Congressmen Being Stonewalled On NSA Information

The Guardian is reporting that member of Congress are being denied access to basic information about the National Security Agency. Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-VA) and Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL) both provided the Guardian with numerous letters and emails which document that they have been persistent, yet unsuccessful in their efforts to learn about NSA programs relevant to FISA court rulings.

“These programs are subject to congressional oversight and congressional reauthorization and congressional debate,” President Obama said the day after the first story on NSA bulk collection of phone records was published in this space. “And if there are members of Congress who feel differently, then they should speak up.”

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However, it appears that there are members of Congress who do think differently and they are speaking up and pointing out that they are being denied information on the NSA and its programs.

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Glenn Greenwald writes:

“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.”

Almost three weeks later, on July 12, Rep. Griffith requested additional information from the Intelligence Committee based on press accounts he had read about Yahoo’s unsuccessful efforts in court to resist joining the NSA’s PRISM program. He specifically wanted to review the arguments made by Yahoo and the DOJ, as well as the FISC’s ruling requiring Yahoo to participate in PRISM.

On July 22, he wrote another letter to the Committee seeking information. This time, it was prompted by press reports that that the FISA court had renewed its order compelling Verizon to turn over all phone records to the NSA. Rep. Griffith requested access to that court ruling.

The Congressman received no response to any of his requests. With a House vote looming on whether to defund the NSA’s bulk collection program – it was scheduled for July 25 – he felt he needed the information more urgently than ever. He recounted his thinking to me: “How can I responsibly vote on a program I know very little about?”

On July 23, he wrote another letter to the Committee, noting that it had been four weeks since his original request, and several weeks since his subsequent ones. To date, six weeks since he first asked, he still has received no response to any of his requests.

Additionally, Congressman Grayson had a similar experience in an email exchange with the House Intelligence Committee, in which he requested documents relating to media accounts about the NSA. This included information about FISA court opinions and the PRISM program.

Four weeks later, Chairman of the Committee Rep. Mike Rogers wrote to inform Grayson that his request was denied by a committee “voice vote.”

When Congressman Grayson then asked for a recorded vote, member-by-member, the response from the committee was “Thanks for your inquiry. The full Committee attends Business Meetings. At our July 18, 2013 Business Meeting, there were seven Democrat Members and nine Republican Members in attendance. The transcript is classified.”

Grayson and MGriffith are not the only ones being stonewalled. Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI), who sponsored the amendment to ban the NSA’s massive collection of Americans’ phone records told CNN “I, as a member of Congress, can’t get access to the court opinions. I have to beg for access, and I’m denied it if I – if I make that request.”

Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) was asked by MSNBC host Chris Hayes, “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?” 

The Connecticut Senator replied, “The revelations about the magnitude, the scope and scale of these surveillances, the metadata and the invasive actions surveillance of social media Web sites were indeed revelations to me.”

Josh Peterson adds:

Grayson had scheduled an ad hoc hearing last week for July 31 during which journalist Glenn Greenwald, American Civil Liberties Union Legislative Counsel Michelle Richardson,  and Cato Institute Research Fellow Julian Sanchez were supposed to testify about the NSA programs.

The hearing was canceled, however, due to a last minute meeting by President Obama with the House Democrats.

It looks as if things are not as Obama presents them and seeing that the Republicans control the House and Speaker Boehner was one involved in setting up chairs for the various committees, including removing many good men from committees, including Amash. Is Boehner key to helping suppress the truth about the NSA in a similar way that Pat Caddell claims he has suppressed the truth about Benghazi? Is he aiding and abetting a known liar, Barack Obama? It seems that he is.

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