Congress has 10 days to Pass NSA Bill While McConnell Stalls

by Joan McCarter –

Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul part ways on the PATRIOT Act

Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul part ways on the PATRIOT Act

Congress has essentially 10 working days to deal with the pending expiration of three provisions of the Patriot Act, including Section 215 which has been used by the Bush and Obama administrations to collect the metadata from essentially all Americans’ cell phones. Last week, a federal appeals court ruled that this bulk collection is illegal and not authorized by the Patriot Act. That means that something has to change, and the House is poised to vote on a reform bill this week.

With little certainty about how the debate will end, lawmakers begin the two-week sprint to a solution this week, when the House is expected to easily pass the USA Freedom Act.
The legislation, written by original Patriot Act author Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) as well as Reps. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.) and Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), would extend until 2019 three expiring portions of the Patriot Act. […]But the real drama comes after the House acts, and the ball lands in the Senate’s court.

That’s because Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and a handful of fairly powerful Republicans want the law extended without the reforms the House bill includes. And to that end, they’ll tell any number of lies about the program. For example, in a floor speech last Thursday McConnell said: “Not only have these tools kept us safe, there has not been a single incident, not one, of intentional abuse of them.”

There’s two lies right there. First of all, we know there’s been intentional abuse of the program:  “a 2013 inspector general report, NSA analysts intentionally misused foreign surveillance authorities at least a dozen times in the past decade, sometimes for the purpose of spying on their romantic interests.” But the other claim—and this one is repeated by every proponent of the program including Senate Intelligence Chair Richard Burr—is that it “keeps us safe.” Thus far, no terror plot has been averted thanks to the bulk collection program. In fact, the President’s Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies concluded in 2013 that any information gleaned from the program “was not essential to preventing attacks and could readily have been obtained in a timely manner using conventional [court] orders.” The Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board stated in 2014 that “we have not identified a single instance involving a threat to the United States in which the program made a concrete difference in the outcome of a counterterrorism investigation.”

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) probably went to the most extreme lengths in claiming “it makes us safer” by saying that if we’d had bulk collection in 2001, 9/11 wouldn’t have happened because “it is quite possible that we would have known that the 9/11 hijacker Khalid al-Mihdhar was living in San Diego and making phone calls to an al-Qaeda safehouse in Yemen.” Except that, as ProPublica determined in its investigative reporting, intelligence already knew about al-Mihdhar and knew how to find him. They didn’t because the various agencies involved dropped the ball. It wasn’t that they lacked the tools to monitor him, it’s that they were too inept and too involved in turf battles to do it.

McConnell, Burr, Rubio and the handful of others who want to maintain the bulk collection system are really pushing against the tide. There’s the House to contend with, which is at least somewhat reform minded. There’s their fellow Republican senator (Rand Paul (R-KY) says he’ll filibuster) as well as Democrat (Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) is threatening a filibuster, too) who won’t agree to passing a simple extension. There’s the calendar, which gives them only 10 days to fight the House and the rest of the Senate. And then there’s a federal court which says that one way or another, the program has to end. Yes, there will be some drama in the next two weeks in the Senate.


Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos