Reps.: Obama’s NSA Is Lying About Spying on Congress

And it looks like they’re going to remain convinced of that no matter what.

Activists protest the surveillance of U.S. citizens by the NSA outside the Justice Department where President Barack Obama gave a major speech on reforming the NSA January 17, 2014.
National Journal
Dustin Volz
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Dustin Volz
Feb. 12, 2014, 8:38 a.m.

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.

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