigation and in order for them to tap your data, they need a warrant for it.. Just to give you the scope of how much information is pushed through the NSA’s system, it would take well over 100 years to cypher and filter through everyone’s data all at once at any given time costing a lot of resources and money. Doing so all at once is not in the already poor budget and bad economy.
Furthermore, the NSA could care less about, you and your personal information unless you were a cyber criminal (and setermined as such by the NSA and not the FBI or DoJ) and it was at a level where it really was a threat to national security.

It’s not like they are sitting there looking up every single detail of your life to build a case against you. Thinking that way is just paranoid.

End Game says:

Re: The truth and it's not Left or Right

People who think that since they have nothing to hide and nothing to fear are missing the bigger picture.

In the long term the threat of this kind of wholesale spying on the entire population is not really a personal one. But a national one, where a select few government bureaucrat’s have access to information that could very easily to be used to coerce or intimidate our elected representative’s and undermine the very principles, freedom and democracy, they use to justify there actions.

Think J. Edger on steroids and with private files on anybody who is or ever will be in a position of power!!

Anonymous Coward says:

The reason for their stupidity is reelection.

If congress forces the NSA to say how many Americans they’re spying on Americans will want it to stop.

Americans and civil rights groups will be emboldened and also push to dismantle other post-9/11 security measures like the TSA pat downs (which have still failed to stop a single terrorist).

Then, if a terrorist attacks, those politicians in office who voted to get rid of that draconian spying on Americans and violating their privacy and freedoms will get blamed for the terrorist attack by their opponents.

It’s all very stupid, blame it on the dumbing down of Americans, and how we have to have overly simplified solutions to everything, even if those campaign slogan policies are totally unworkable/unreasonable in reality (like closing the borders to stop all illegal immigration, even though a majority of illegal immigrants came to the US LEGALLY and then chose not to leave when they were supposed to).

Wally (profile) says:

Re: Secrets

“98% of the info that gets classified is NOT of strategic value. “

It’s classified so your personal information and privacy stay personal and private and such information will become lost in billions of petabytes of useless info. If the NSA was open with the information they colected on you and declassified such info on you,, they would be violating your privacy rights.

Privacy isn’t what info on a person they collect, it’s how it’s used. Facebook’s data on you is used for targeted advertising. If you sign up to Facebook, you are accepting the terms and conditions of the services…which includes giving a small amount of information to advertisers because you gave them permission to give it away.

To reiterate, it’s not the info they collect, it’s where they put it. You don’t sign up to be monitored, so the NSA cannot release anything about you without a warrant.

MondoGordo (profile) says:

Re: Re: Secrets

The point is that the NSA isn’t supposed to have any information about American citizens. Arguing that that it’s classified to protect our privacy is like saying it’s ok if i look in your bedroom window as long as i don’t tell anyone you sleep in a pink tutu with a marital aid shoved up an orifice.

Anonymous Coward says:


What evidence is there that it is being used to spy on Americans?
— Dan Lungren

…obtaining such an estimate [of the number of people in the US who’ve been spied on by the NSA] was beyond the capability of his office and dedicating sufficient additional resources would likely impede the NSA’s mission. He further stated that his office and NSA leadership agreed that an IG review of the sort would itself violate the privacy of U.S. persons.
— I. Charles McCullough, III
Inspector General of the Intelligence Community

Enough said?

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