Roots Action & Dan Froomkin / The Intercept & Patrick Eddington / Just Security – 2015-05-23 18:03:25
ACTION Beyond the USA Freedom Act
Wonder why Big Brother likes “USA Freedom Act”?
WASHINGTON, DC (May 22, 2015) — The USA Freedom Act is not a way to legislate freedom from the US surveillance state. The Surveillance State Repeal Act is.
Prominent whistleblowers (including Daniel Ellsberg, Coleen Rowley and Ray McGovern) support passing the Surveillance State Repeal Act (SSRA) as the best means to end the mass surveillance of US citizens under the PATRIOT Act and the FISA Amendments Act.
The SSRA would restore the Fourth Amendment’s requirement of a search warrant. The bill would also prevent the government from forcing companies to build flaws into their technology to allow government spying. And it would resist new abuses by making retaliation against whistleblowers a firing offense.â€¨â€¨
Pass Surveillance State Repeal Act
As your constituent, I urge you as strongly as I can to restore the Fourth Amendment of the US Constitution by sponsoring and passing a repeal of abuses. Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) and Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wisc.) have introduced the Surveillance State Repeal Act (H.R.1466). This bill, and not the USA Freedom Act, moves us forward.
Whistleblowers Back “Surveillance State Repeal Act”
Dan Froomkin / Unofficial Sources @ The Intercept
(April 27, 2015) — There is no sign of an end to the erosion of Constitutional liberties that began under George W. Bush after the 9/11 attacks and continues under Barack Obama, a group of seven national security whistleblowers said Monday.
“The government chose in great secrecy to unchain itself,” said Thomas Drake, who was working at the National Security Agency in 2001 and said he saw lawlessness spread under the name of “exigent conditions” during the Bush presidency.
Then, as part of Obama’s war on whistleblowers, prosecutors charged Drake under the Espionage Act — a law intended to brutally punish spies — for talking to a reporter. After a four-year long ordeal that the federal judge in his case called “unconscionable,” all 10 felony charges against Drake were dropped in return for his guilty plea to a single misdemeanor.
Now, Drake said, he is throwing his weight behind H.R. 1466, the Surveillance State Repeal Act.
The bill would completely repeal the 2001 PATRIOT Act (which the NSA cites as the legal basis for its bulk phone metadata collection), repeal the FISA Amendments Act (which ostensibly legitimizes Internet spying) and otherwise protect people’s privacy.
It’s a bipartisan but dark-horse legislative gambit that Reps. Mark Pocan, D-Wisc., and Thomas Massie, R-Ky., have thrown into the mix as Congress debates over the next few weeks what to do before three key provisions of the PATRIOT Act expire — including the one used for bulk metadata.
All seven whistleblowers on the panel sponsored by the pro-accountability group ExposeFacts.org — including Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg, NSA whistleblowers William Binney and J. Kirk Wiebe, and former FBI agent Coleen Rowley — said they backed the bill.
Other legislative proposals, coming nearly two years after former NSA contractor Edward Snowden informed the world about the extent of NSA surveillance, call for considerably more minor reforms — if any at all.
Wiebe said he is increasingly frightened that the country is not “going to be able to get out of this mess. We’ve become a society wiling to look the other way in the face of wrongdoing,” he said.
Ellsberg called Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning “heroes.” “We need more Snowdens, we need more Chelsea Mannings,” he said. Had there been some earlier, he said, “there would not have been an Iraq war. That would have been a very great service to the United States and the world.”
Ellsberg contrasted his two heroes with former vice president Dick Cheney.
“I’m not saying he’s a traitor,” Ellsberg said. Cheney truly wanted the best for his country, it’s just that “he believed that the best for his country was not the Constitution as written,” Ellsberg said.
Rowley said she was taken aback when she heard Obama, in remarks last week about the drone strike that killed two Western hostages in Pakistan, say that “one of the things that sets America apart from many other nations, one of the things that makes us exceptional is our willingness to confront squarely our imperfections and to learn from our mistakes.”
Said Rowley: “I wish that were true.”
The Minimalist Surveillance Reforms of USA Freedom
Patrick Eddington / Just Security.org
(April 29, 2015) — On April 30, the House Judiciary Committee will take up a warmed-over version of last year’s USA Freedom Act. The committee has offered a rather optimistic claim of the surveillance reforms the bill will accomplish if passed — an optimism I do not share (and my skepticism is buttressed by the concerns of transparency advocates and other well-informed NSA critics).
Passing the USA Freedom Act in its current form would effectively represent a repeat of the Protect America Act fiasco of the previous decade — an act of Congress that made legal a previously illegal surveillance program that did exactly nothing to protect the country, while costing billions and subjecting Americans to continued mass surveillance. And the decline of a real Congressional institutional ethic for holding the executive branch accountable for its misdeeds in the intelligence arena is a major reason why this is happening.
My doubts about the bill’s likely effect are also based on the executive branch’s well-documented penchant for playing legal word games with surveillance law — a practice key supporters of this bill have complained about loudly and often.
But even if we suspend disbelief and assume the more optimistic interpretations of the legislation’s effects come to pass, and that the executive branch will abide by the intent of the bill’s authors, how will that reform compare with what’s been revealed about the scope of NSA’s activities since 9/11?
The revelations about the abuses of the Patriot Act Sec. 215 metadata program are what ignited this surveillance reform debate. Yet even the current version of the USA Freedom Act would not end the executive branch’s authority to collect metadata; it would (assuming the best case scenario) simply narrow the scope of such metadata collection.
It’s a curious course of action given the fact that Obama’s own Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technology found that the metadata program prevented zero attacks on the United States. And as the New York Times recently reported, multiple government audits of this and other post-9/11 surveillance programs found them essentially useless in the fight against foreign terrorist organizations.
Perhaps the most remarkable thing about this debate — such as it is — is the refusal of the bill’s proponents to actually deal with the fact that these surveillance authorities should never have existed in the first place, that they have been repeatedly renewed despite false claims of their effectiveness and their dubious constitutionality, and that existing oversight mechanisms have failed to correct executive branch surveillance over-reach in multiple areas.
Consider what this bill is not addressing:
* The “back door” searches conducted under Sec. 702 of the FISA Amendments Act.
* The expansive collection of US Person data under Executive Order 12333.
* The targeting of anyone using internet anonymization technology such as Tor.
* NSA’s subversion of encryption standards, supply chain interdiction operations, and espionage and spy recruitment efforts against international standards bodies.
The elephant in the room is the absolutely wretched state of the congressional response to the Surveillance State, demonstrated by the gap between the Congress’s response to NSA’s transgressions in the 1970’s and it’s post-Snowden oversight posture. As I noted in a recent Washington Examiner piece:
Contrast that with the Watergate era. The Congressional investigation into NSA domestic spying programs known as Shamrock and Minaret took place in 1975, and reforms under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) became law in 1978.
Those reforms were driven the most exhaustive congressional investigations of the US Intelligence Community in American historyâ€”an investigation that led to the creation of the House and Senate intelligence oversight committees and a ban on the domestic surveillance of Americans by those same agencies. Until 9/11, STELLAR WIND, and all that came after.
And despite the very real need for a similarly exhaustive examination of executive branch surveillance programs (including others, such as the DEA’s own metadata collection program), Congress appears to have no appetite for taking that much needed step.
In his new book, Democracy in the Dark, former Church Committee chief counsel Fritz Schwartz, commenting on the problems with Congressional oversight of the Intelligence Community, notes that:
It is a truism that oversight bodies in both the public and the private sphere tend to be co-opted by becoming too close to those they oversee. But truisms are often true. It is striking that . . . members of the intelligence committees generally . . . do not usually make waves or challenge the exclusivity of their super-secret access to secret information or their presumed lack of power to do anything about it.
With a very few prominent exceptions, that observation is now applicable to the Congress as a whole where executive branch surveillance excesses are concerned.
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