Reps. Goodlatte And Ruppersberger Admit That NSA Is Warrantlessly Spying On Americans' Communications
from the well,-there-you-go... dept
We’ve already written about the surprising, but encouraging, vote late last night to defund backdoor searches by the NSA. But it’s worth looking at some of the floor debate on the amendment last night — in particular the push against the amendment from Reps. Goodlatte and Ruppersberger, who both appear to flat out admit that the NSA does warrantless spying on Americans’ communications, in direct contrast to earlier claims. The reasons for these two to argue against the amendment are clear. Goodlatte was the guy who negotiated the “deal” with the White House and the House Intelligence Committee to completely water down the USA Freedom Act, and he knows that this amendment puts some of the substance that he stripped out right back in. Ruppersberger, of course, represents the district where the NSA is headquartered, and is the ranking member for the House Intelligence Committee. His loyalty to the NSA over the American public has always been clear. But to have them basically admit that the NSA does warrantless spying on Americans is quite impressive. Here are both of them arguing against the amendment:
HR 3361 [the USA Freedom Act] also prohibits the government from using communications to or from a United States person or a person who appears to be located in the United States EXCEPT where the communication relates to a target under Section 702 or to protect against an immediate threat to human life.
Yeah, that’s a pretty big “except.” Remember, the NSA is not supposed to ever look at communications by anyone inside the US or an American citizen abroad without a warrant. Yet, Goodlatte flat out admits that the NSA does exactly that if the communications (again, not just metadata) “relate to a target.” Now, remember, in discussing this how we recently highlighted that “relate to a target” means any communication about a target? In other words, Goodlatte is more or less admitting that if you merely mention Al Qaeda or Osama bin Laden in an email, the NSA has the right to read your email without a warrant. That’s the backdoor search that so many people have been concerned about, which very clearly violates the 4th Amendment’s requirement for a warrant. And here is Goodlatte pretending it’s no big deal.
Goodlatte then notes that the NSA can’t use Section 702 to “target” a US person, but that’s misleading. Because the NSA can collect communications “to” “from” or “about” a target, it means that tons of communications (again, not just metadata) by US persons are being spied on by the NSA entirely without a warrant. And this gets bigger and bigger when the “target” is defined broadly.
Then Ruppersberger jumps in to add his “thoughts” on the amendment. He too flat out lies, and claims that the USA Freedom Act was a one-year process of “carefully considered negotiation and debate.” That’s not even remotely accurate. The original was left to sit and dangle until it appeared that there might be enough support for it, and then frantic negotiations took place to water it down before the markup. Then, after the markup, the White House stepped in and watered it down even further at the very last minute, so that most of those voting on it had no idea what was actually in it, and how it stripped out nearly every thing that “limited” the NSA. Then, he too, admits how it allows for warrantless spying on Americans, by spewing FUD about bomb threats in the US:
It makes our country less safe. It would prohibit the urgent search of lawfully collected information to thwart a bomb threat against a synagogue in Los Angeles, a church in Maryland or the New York Stock Exchange.
In other words, contrary to the claims before, Ruppersberger is directly admitting that it’s used to spy on communications in the US. And, again, it wouldn’t prohibit searches with a warrant, which are (contrary to what some claim) not that difficult to get.
Five minutes later, Goodlatte speaks again, and this time he’s much angrier than before (perhaps having received some advanced warning that this amendment was going to pass overwhelmingly):
[It would] create an impediment to the government’s ability to locate threat information already in its possession.
This is misleading, but revealing. All the amendment did was say that the NSA can’t do searches on the communications of US persons. The “impediment” is merely making sure that the NSA obeys the law which says it cannot spy on the communications of US persons without a warrant. By arguing that this creates an impediment to “threat information already in its possession,” Goodlatte is admitting that the NSA is collecting communications of Americans without a warrant.
So, yeah, the next time someone argues that the NSA is either (a) not spying on Americans or (b) not spying on the actual content of communications, you might want to point them at these clips, in which two of the bigger NSA defenders have admitted that, in fact, that’s exactly what the NSA does.