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Ear to the Ground

Legislators Kept in Dark About NSA

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Posted on Aug 4, 2013
erokism (CC BY 2.0)

Forces within the government have repeatedly thwarted attempts by members of Congress to learn basic information about the National Security Agency and the secret court that authorizes its activities, documents provided by two House members show.

Since details of the agency’s virtually unlimited digital domestic and international spying program were revealed in early June, the NSA’s defenders have insisted that Congress is aware of the activities and is empowered to supervise them.

“These programs are subject to congressional oversight and congressional reauthorization and congressional debate,” President Obama said the day after news of the agency’s bulk collection of phone records was published. “And if there are members of Congress who feel differently, then they should speak up.”

But legislators from both political parties have denied that they possess the level of detail the NSA claims for them. Glenn Greenwald, the Guardian journalist who broke the story on the agency’s spying, points to a question put to Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut by MSNBC host Chris Hayes on Wednesday.

“How much are you learning about what the government that you are charged with overseeing and holding accountable is doing from the newspaper and how much of this do you know?” Hayes asked.

Sen. Blumenthal replied: “The revelations about the magnitude, the scope and scale of these surveillances, the metadata and the invasive actions surveillance of social media websites were indeed revelations to me.”

—Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly.

Glenn Greenwald at The Guardian:

But it is not merely that members of Congress are unaware of the very existence of these programs, let alone their capabilities. Beyond that, members who seek out basic information - including about NSA programs they are required to vote on and FISA court (FISC) rulings on the legality of those programs - find that they are unable to obtain it.

Two House members, GOP Rep. Morgan Griffith of Virginia and Democratic Rep. Alan Grayson of Florida, have provided the Guardian with numerous letters and emails documenting their persistent, and unsuccessful, efforts to learn about NSA programs and relevant FISA court rulings.

“If I can’t get basic information about these programs, then I’m not able to do my job”, Rep. Griffith told me. A practicing lawyer before being elected to Congress, he said that his job includes “making decisions about whether these programs should be funded, but also an oath to safeguard the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, which includes the Fourth Amendment.”

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