The NSA leaks have opened up somewhat of a dialogue in Washington, DC. Sure, there's a lot of yelling (some outraged; some defensive), but it finally seems as though some legislators might finally be on the same page as their constituents.
The Director of National Intelligence (James Clapper) and the head of the FBI (Robert Mueller) have both been questioned about the specifics of their domestic surveillance programs. Though the roots of these programs have been around for years, it's the first time many Americans have seen black-and-white proof of government-approved domestic spying. You kind of get the feeling that it's the first time for many of our lawmakers as well, even though many have claimed the NSA/FBI surveillance was all signed off and routed through proper channels, etc.
So, with all this heat coming down on Washington, how is it possible that less than half of our senators could be bothered to stick around DC long enough to catch a classified briefing on domestic surveillance?
A recent briefing by senior intelligence officials on surveillance programs failed to attract even half of the Senate, showing the lack of enthusiasm in Congress for learning about classified security programs.
Many senators elected to leave Washington early Thursday afternoon instead of attending a briefing with James Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence, Keith Alexander, the head of the National Security Agency (NSA), and other officials.
It's not as if the senators would have even needed to stick around until Friday. The briefing was scheduled for 2-1/2 hours after
the Senate's last vote of the week, which took place at noon. Granted, the week for most representatives ends on Thursday and no one would think anything of it if this week had gone like any other
. But it didn't, and the American public is still closely watching their representatives.
When all classified hell breaks loose, you would expect your elected officials to stay on point until a critical briefing is finished, at the minimum. It's rather disheartening to see legislators working for the weekend by 10 AM Thursday morning. If they can't be bothered to stick around until the end of the day on Thursday
in order to stay current on the biggest
issue, we've no reason to believe they're really looking to solve this problem.
, oddly, was in the right this time:
“It’s hard to get this story out. Even now we have this big briefing — we’ve got Alexander, we’ve got the FBI, we’ve got the Justice Department, we have the FISA Court there, we have Clapper there — and people are leaving,” she said.
One small point in the defense of the departing senators: this was a "briefing," not a "hearing." While some lively discussion might
have been had (possibly taking the form of shouting or loud coughs of "bullshit!"), it's much more likely this would be a one-way blast from the aggrieved parties. And since most senators presumably received a copy of the talking points
roughly around the same time Techdirt did, there's really no reason to hear these delivered live, in-person.
Still, this doesn't excuse their actions. This was a missed opportunity for those who left town before the briefing. Reps from nearly every entity currently under fire had been gathered in one room solely to address interested senate members, many of which claim to be very
Lawmakers have been quick to call for increased congressional oversight of the phone and Internet monitoring programs, but many have been unwilling to skip flights or make other scheduling sacrifices to learn more of the secret details.
Unfortunately, a roll call wasn't provided, so we don't know definitely who needs to be asked to put their plane tickets where their mouths are. But we're used to this -- legislators making concerned noises until the national "Business As Usual" light is flipped on in the cabin of the national plane. (Not only that, but we're used to being handed terrible metaphors, although usually by the legislators themselves, rather than a writer in search of a solid closing paragraph.)
Hopefully, this headcount will be leaked as well, resulting in a bit of shame-based focus from our men and women in Washington, who should return tanned and rested from the extended weekend and ready to start
earning their paychecks
slashing away at our surveillance overgrowth.