Sens. Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz clashed over their opposing votes on a key surveillance bill during Tuesday night’s GOP debate, with each senator trying to establish himself as the strongest on national security.
Rubio accused Cruz of hampering intelligence agencies by supporting the USA Freedom Act, which ended the National Security Agency’s vast collection of millions of U.S. phone records. That information could have been critical in investigating the shooting in San Bernardino, California, Rubio argued. “We are now at a time where we need more tools, not less tools,” the Florida Republican said. “And that tool we lost, the metadata program, was a valuable tool that we no longer have at our disposal.”
Cruz shot back that Rubio “knows what he’s saying isn’t true.” The old NSA dragnet, Cruz argued, covered only 20-30 percent of call records, whereas the Freedom Act will actually allow the agency to collect “nearly 100 percent” of records. Rubio stayed firm, claiming that “there is nothing that we are allowed to do under this bill that we could not do before.”
So who is right? Did the Freedom Act actually give the NSA access to more records, as Cruz is claiming?
Yes, according to top intelligence officials. “The overall volume of call detail records subject to query pursuant to court order is greater under USA FREEDOM Act,” the Office of the Director of National Intelligence wrote in a fact sheet on its implementation of the law last month.
Under the old law, the Patriot Act, the NSA claimed it had the right to collect records on every U.S. phone call. But due to technical obstacles, the agency reportedly struggled to integrate cell-phone records into its database. With people increasingly relying on cell phones instead of landlines, the technical problems had caused a major gap in the NSA’s database.
Under the Freedom Act, the NSA was required to give up control of the database. Instead, the phone companies keep the records themselves, and the NSA can get court approval to search for particular records. But critically, the law includes a provision that requires phone companies to provide “technical assistance” to help the NSA access the data in a readable format. That provision ensures the NSA can access millions of cell-phone records that had previously been beyond its reach.
So while the NSA now has fewer records in its direct possession, the universe of phone-call logs it can access is actually larger.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie tried to put himself above the fray by saying the debate over surveillance powers shows why the public hates the Senate—“endless debate about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.”
What We're Following See More »
After initially promising it in August, "President Trump said Monday that he will declare a national emergency next week to address the opioid epidemic." When asked, he also "declined to express confidence in Rep. Tom Marino (R-Pa.), his nominee for drug czar, in the wake of revelations that the lawmaker helped steer legislation making it harder to act against giant drug companies."
In the wake of Sunday's blockbuster 60 Minutes/Washington Post report on opioid regulation and enforcement, Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) has introduced legislation that "would repeal a 2016 law that hampered the Drug Enforcement Administration’s ability to regulate opioid distributors it suspects of misconduct." In a statement, McCaskill said: “Media reports indicate that this law has significantly affected the government’s ability to crack down on opioid distributors that are failing to meet their obligations and endangering our communities."
"The United States military said on Monday that it would practice evacuating noncombatant Americans out of South Korea in the event of war and other emergencies, as the two allies began a joint naval exercise amid heightened tensions with North Korea. The evacuation drill, known as Courageous Channel, is scheduled from next Monday through Friday and is aimed at preparing American 'service members and their families to respond to a wide range of crisis management events such as noncombatant evacuation and natural or man-made disasters,' the United States military said in a statement."
Speaking at the Heritage Foundation Thursday, Speaker Paul Ryan threatened, "We’re going to keep people here for Christmas" if tax reform doesn't get passed. He added, "I don’t care. We have to get this done." However, hopefully this won't happen. Senate is set to pass a budget resolution next week and then resolve differences with the House. Hopefully the House will pass the measure and send it to the Senate by November.