from the let's-try-this-again... dept
We've talked about the astounding hypocrisy of Rep. Devin Nunes a few times in the past. He heads the House Intelligence Committee, which is supposed to be conducting "oversight" of the intelligence community, but has generally been a cheerleader for mass surveillance in recent years. Nunes, in fact, has regularly slammed any attempt to cut back on surveillance, to the point of actively misleading the public in making false claims about how NSA surveillance programs work. The hypocrisy became clear when Nunes flipped out following the firing/resignation of Mike Flynn as National Security Advisor, arguing that it was somehow unprecedented that an American's phone calls with Russian officials were recorded by the intelligence community. Of course, that suggests either near total ignorance of the programs he's supposedly in charge of overseeing, or just blatant political pandering.
And now it's getting worse. Reporter Katie Bo Williams got her hands on an interesting letter that Nunes, along with ranking member Rep. Adam Schiff, just sent to the heads of the CIA, NSA and FBI, continuing to dig in on the whole "recorded Mike Flynn" thing. The target now is Executive Order 12333, which we've spoken about quite a lot. That's the executive order signed by President Reagan, that more or less gives the intelligence community total free rein in conducting surveillance overseas. As an ex-State Department official revealed back in 2014, the vast majority of NSA surveillance actually is done under 12333, and it just uses other programs -- like Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act and Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act -- to fill in the gaps of what they can't get via 12333. Executive Order 12333, for example, was used to hack into Yahoo and Google's servers overseas, allowing the NSA to scoop up lots of info without any oversight by US courts.
Anyway, based on the letter that Nunes has sent, he's suddenly quite concerned about 12333. And this demonstrates his massive hypocrisy, because another letter he sent a few years ago has him arguing that there should be less oversight on 12333... but we'll get to that. This new letter suggests that the Flynn recording came under 12333, and so he's demanding all sorts of data on how 12333 is used on US Persons.
Of course, what's interesting here is that the Congressional intelligence committees have long stated that they don't really have much oversight into anything under 12333. Dianne Feinstein (who was a top member of the Senate Intelligence Committee) admitted in the past that the committees get zero insight into 12333 intelligence collection:
“The other programs do not (have the same oversight as FISA). And that’s what we need to take a look at,” she said, adding that her committee has not been able to “sufficiently” oversee the programs run under the executive order. “Twelve-triple-three programs are under the executive branch entirely.”
Feinstein has also said the order has few, if any, privacy protections. “I don’t think privacy protections are built into it,” she said. “It’s an executive policy. The executive controls intelligence in the country.”
Got that? Good. At least when Feinstein was bringing it up, she was bringing it up to argue that the Intel Committees should be getting more insight into what 12333 is used for.
However, Devin Nunes, apparently wanted it to be kept in the dark. And wanted the public kept in the dark. That's because I just received in a surprisingly well-timed FOIA response, a letter that Nunes, along with Senate Intel Committee boss Richard Burr, sent a letter to the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB) back in 2015, basically telling the PCLOB to stop looking into 12333, because it was outside its purview. As you may recall, after doing detailed reports on Sections 215 and 702, the PCLOB announced that it was going to do a detailed study on 12333 to determine if it was violating the privacy and civil liberties of Americans. While that was announced way back in 2014, nothing final ever came out -- and it's unlikely to ever come out because the PCLOB is effectively dead.
But Nunes and Burr were apparently so concerned that the PCLOB might find actual problems with 12333 and how it violates the rights of Americans, that they made it clear that the PCLOB should knock it off:
As we are sure you are aware, intelligence activities conducted under E.O. 12333 address a broad range of national security issues beyond counterterrorism, including significant and important foreign intelligence matters that fall well outside of the PCLOB's limited statutory charter. Many intelligence activities conducted under E.O. 12333 predate the creation of the PCLOB and were not within the scope that the 9/11 Commission or Congress envisioned when PCLOB was established. The purpose is clear and specifically defined by Congress.
We trust you will keep in mind the finite statutory authority as you move forward and work with the Intelligence Community to limit appropriately your review only to those matters which Congress has specifically authorized you to review.
In other words, just two years ago, Devin Nunes was telling the one body in the government specifically tasked with reviewing intelligence collection programs to see how they're being used on Americans, that they should stop doing that. And now, today, he's suddenly demanding to know how the intelligence community uses 12333 to spy on Americans -- as if it had never crossed his mind before that the program was used this way.
This is not effective oversight. This is a hypocritical joke by the name of Rep. Devin Nunes.