A trio of lawmakers are furious that members of Congress are potentially subject to the National Security Agency's bulk collection of phone records, and they're convinced the Obama administration is still lying to them.
Republican Reps. Darrell Issa and Jim Sensenbrenner joined with Democrat Jerrold Nadler on an anti-NSA letter Wednesday. The cohort wrote to Deputy Attorney General James Cole asking him to clarify his recent testimony admitting that the government "probably" collects call information from phone lines in congressional offices. The letter also dismisses Cole's explanation as "inaccurate."
"In your testimony [before the House Judiciary Committee], you indicated that the administration would only look at call records from a member of Congress if it had a reasonable, articulable suspicion that the number was related to terrorism," the letter reads. "That is not accurate. The NSA looks at individual numbers when it has low level, particularized suspicion, but it looks at millions more with no suspicion of wrongdoing whatsoever, some of whom may well be members of Congress."
The troika cites a recent decision by the federal District Court in D.C. that found the program to be "likely unconstitutional." Most judges reviewing the program have found it to be legal.
The administration has repeatedly countered that while virtually all phone records are subject to its data sweeps—a technique it says is necessary to assemble the whole haystack in order to find the needle—it examines only records determined to be relevant to a terrorism investigation.
Obama announced last month the NSA would reduce from three to two the number of "hops," or degrees of separation, from a terror suspect for which it could analyze phone data. But the lawmakers said they still want Cole to clarify his testimony and "fully disclose all of the ways in which the government conducts or may possibly conduct surveillance on members of Congress."
Sensenbrenner, a Wisconsin Republican and onetime architect of the post-9/11 USA Patriot Act, is the chief sponsor of the Freedom Act, which seeks to strongly curtail the NSA's collection of phone records. Issa—who hails from California and has been a continual thorn in President Obama's side in his role as chairman of the House Oversight panel—and Nadler, a New York Democrat, are among the bill's 130 cosponsors.
This article appears in the February 13, 2014 edition of NJ Daily.