Former NSA, CIA Director Claims Only ISIS Likes USA Freedom Act, Even As James Clapper Supports It
from the ridiculousness dept
As the cloture vote is set to happen tonight on the Senate version of the USA Freedom Act, the hysterics are getting… well, more hysterical. Michael Hayden (former NSA and CIA director) and Michael Mukasey (former Attorney General) have an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal dubbing the bill “NSA Reform That Only ISIS Could Love,” which is kind of hilarious given that current Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper (who usually sings in perfect harmony with Hayden) has come out in support of the bill. While the bill has some problems, it is still a step forward (and yes, I’m aware that not everyone agrees with that). But Hayden/Mukasey make a bunch of statements that are just not at all accurate. It starts off with the usual FUD about ISIS and then questions why Reid would present this bill given that:
In that threat environment, one would think that the last thing on the ?to do? list of the 113th Congress would be to add to the grim news. Yet Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has announced that he will bring to the floor the extravagantly misnamed USA Freedom Act, a major new bill exquisitely crafted to hobble the gathering of electronic intelligence.
Except that’s not true. The bill is not designed to “hobble” electronic intelligence, but to respect at least some of our 4th Amendment rights, and to bar mass collection of the information without limits. Then there’s this:
For starters, the bill ends the National Security Agency?s bulk collection of what is called telephone metadata. This includes the date, time, duration and telephone numbers for all calls, but not their content or the identity of the caller or called, and is information already held by telephone companies. The bill would substitute a cumbersome and untried process that would require the NSA, when it seeks to check on which telephone numbers have called or been called by a number reasonably associated with terrorist activity, to obtain a warrant from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, or FISA court, and then scurry to each of the nation?s telephone-service providers to comb through the information that remains in their hands rather than in the NSA?s.
First off, they’re simply wrong. It doesn’t require a warrant, but a FISA court order under Section 215. It just limits how broad those orders can be. The reason it’s not a warrant is you can’t get such a broad warrant. Second, the “cumbersome and untried process” is neither cumbersome nor untried. It’s how lots of investigations work today. When law enforcement needs info, it goes to court, gets a court order, and voila. And does anyone actually believe, in this digital age, that there’s any actual “scurrying”? Hell, to make this process easier for the DEA in the past, AT&T was willing to embed employees with the DEA to give them faster access to the database. If anything, these are reasons why the bill doesn’t go far enough. The idea that it somehow takes away US intelligence capabilities is ludicrous. Furthermore, it’s already been noted that ISIS knows how to evade such surveillance: by not using electronic communications. So this has nothing to do with ISIS at all. At all.
Nothing in the bill requires the telephone companies to preserve the metadata for any prescribed period. Current Federal Communications Commission regulations impose an 18-month retention requirement, but administrative regulations are subject to change. It isn?t hard to envision companies that wish to offer subscribers the attraction of rapid destruction of these records, or a complaisant bureaucracy that lets them do it.
So we shouldn’t pass this bill because at some future date the FCC might possibly allow companies not to keep these records? Really?
The bill?s imposition of the warrant requirement on the NSA would be more burdensome than what any assistant U.S. attorney must do to get metadata in a routine criminal case, which is simply to aver that the information is needed in connection with a criminal investigation?period.
Again, misleading in the extreme. When the DOJ is seeking metadata in a criminal case, it’s seeking specific metadata concerning the crime being investigated. This is about stopping the collection of all phone records. Notice that Hayden and Mukasey never bother to explain this distinction. Because they’re being incredibly dishonest.
There’s much more in there, but nearly all of it is dishonest. It claims that “there is no immediate or emergency need” for the bill, totally leaving out the systematic violation of Americans’ 4th Amendment rights and an independent review board finding the program illegal and unconstitutional and a President who asked Congress to end the program. Yet, Hayden and Mukasey insist this program — which has yet to show a single successful example of being used to prevent terrorism — has to remain in place? Really?
And, of course, Hayden and Mukasey have friends. Incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell similarly called out the specter of ISIS, despite the fact it’s widely acknowledged that ISIS already knows how to avoid our surveillance efforts (and is focused on the middle east, while the USA Freedom Act is just about domestic phone records inside the US).
The USA Freedom Act has its problems, but it also has some important and useful aspects. The claim that it will somehow help ISIS by preventing such bulk data collection is simply ridiculous and untrue.