Lawmakers Use Terrorist Alert to Ratchet Up Calls for FISA Reforms

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT)
©2013 Richard A. Bloom
Stacy Kaper
Aug. 7, 2013, 12:24 p.m.

Law­makers’ con­cerns about Amer­ic­ans’ pri­vacy, in par­tic­u­lar the Na­tion­al Se­cur­ity Agency’s do­mest­ic sur­veil­lance pro­grams, have not dampened over re­cess.

In fact, some law­makers are mak­ing the ar­gu­ment that the ramped-up state of na­tion­al se­cur­ity that has promp­ted em­bassy clos­ures across North Africa and the Middle East amid an al-Qaida ter­ror­ist alert only el­ev­ates the need to strengthen Amer­ic­ans’ trust in U.S. coun­terter­ror­ism tac­tics.

“It is very im­port­ant to em­phas­ize that the latest se­cur­ity alert and threat warn­ing re­mind us how crit­ic­al the work of our in­tel­li­gence and coun­terter­ror­ism people and agen­cies is to our na­tion,” Sen. Richard Blu­menth­al, D-Conn., said in an in­ter­view. “It de­mands and de­serves the re­spect and trust of the Amer­ic­an people, which is why we need my re­form pro­pos­als to pre­serve, re­in­force, and bol­ster the trust and cred­ib­il­ity of those in­sti­tu­tions.”

He ad­ded, “Most es­pe­cially the FISA Court. “¦ It’s an an­om­aly right now be­cause it’s a black box.”

Blu­menth­al is slated to give a ma­jor policy ad­dress on FISA court re­form Thursday at Har­vard Law School, ar­guing for the need to bet­ter bal­ance Amer­ic­ans’ pri­vacy while main­tain­ing strong na­tion­al se­cur­ity pro­vi­sions. The FISA courts gov­ern re­quests for sur­veil­lance war­rants against sus­pec­ted for­eign-in­tel­li­gence agents in­side the U.S. 

He is push­ing for two bills he in­tro­duced with Sens. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Tom Ud­all, D-N.M., just be­fore Con­gress ad­journed last week that would provide a spe­cial ad­voc­ate to the FISA courts to ar­gue for Amer­ic­ans’ right to pri­vacy and an­oth­er to change the FISA judge se­lec­tion pro­cess to force great­er di­versity of view­points and back­grounds.

It is un­clear which if any re­forms will be­come law, but policy ana­lysts agree that mo­mentum is grow­ing in Con­gress to ad­dress the scope of the FISA court.

Last month, Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich., sent a wake-up call to the ad­min­is­tra­tion and NSA de­fend­ers when he came just a hand­ful of votes shy of suc­ceed­ing on a meas­ure that would have stopped the NSA’s blanket col­lec­tion of tele­phone re­cords of Amer­ic­ans not un­der sus­pi­cion of ter­ror­ism ties.

An even strong NSA de­fend­er, Sen­ate In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee Chair­wo­man Di­anne Fein­stein, D-Cal­if., has sug­ges­ted re­du­cing how much so-called metadata the NSA re­tains.

“It’s very likely we’ll see some re­form,” said Steven Bucci, a dir­ect­or of for­eign policy stud­ies with the Her­it­age Found­a­tion, who noted that law­makers’ ques­tions and con­cerns ap­pear to be in­tensi­fy­ing. “Very clearly there is a crit­ic­al mass of le­gis­lat­ors and cit­izens who dis­agree with people like me who think this a good bal­ance of pri­vacy and se­cur­ity.”

Mi­chael O’Han­lon, a seni­or fel­low with the Brook­ings In­sti­tu­tion, said that “the nat­ur­al com­prom­ise hasn’t yet sur­faced,” but law­makers ap­pear in­tent on some re­form.

“I’d pre­dict that Con­gress will want to do something more than simply re­gister its con­cerns and com­plaints,” he said. “There will be on­go­ing vig­or­ous dis­cus­sion.”

Blu­menth­al told Na­tion­al Journ­al Daily that he sees con­sti­tu­tion­al freedoms in jeop­ardy, which he said is even more crit­ic­al in the face of the latest ter­ror­ism alert.

“The core mes­sage will be that we can do both — pre­serve liberty and pri­vacy, and safe­guard na­tion­al se­cur­ity,” he said, pre­view­ing his Har­vard ad­dress. “The chal­lenge is to strike bal­ance.”

Blu­menth­al is con­tinu­ing to push to de­clas­si­fy the courts’ opin­ions be­cause they in ef­fect cre­ate law.

“The FISA court is un­known to many Amer­ic­ans. But it ex­er­cises vast in­vis­ible power,” he said. “The court makes law, but right now it’s secret law, and I think there is a point of con­sensus here that the law at the very least should be made pub­lic, and that is one of the points I’m go­ing to be stress­ing.”

Blu­menth­al said that voters have un­answered ques­tions about the gov­ern­ment’s sur­veil­lance pro­grams.

“I see no pro­spect of the is­sue dis­sip­at­ing either in im­port­ance or pub­lic con­cern,” he said. “I don’t see the is­sue go­ing away dur­ing the re­cess. In fact, when I go around the state of Con­necti­c­ut, a lot of folks are talk­ing about the sur­veil­lance, and the good as well as the bad.”

What We're Following See More »
LOST BY HALF A PERCENTAGE POINT
Sanders Wants a Recount in Kentucky
32 minutes ago
THE LATEST

Bernie Sanders "signed a letter Tuesday morning requesting a full and complete check and recanvass of the election results in Kentucky ... where he trails Hillary Clinton by less than one-half of 1 percent of the vote. The Sanders campaign said it has asked the Kentucky secretary of state to have election officials review electronic voting machines and absentee ballots from last week's primary in each of the state's 120 counties.

Source:
THE QUESTION
How Much Did the IRS Overpay in Earned Income Tax Credit Benefits?
3 hours ago
THE ANSWER

An estimated $15.6 billion, "according to a Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration report."

Source:
TIES TO CLINTON GLOBAL INITIATIVE
McAuliffe Under Investigation for Fundraising
4 hours ago
WHY WE CARE

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) “is the subject of an ongoing investigation by the FBI and … the Justice Department” for potentially improper contributions to his 2013 campaign, including while he was a Clinton Global Initiative board member. ... Among the McAuliffe donations that drew the interest of the investigators was $120,000 from” former Chinese legislator Wang Wenliang. “U.S. election law prohibits foreign nationals from donating to … elections. … But Wang holds U.S. permanent resident status.”

Source:
RAISES SEX ASSAULT, VINCE FOSTER
Trump Takes Aim at Bill Clinton
4 hours ago
THE LATEST

"Donald Trump is reviving some of the ugliest political chapters of the 1990s with escalating personal attacks on Bill Clinton's character, part of a concerted effort to smother Hillary Clinton 's campaign message with the weight of decades of controversy. Trump's latest shot came Monday when he released an incendiary Instagram video that includes the voices of two women who accused the former president of sexual assault, underscoring the presumptive Republican nominee's willingness to go far beyond political norms in his critique of his likely Democratic rival. ...In one recent interview, Trump said another topic of potential concern is the suicide of former White House aide Vincent Foster, which remains the focus of intense and far-fetched conspiracy theories on the Internet."

Source:
FUROR AFTER HOUSE OVERSIGHT HEARING
Head of Security for TSA Has Been Reassigned
4 hours ago
THE DETAILS

"The head of security for the Transportation Security Administration, Kelly Hoggan, has been removed from his position after a hearing about the agency's management, the House Oversight Committee says." Deputy assistant administrator Darby LaJoye will take over for Hoggan on a temporary basis.

Source:
×