Spending Bill Would Give Administration Direct Control Of Surveillance Spending

from the Congress-votes-to-cut-itself-out-as-spending-middleman dept

We’ve been given six more years of Section 702 collections, thanks to many, many Congressional representatives who just couldn’t find it in their hearts to tell the dear old NSA “No.” An extension was granted to push the “debate” into 2018, but there was no debate to be had. Instead, oversight committees on both sides of the Congressional aisle used this time to push out zero-reform renewal packages that actually made Section 702 worse.

After a brief, two-week consideration of opposing views, things moved ahead as though the program had never been abused by the NSA and had never “inadvertently” swept up US persons’ communications without a warrant. The same politicians who complained about the NSA’s power being in the hands of Donald Trump were the ones who voted for the passage of “reform” bills increasing the agency’s reach and grasp.

Now, Congressional reps are granting the Trump Administration even greater control of US spy powers. The House spending bill contains an alteration to the language covering the Intelligence Community’s use of federal funds. The funding of surveillance programs is already secret. The NSA’s infamous “black budget” makes it impossible for citizens to see how — and how much — money is being spent spying on the world.

But the book isn’t closed to everybody. If the agency or the administration wants to shift funding around, it must first inform Congress. This theoretically gives Congress veto power on spending changes Congress hasn’t pre-approved. The disclosures are, of course, done in secret and there’s no way to know how often Congress blocks spending changes, but at least it’s some form of oversight. That will no longer be the case if the spending bill is approved, as Ryan Grim reports for The Intercept.

The House spending bill released Wednesday would allow President Donald Trump, or people under him, to secretly shift money to fund intelligence programs, a break with 70 years of governing tradition.

Since 1947, section 504 of the National Security Act has mandated that the administration inform Congress if it intends to shift money from one intelligence project to another, if the new project has not been authorized by Congress. That notification can be — and almost always is — done in secret, but it is at least a minimal check on executive power.

The spending bill currently under consideration, known as a continuing resolution, or CR, breaks with that tradition, allowing funds to “be obligated and expended notwithstanding section 504(a)(1) of the National Security Act of 1947.”

This would make the entire “black budget” discretionary, overseen only by the people moving the money around. Congressional control of agency budgets would become a historical artifact, something long-term reps could gaze back at nostalgically as what’s left of Intelligence Community oversight crumbles into nonexistence.

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Comments on “Spending Bill Would Give Administration Direct Control Of Surveillance Spending”

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Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

How to make matters worse.

The House spending bill released Wednesday would allow President Donald Trump, or people under him

Which leaves us in the position that some Administration minion would be able to transfer funds for some nefarious purpose that even the President doesn’t know about. And we thought things were dangerous now!

That One Guy (profile) says:

"Why are you looking at us, we knew nothing(by design)!"

I suspect this is a weak attempt to distance themselves from anything the spy agencies do by giving them the ability to claim that they had no idea what was being done, and therefore it would be wrong to blame them for allowing it to happen. That they intentionally cut themselves out of the loop so as to maintain (not so) plausible deniability will be brushed aside as a trivial detail that has no bearing on the discussion, because really, how could they know?

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

I look forward to them doing more and more of Trumps bidding.
If you think for one second he would not use this new power to gather enough dirt to force allegiance from all of Congress you haven’t been paying attention.
I look forward to anonymous dumps of very damaging info to various sources to take anyone who calls out Trump or his policies.

You can demand loyalty, but having the ability to destroy them make sure you get it and keep it.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Forcing allegiance from all of Congress

I’m not sure Trump is sharp enough to make that work, though one of his minions might be sharp enough to make it work for Trump.

But rest assured if this administration doesn’t turn the intelligence / surveillance sector into an instrument of despotism-by-extortion then one of the next few certainly will.

Bruce C. says:

Sometimes I think the NSA is like...

the old J Edgar Hoover FBI, where he supposedly so much dirt on the politicians he was untouchable as FBI director. He served as director of the FBI and its predecessor agency for 48 YEARS.

We already know that the NSA “incidentally” gathered some conversations of various politicians talking with foreign entities…the whole thing is ripe for random conspiracy theories.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:


Feinstein’s history as far back as mayor of San Francisco has suggested she can be a short-sighted power-hungry bitch, the kind that would keep the One Ring at Gondor for safekeeping without much forethought.

So if she’s the NSA’s bitch because of extortion, that’s a step up from mere stupidity to coercion by a malicious influence.

Despite her being my senator (and not having any better choices) I’ve been fighting her lack of technical savvy and willingness to pass internet-breaking laws for decades now. I could see her imagining only good people would use the NSA mass surveillance program and then only for noble causes.

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