This past Sunday, portions of the PATRIOT Act expired due to the filibuster by Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY). It was a small victory since a Senate vote had to be forthcoming in order to reauthorize those sections of the act that expired. Despite a hearty try by Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY), the re-authorization of those sections, without amendment, failed. Instead, the Senate passed the USA Freedom Act on Tuesday by a vote of 67-32, which had passed the House days earlier. The bill reauthorized “key national security programs that had lapsed early this week.”
It sounds really good as the NSA won’t be hoovering Americans’ phone data as that data will now be kept by the phone companies. In order to gain access to that data, authorities obtain a “warrant from a secret counterterror court that identifies a specific person or group of people suspected of terror ties.” The provisions for roving wiretaps and lone-wolf tracking have been reauthorized.
The USA Freedom Act passed without the amendments championed by McConnell.
One of the changes would have extended the transition period from six months to a year from NSA storage to telecoms storage of the data.
Another would have stripped out a provision that declassifies rulings by the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC), a move critics have argued would erode important transparency that was built into the Freedom Act.
The Senate vote demonstrated a stunning rejection of McConnell’s attempt to amend the bill. Eleven Republicans rejected the changes and voted against McConnell on the amendments.
Sen. Patrick Leahy, senior Democratic sponsor of the bill, stated, “It’s an historic moment,” describing the bill as “the first major overhaul of government surveillance laws in decades.” Whistleblower Edward Snowden called it historic as well but called these efforts “not enough” but “an important step.”
Before signing the bill, Obama weighed in on Twitter saying, “Glad the Senate finally passed the USA Freedom Act. It protects civil liberties and our national security.”
Call me doubting Thomas or Debbie Downer if you will; but, when Obama declares something as “protecting civil liberties and our national security,” there has to be some small print somewhere given his track record of honesty. “If you like your health care plan, you can keep your health care plan, period.” Remember, there is still executive order 12333 that started this entire mess and when has Obama or his stooges ever complied with the Constitution or any law passed by Congress? Immigration anyone?
While some are doing a proverbial “end zone” victory dance, I’ll reserve mine when all surveillance programs targeted innocent citizens are ceased and the offending agencies dismantled. Telephone data was just a small part of what the NSA is gathering and what they are storing. While a federal appeals court declared the bulk collection of data on US citizens illegal under Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act, executive order 12333, signed by President Ronald Reagan, has not been addressed and has no Congressional oversight.
Unlike Section 215, the executive order authorizes collection of the content of communications, not just metadata, even for US persons. Such persons cannot be individually targeted under 12333 without a court order. However, if the contents of a US person’s communications are “incidentally” collected (an NSA term of art) in the course of a lawful overseas foreign intelligence investigation, then Section 2.3 (c) of the executive order explicitly authorized their retention. It does not require that the affected US persons be suspected of wrongdoing and places no limit on the volume of communications by US persons that may be collected and retained.
“Incidental” collection may sound insignificant, but it is a legal loophole that can be stretched very wide.
In reviewing “The NSA Files” on the Guardian, it shows how “incidental” the NSA collection was which led to the building of the Utah storage facility.
Some Senators are not happy with the USA Freedom Act – McConnell being the obvious one. He called it a “step backward” indicating that this bill “diminishes our ability to respond to a myriad of threats we have today.” This led to McConnell accusing the Obama administration of “withdrawing from leadership in the battle against extremism” in a floor speech. In McConnell’s view, it is a “victory for those who continually plot against our homeland.”
Homeland – interesting choice of words. He could have just said “Fatherland” and be done with it.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), Republican presidential candidate, like McConnell and who voted against the USA Freedom Act, criticized the bill as “weak presidential leadership.”
“The failure to renew the expiring components of the PATRIOT Act was a mistake. The ‘USA Freedom Act’ weakens US national security by outlawing the very programs our intelligence community and the FBI have used to protect us time and time again. Unfortunately, weak presidential leadership combined with a politically motivated misinformation campaign have now left the American people less safe than we’ve been at any point since the 9/11 attacks.”
So much for his campaign rhetoric on constitutionality. Maybe Sen. Rubio would like to share with the public what the “very programs our intelligence community and the FBI have used to protect us time and time again” since 9/11 are. As far as anyone can tell, none of this massive data hoovering detected one threat, prevented one attack or even pointed the agencies in the general direction until after the fact. Weak presidential leadership is a point conservatives can agree upon. Some would go so far to say we have no presidential leadership.
And it would be beneficial if Sen. Rubio would enlighten US citizens on the “politically motivated misinformation campaign” as the information received on NSA data hoovering were revealed in documents obtained by Edward Snowden and presented to a United Kingdom news media that then went public while administration officials were “lying” about it all. Even Sen. Tom Cotton lied about the extent of data collected and retained by NSA goons on the Senate floor.
While Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act has now been replaced by the USA Freedom Act, it does nothing to quell activities under executive order 12333, which is where the bulk of violations against US citizens are taking place. Maybe Sen. Rubio has forgotten about that little tidbit. Citizens would like the NSA programs XKeyscore and PRISM to be addressed as well as the NSA listening in on mobile phone conversations. These activities are still being done and are unconstitutional.
The USA Freedom Act appears to be a step in the right direction albeit a baby step, but it is one. However, the fact that Obama actually supports it is disturbing. The “community organizing, race-baiting, national police force supporting, liberty squashing, Islam backing, Israel hating, constitution violating communist” Oval Office occupier is about as “glad” the Senate passed it as it “protects civil liberties and national security” as people are about getting an ingrown toenail. This goes against the very grain of this “empty suit.” Something doesn’t wash here.
Think about it this way. Obama and his stooges would not let the USA Freedom Act pass if there was not another way to get and keep the data under the status quo – executive order 12333 maybe. McConnell, as “Obama’s boy,” has gone against him – that seems out of place. Sen. Marco Rubio, presidential candidate, has come out against Obama – an Obama who “supports” the USA Freedom Act – in support of continued unconstitutional violations against US citizens under a section of the PATRIOT Act a court found illegal.
If these oddities are not enough to make someone question all this, remember that Obama does all he can to trash the Constitution with many in Congress, his administration and department heads in his back pocket.