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Members of Congress Denied Information About NSA Surveillance

Peter Z. Scheer
Managing Editor
Peter Scheer grew up in the newspaper business, spending family vacations with his mother at newspaper editors\' conferences, enjoying daycare in editorial departments and begrudgingly reviewing his father\'s…
Peter Z. Scheer

President Obama said in defense of his administration’s mass surveillance of voice and data communications inside the United States, “These programs are subject to congressional oversight and congressional reauthorization and congressional debate,” but it has since become clear that only a few members of Congress, if any, really know the extent of the government’s activities.

Two members of the House, one Republican and one Democrat, have been asking their chamber’s intelligence committee for more information about the NSA’s domestic surveillance, and they’ve been either ignored or denied. Rep. Morgan Griffith, R-Va., and Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Fla., provided Glenn Greenwald with documentation of their repeated efforts to learn more.

Griffith has been trying for six weeks and he says the committee, which is controlled by his own party, has so far refused to even acknowledge him. He told Greenwald he especially wanted to be better informed prior to voting on an amendment that would have defunded at least some of the NSA’s efforts. That amendment came within 12 votes of passing in the House, following a last-minute lobbying push by NSA director Gen. Keith Alexander. Clearly there are many members of Congress who have decided to take the president’s advice and “speak up” about their dissatisfaction.

Glenn Greenwald in the Guardian:

“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.”

Rep. Griffith requested information about the NSA from the House Intelligence Committee six weeks ago, on June 25. He asked for “access to the classified FISA court order(s) referenced on Meet the Press this past weekend”: a reference to my raising with host David Gregory the still-secret 2011 86-page ruling from the FISA court that found substantial parts of NSA domestic spying to be in violation of the Fourth Amendment as well as governing surveillance statutes.

In that same June 25 letter, Rep. Griffith also requested the semi-annual FISC “reviews and critiques” of the NSA. He stated the rationale for his request: “I took an oath to uphold the United States Constitution, and I intend to do so.”

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— Posted by Peter Z. Scheer

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