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US domestic, er, foreign spying bill progresses through Congress

Thought the Snowden leaks would make things better? Joke's on you


On the other side of the argument, numerous senators pointed out the ludicrousness of the situation.

Ted Lieu (D-CA) tweeted and repeated: "Our intelligence agencies have perverted the statute to go after US citizens without a warrant."

John Conyers (D-MI) pointed out that not once but twice the secretive FISA Court has found a key element of the Section 702 program unconstitutional. And while the NSA has promised to end "about" collection – where it scoops up the communications of anyone referred to in by a foreign intelligence target, including US citizens – there is nothing in the "Liberty Act" that prevents it, so the NSA would be able to simply change its mind at a later date.

An effort to end so-called "back door searches" where the intelligence services are able to search a full database of gathered communications, effectively bypassing all efforts to make sure that legal process is followed, was also shot down.

An amendment that would pull out the "exemptions" that give the FBI de facto full access to the Section 702 database without requiring a warrant was voted down.

An effort to give the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB) the actual powers that the intelligence services and Congress currently pretend it has: shot down.

In total, 13 amendments were put forward: four were passed, three withdrawn and six failed. The four that passed were little more than clean-ups.


All of which begs the question: what the hell is going on? Why are the people's representatives knowingly blocking efforts to stop their government from spying on their own citizens without going through normal legal processes?

A small indication was given by Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) who referred to a classified briefing that Judiciary Committee members had been given by the director of the NSA, Michael Rogers, on the 702 program.

"We were all in a classified briefing where Admiral Rogers described the scope," she noted. "I will not repeat what he said. I will just say this is a significant issue, a significant issue."

She also revealed that, according to the NSA – which runs the Section 702 program – it received a "grand total of one query for a crime unrelated to foreign intelligence" adding that therefore "the FBI considers every other query a foreign intelligence query."

So what is going on? The age-old game of intelligence services giving classified briefings in which they cherry-pick worrisome examples, use their own definitions of terms like "foreign intelligence" and "query", and then tell lawmakers that without these powers terrible, terrible things will happen.

It's a game that Lofgren is sick of playing. She noted that the last time Congress reviewed this spying program it was told it "had to agree to a bill that fell short of what the Constitution required because of some kind of deal" – a deal that she notes, never happened.

"It's time to stop that and it's time to put the Constitution first," she argued. "I don’t think this bill accomplishes what the Constitution requires." As such, she voted No to moving it forward to the full House. As did seven others.

But then 27 voted yes and the laughably titled Liberty Act moved forward. ®

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