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Roberts writes: "A bipartisan group of 26 US senators has written to intelligence chiefs to complain that the administration is relying on a 'secret body of law' to collect massive amounts of data on US citizens."

National Intelligence Director James Clapper. (photo: AP)
National Intelligence Director James Clapper. (photo: AP)

26 Senators Accuse Government of Using 'Secret Law' to Collect Americans' Data

By Dan Roberts, Guardian UK

29 June 13


Bipartisan group seeks answers from intelligence chief James Clapper over scale of and justification for NSA surveillance.

bipartisan group of 26 US senators has written to intelligence chiefs to complain that the administration is relying on a "secret body of law" to collect massive amounts of data on US citizens.

The senators accuse officials of making misleading statements and demand that the director of national intelligence James Clapper answer a series of specific questions on the scale of domestic surveillance as well as the legal justification for it.

In their strongly-worded letter to Clapper, the senators said they believed the government may be misinterpreting existing legislation to justify the sweeping collection of telephone and internet data revealed by the Guardian.

"We are concerned that by depending on secret interpretations of the Patriot Act that differed from an intuitive reading of the statute, this program essentially relied for years on a secret body of law," they say.

"This and misleading statements by intelligence officials have prevented our constituents from evaluating the decisions that their government was making, and will unfortunately undermine trust in government more broadly."

This is the strongest attack yet from Congress since the disclosures began, and comes after Clapper admitted he had given "the least untruthful answer possible" when pushed on these issues by Senators at a hearing before the latest revelations by the Guardian and the Washington Post.

In a press statement, the group of senators added: "The recent public disclosures of secret government surveillance programs have exposed how secret interpretations of the USA Patriot Act have allowed for the bulk collection of massive amounts of data on the communications of ordinary Americans with no connection to wrongdoing."

They said: "Reliance on secret law to conduct domestic surveillance activities raises serious civil liberty concerns and all but removes the public from an informed national security and civil liberty debate."

A spokesman for the office of the director of national intelligence (ODNI) acknowledged the letter. "The ODNI received a letter from 26 senators this morning requesting further engagement on vital intelligence programs recently disclosed in the media, which we are still evaluating. The intelligence and law enforcement communities will continue to work with all members of Congress to ensure the proper balance of privacy and protection for American citizens."

The letter was organised by Oregan Democrat Ron Wyden, a member of the intelligence committee, but includes four Republican senators: Mark Kirk, Mike Lee, Lisa Murkowski and Dean Heller.

They ask Clapper to publicly provide information about the duration and scope of the program and provide examples of its effectiveness in providing unique intelligence, if such examples exist.

The senators also expressed their concern that the program itself has a significant impact on the privacy of law-abiding Americans and that the Patriot Act could be used for the bulk collection of records beyond phone metadata.

"The Patriot Act's 'business records' authority can be used to give the government access to private financial, medical, consumer and firearm sales records, among others," said a press statement.

In addition to raising concerns about the law's scope, the senators noted that keeping the official interpretation of the law secret and the instances of misleading public statements from executive branch officials prevented the American people from having an informed public debate about national security and domestic surveillance.

The senators said they were seeking public answers to the following questions in order to give the American people the information they need to conduct an informed public debate. The specific questions include:

  • How long has the NSA used Patriot Act authorities to engage in bulk collection of Americans' records? Was this collection underway when the law was reauthorized in 2006?
  • Has the NSA used USA Patriot Act authorities to conduct bulk collection of any other types of records pertaining to Americans, beyond phone records?
  • Has the NSA collected or made any plans to collect Americans' cell-site location data in bulk?
  • Have there been any violations of the court orders permitting this bulk collection, or of the rules governing access to these records? If so, please describe these violations.

The Senators signing the letter are: Ron Wyden (D-Or), Mark Udall (D-Co), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt), Mark Kirk (R-Il), Dick Durbin (D-Il), Tom Udall (D-NM), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Jon Tester (D-Mt), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Dean Heller (R- Nev),Mark Begich (D-Alaska), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt), Patty Murray (D-Wash), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Al Franken (D-Minn), Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), Chris Coons (D-Del), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn), Max Baucus (D-Mont), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc) and Mike Lee (R-Utah). your social media marketing partner


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+8 # Walter J Smith 2013-06-29 08:44
Thank you for this article, and it is difficult not to be cynical about these senators doing this and routine senatorial grandstanding with self-promoting/ "see, I really care what you think" sort of PR.

Will these Senators actually do something to curtail the radical drift over which they have legislated as the nation drifts into the fascistic clutches of their favorite Wall Street investors & CEOs?

Because there is no other explanation for why Obama and his underlings have driven the nation into that NSA Snoop Swamp than the fascistic demands of Wall Street.

We have far more reason to suppose we are an Ice Age away from seeing such stately character emerge from the US Senate as a body.
+5 # Walter J Smith 2013-06-29 08:45
Okay, all of them except Elizabeth Warren.

And don't excuse Bernie Sanders. He fanatically supports every trillion that gets wasted on the F-35 disaster.
+6 # Jeanine 2013-06-29 09:02
+4 # Trueblue Democrat 2013-07-01 06:09
Yes, she is. You can find her soliciting bribes . . . uh . . . campaign donations from the corporations that ride this $80 billion "intelligence" gravy train.
+4 # jwb110 2013-06-29 10:15
I think that Congress has finally seen that if the Patriot Act continues to twist like serpent around the law, that they, the Congress, could be out of a job.
+5 # DPM 2013-06-29 18:09
"I think that Congress has finally seen that if the Patriot Act continues to twist like serpent around the law, that they, the Congress, could be out of a job."
The longer the spying goes on, the more likely they can/will be "blackmailed" with data mined from them. They have to be worried about themselves.
+1 # futhark 2013-07-01 03:38
Sure, and don't forget who it was that received the anthrax spore containing letters in 2001. It sure wasn't any of the neocon senators. Congress members certainly got the point on that one and hastened to railroad through Cheney/Bush's PATRIOT Act. The PATRIOT Act ought to be tossed out for many reasons, one of which is that it was passed by a Congress under mortal threat by the surveillance state apparatus.
+6 # 2013-06-29 10:15
McCaskill is my senator too and yes I noted that her signature was glaringly absent
+2 # quentinm 2013-06-30 01:37
She's gone bad. I think she's positioning herself to run for President or Vice President.
+10 # reiverpacific 2013-06-29 10:37
Well at least our two Oregon senators -led by Wyden- are doing their best; Merkley especially is the closest thing to 'left' we have here and consistently pushes for progressive causes.
But the NSA's (National SPY agency)attitude appears to be that they are above the law -unless they make it or can bend it sufficiently to be still recognizable, all in the name of 'National security', whilst ignoring the glaringly obvious fact that if they quite fuckin' around with other countries where they're not welcome, imposing 'Pax Americana' on some and corporate domination, invasion, extraction and wreckage of others, they wouldn't have to be so paranoid and fearful of others, including their own citizens and whistle blowers.
As for the so-called jingoistically titled "Patriot Act", remember it's origins under the worst and most dimwitted, incurious and mean-spirited 'selected' president in the nation's history! That alone should be enough in it's fostering of an "Idiotocracy" to have it wiped out, along with the Nazi-inspired title of "Homeland Security".
0 # IAMMe 2013-06-29 11:13
You must also not include Al Franken, or Tom Udall
+1 # rabblerouser 2013-06-29 14:15
Or Tammy Baldwin.
-3 # annbromm 2013-06-29 12:24
In the meantime, my grocery store knows more about me than the gov't. So who cares?
... and I continue to maintain that "Homeland Security" sounds an awful lot like "Sicherheitsdie nst" and I only know one other person who thinks so too.
+17 # rabblerouser 2013-06-29 14:14
My major professor in college (I majored in German), who was a translator at the Nuremberg Trials, would agree with you. (I was a junior when Watergate happened.) In our frequent chats, he always said that people who believe it couldn't ever happen here were either terribly naive or weren't paying attention to the signs of a growing clandestine security state fueled by an increasingly corrupt government, a frightened economic elite and woefully complicit media. In many ways, I'm glad he didn't live to see all the "good Americans" who populate Capitol Hill today, sporting flag lapel pins while they smile and support infringement of our civil rights under the guise of making us safer, and pander to the vulture capitalists who wish to divert every last cent from our public treasury into the pockets of sociopaths whose search for profits and power is paramount and unending.

IMHO, it's time to repeal the Patriot Act, the basis for much of the abuses of power.
+3 # Darthvadersmom 2013-06-29 13:17
Some of these folks didn't know about the Patriot Act? About privitization of national security? Ignorance is bliss for those who don't have to pay for it.
+10 # cmp 2013-06-29 13:41
Everything is secret. Especially, when it comes to just who "owns" their war..

Will we ever return to the "policy" of where terrorism is a crime, and not a war?
+2 # Beverly 2013-06-29 14:24
And I think a clarification of who these Senators are, and what states they represent, would be informative. This looks to me as a rather ragged format - and I was born/raised in Washington DC, worked at Pentagon, so kind of know what I'm asking.
Beverly Smith
+3 # AUCHMANNOCH 2013-06-29 18:26
Dear NSA

Well by golly, another 26 traitors come out of the woodwork! Suggest to you'll that you rendition them, torture them, lock them up in Gitmo without trial, drop a drone on them or other American speciality acts of terror.

No - perhaps that's too excessive - why not just spy on them? Wait one - you're already doing that!
+5 # Nominae 2013-06-29 19:51
Dear NSA

Well by golly, another 26 traitors come out of the woodwork! Suggest to you'll that you rendition them, torture them, lock them up in Gitmo without trial, drop a drone on them or other American speciality acts of terror.

No - perhaps that's too excessive - why not just spy on them? Wait one - you're already doing that!

Dang straight ! Or they can all be involved in a horrible car crash/explosion on their way down Highland Drive in L.A. at four o'clock in the morning !
+2 # quentinm 2013-06-30 01:36
This is vile and unAmerican.
+3 # quentinm 2013-06-30 01:35
There is no doubt that there are more programs out there collecting info. The wording of questions is key. When Alberto Gonzalez testified in 2006 & 7, he was very careful in how he worded his answers, but if Congress had been truly listening then, they would have surmised (as did I) that there were numerous things going on, a multitude of data mining centers and programs other than the one that Gonzalez kept citing in each answer, making it apparent that the one he named was not the only one. These 26 people need major help from techies.

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