How Many Lies Can A Politician Stuff Into A Single Sentence About NSA Surveillance?

from the is-this-a-new-record? dept

In a recent comment on the site, reader PT pointed us to a statement from Representative Joe Heck explaining why he voted against the Amash Amendment. The statement was from back in July, soon after the Amash Amendment to defund certain NSA activities was narrowly defeated. While the statement is now a couple months old, what amazes me is the statements of fact that are flat out false in there. And we're not just talking about statements that were later proven to be false. These are things that were known to be false at the time -- from a Representative who is on the House Intelligence Committee and who must have known these statements were lies. Just for simplicity's sake, let's focus on the main one and stand back in amazement at just how many flat out lies Rep. Heck told in a single sentence:
The Amash amendment would have eliminated Section 215 of the Patriot Act which we know has thwarted 54 terrorist plots against the US (and counting).
This is a lie. It's not a half truth. It's not a misstatement. It's not confusion. It's an out and out lie. Actually, it's a whole series of lies. Almost nothing in that statement is true. In fact, I can't find anything in that statement that is true. Every single part is a lie. At no point has anyone in the Intelligence Community stated that Section 215 thwarted 54 terrorist plots against the US. First off, the 54 number, which was first released by the NSA's Keith Alexander, wasn't about "terrorist plots" but rather "potential terrorist events." Yes, that language is purposely broad and opaque. What counts as a "terrorist event"? A meeting? A party? It's not at all clear that these were actual "terrorist plots." In fact, a month before Heck's totally bogus claim above, the NSA clarified that only 42 "plots" were involved in that 54 number. The other 12 weren't plots, but rather "material support to terrorists" whatever that might mean.

Second, Alexander wasn't talking about Section 215 of the Patriot Act for most of those "events." He admitted that 53 of the 54 cases actually involved Section 702 of the Patriot Act (the PRISM program) which wasn't the part that was up for a vote in the Amash Amendment. So Heck is, once again, lying in claiming that Section 215 stopped those plots.

Third, at no time did Alexander or anyone at the NSA say they were all targeted against "the US" as Heck falsely claims. The very same day that Alexander shared the 54 number, he also admitted that only about 10 involved the US -- a number that was quickly clarified a few days later: only 13 "had a homeland nexus." So, already, it's pretty clear that the claim of "54 thwarted terrorist plots against the US" is completely bogus (and, remember, all of this was public a month before Heck's statement).

Fourth, of those 13 that "had a homeland nexus," almost none required the NSA's surveillance efforts. When confronted by Senator Leahy in a Senate hearing, the NSA's deputy director John Inglis admitted that the surveillance merely "made a contribution" to the efforts against 12 of those plots, but wasn't particularly key to stopping them. Inglis admitted that the surveillance programs were actually only "critical" in a single case: the Zazi NYC Subway case.

So now we're down to just one plot in the US -- and we're not even talking about Section 215 any more, but Section 702. Oh, and as for that one case, multiple press reports have pointed out that the claim that NSA surveillance was needed to catch Zazi just isn't true, because traditional police work was able to do the brunt of the work in identifying Zazi and the plot.

Oh, and finally, the Amash Amendment would not have "eliminated Section 215." It merely would have defunded using Section 215 to justify collecting metadata on every phone call. Section 215 would still be in place, and the government would still be able to use it to access "tangible things" and various "business records" so long as they were actually related to a counterterrorism operation.

So there you have it. A Congressional Representative who is on the Intelligence Committee, who voted against the Amash Amendment, and defended it with a cascading series of flat out lies. While the Amash Amendment would have defunded the data collection of metadata on all phone calls, it did not get rid of Section 215, which was not used to thwart 54 terrorist plots (not even one!) and many of those "plots" weren't "plots" and very few were actually in the US.

What gets me, however, is that few people seem willing to say that he flat out lied. This isn't a case of a misstatement or confusion or even things that were revealed later. Nearly all of the points that I highlighted above were public knowledge nearly a month before Heck made his untrue statement.

Isn't it time that someone actually called out elected officials when they state things that are clearly lies to constituents?

Filed Under: amash amendment, joe heck, justin amash, keith alexander, lies, nsa surveillance, patriot act, prism, section 215, section 702, surveillance, terrorism, zazi

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  1. icon
    Rikuo (profile), 11 Sep 2013 @ 11:12am

    Hey, Joe did say something truthful in that sentence.

    He named the topic of discussion, the amendment, correctly (Amash).

    ...that's the best I've got. Other than that, you're right. Pack of lies.

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