Disinformation Works: House Rejects Plan To Stop Backdoor Surveillance Searches Following Devin Nunes Lies
from the sad dept
Earlier this week, we wrote about a ridiculous misinformation campaign that was being sent around by House Intelligence Committee chair Rep. Devin Nunes against an amendment (sponsored by Reps. Thomas Massie and Zoe Lofgren) to a Defense appropriations bill that would block spending on two different kinds of surveillance “backdoors.” First, ending backdoor searches, whereby tons of information on Americans that was collected “incidentally” as part of other searches, and then kept, could be scanned without requiring the showing of probable cause. Second, blocking the NSA from requiring backdoors into encryption technologies. A basically identical amendment easily passed in each of the last two years, but was stripped out before a final bill was approved.
With so much focus on things like iPhone encryption this year, some were wondering how the House would handle the amendment this year, and Nunes apparently decided to ramp up the pure FUD and lies against it, sending around a letter that exploited the Orlando shootings from this weekend, falsely claiming that the bill would block law enforcement/intelligence from scanning the 702 database for connections between the shooter and overseas individuals. This is wrong (never mind the fact that the CIA admitted yesterday that it can’t find any connections at all). There are plenty of other tools available, including the ability to get a warrant, for officials to search for the relevant data. Nothing in the amendment would have stopped that at all. It only stops the random sniffing through the database, without cause.
But, apparently such disinformation works. The amendment was narrowly voted down by the house, 198 – 222. Massie has said that he thinks Nunes’ propaganda campaign was partly to blame.
Rep. Thomas Massie… the sponsor of the amendment the last three years, said he thought there were two reasons the proposal failed on Thursday. “I think it was about Orlando and a stronger disinformation campaign from the committee,” he said, referring to a letter from Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes… that criticized the amendment.
“We had a stiff headwind,” Massie continued. “But I think the winds will eventually change, and we’ll prevail one day.”
And it appears that Nunes’ lies worked so well they were parroted by others during the debate:
Rep. Chris Stewart… who said he rose “to oppose the Massie amendment and the inaccurate accusations that underly it,” argued that if the proposal were in effect today, the intelligence community would be unable to search the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act database for information on the deceased Orlando shooter, Omar Mateen. FISA is a law used to collect data on foreigners, but the National Security Agency dragnet also catches information on U.S. citizens who interact with those foreigners.
“We should be focused on thwarting terrorist attacks,” Stewart said Wednesday, “not on thwarting the ability of intelligence professionals to investigate and stop them.”
The only inaccurate accusations, though, are the ones put forth by Stewart here. NOTHING in the amendment would have thwarted anyone’s ability to investigate the Mateen shooting or any other attack.
Rep. Bob Goodlatte repeated the same false thing as well:
“This amendment prohibits the government from searching data already in its possession, collected lawfully under section 702 of FISA, to determine whether Omar Mateen was in contact with foreign terrorists overseas.”
Except it doesn’t.
It’s disappointing, if not that surprising, that it appears that the blatant misinformation and lies succeed to convince Congress to sanction practices that appear to be in conflict with the 4th Amendment.