Tag Archives: Senate

Senate takes up House bill but fails to avoid spying lapse

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., talks with a reporter as he leaves the Capitol following his address to the Senate in Washington, Sunday, May 31, 2015. Senate Republicans say they’ve been unable to make a deal to extend contested anti-terror provisions. As a result, the post-Sept. 11 programs will expire at midnight.

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., talks with a reporter as he leaves the Capitol following his address to the Senate in Washington, Sunday, May 31, 2015. Senate Republicans say they’ve been unable to make a deal to extend contested anti-terror provisions. As a result, the post-Sept. 11 programs will expire at midnight.

WASHINGTON — Eight days after blocking it, Senate Republicans have agreed to begin debate on a House bill that would overhaul the National Security Agency’s handling of American calling records while preserving other domestic surveillance provisions.

But that remarkable turnabout didn’t happen soon enough to prevent the laws governing the programs from expiring at midnight Sunday as Republican Sen. Rand Paul, a presidential contender, stood in the way of extending the program, angering his GOP colleagues and frustrating intelligence and law enforcement officials.

Now, the question is whether the Senate will pass a bill the House can live with. If so, the surveillance programs will resume, with some significant changes in how the phone records are handled. If not, they will remain dormant.

The Senate vote on the measure known as the USA Freedom Act can come no earlier than 1 a.m., Tuesday. Senate Republican aides said they expected some amendments, but no major revisions to the bill.

“Having gone past the brink, the Senate must now embrace the necessity of acting responsibly,” said Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House intelligence committee, in a statement after Sunday’s Senate vote.

The high-stakes drama played out as Congress debated the most significant changes prompted by the disclosures of Edward Snowden, the former NSA contractor who revealed the phone records collection and other main surveillance programs. With no deal reached in time, the NSA stopped collecting American phone records at 3:59 p.m. EST Sunday, officials said.

Other authorities that expired allowed the FBI to collect business records in terrorism and espionage investigations, and to more easily eavesdrop on a suspect who is discarding cell phones to avoid surveillance.

Intelligence officials publicly warned of danger, but were not deeply concerned with a lapse of a few days or weeks, given that the authorities remain available in pending investigations. What they most fear is a legislative impasse that could doom the programs permanently.

“The Senate took an important_if late_step forward tonight,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said in a statement. “We call on the Senate to ensure this irresponsible lapse in authorities is as short-lived as possible.”

President Barack Obama supports the USA Freedom Act, which ends NSA bulk collection of U.S. phone records but allows the agency to search records held by the phone companies. That bill, which preserves the other expiring provisions, passed the House overwhelmingly May 13.

Senate Republicans blocked that legislation on May 23, arguing that it undercut the NSA’s ability to quickly search the records. It fell three votes short of the 60 needed to advance.

But with no other options, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, in an about-face, reluctantly embraced the House-passed bill Sunday night.

“It’s not ideal but, along with votes on some modest amendments that attempt to ensure the program can actually work as promised, it’s now the only realistic way forward,” McConnell said.

The Senate then voted 77-17 to move ahead on the USA Freedom Act.

McConnell was boxed in by the actions of his fellow Kentucky Republican, Paul, who helped stymy the leader’s attempt to pass an extension of current law. Paul objected each time McConnell attempted to bring that measure to a vote.

Paul opposes the USA Freedom Act as not going far enough. But, he predicted , the USA Freedom Act “will ultimately pass.”

Earlier, in a fiery speech decrying NSA surveillance, he shouted, “This is what we fought the revolution over, are we going to so blithely give up our freedom? … I’m not going to take it anymore.” Supporters wearing red “Stand With Rand” T-shirts packed the spectator gallery.

Paul’s moves infuriated fellow Republicans and they exited the chamber en masse when he stood up to speak after the Senate’s vote on the House bill.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. complained to reporters that Paul places “a higher priority on his fundraising and his ambitions than on the security of the nation.”

Paul, for his part, asserted that, “People here in town think I’m making a huge mistake. Some of them I think secretly want there to be an attack on the United States so they can blame it on me.”

Civil liberties groups were split. Some, including the ACLU, oppose the USA Freedom Act as too weak, and applauded the expiration of the surveillance laws. If the USA Freedom Act passes, the NSA would resume bulk phone records collection during a six month transition period to the new system.

“Congress should take advantage of this sunset to pass far-reaching surveillance reform, instead of the weak bill currently under consideration,” said Michael Macleod-Ball, acting director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office.

But that seemed unlikely. Liberal senators who have been aggressive in criticizing the NSA are backing the USA Freedom Act.

“I’m pleased Republicans joined with Democrats to do what’s responsible and support the passage of the USA Freedom Act,” said Sen. Martin Heinrich, a New Mexico Democrat. “This is a bipartisan compromise that would ensure that our intelligence community has the tools it needs to focus more narrowly on the records of actual terrorists, and end the bulk collection of law-abiding Americans’ private phone calls.”

 

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​CIA deceived government on torture program according to Senate report

A classified US Senate probe into the CIA’s post-9/11 interrogation program found that the agency purposely deceived the US Justice Department to attain legal justification for use of torture techniques, according to a new report.

The Senate Intelligence Committee’s investigation into the Bush administration’s detention and interrogation program – active from September 11, 2001 to 2006 – found that the CIA used interrogation methods not approved by the US Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel. Ultimately, the Committee found that the “Justice Department’s legal analyses were based on flawed information provided by the CIA,” McClatchy news service reported Friday.

“The CIA repeatedly provided inaccurate information to the Department of Justice, impeding a proper legal analysis of the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program,” the report found, according to McClatchy.

The Senate’s probe, which yielded a yet-unreleased 6,300-page report, also found that the CIA distorted how many detainees it held in “black site” prisons throughout the world and how many were subjected to “enhanced interrogation techniques” many amount to torture. The CIA has claimed only about 30 detainees fell under the mercy of such methods.

“[The CIA is] trying to minimize the damage. They are trying to say it was a very targeted program, but that’s not the case,” said a former US official familiar with the Senate Committee’s four-year, US$40 million investigation.

McClatchy’s anonymous sources say the Senate report outlines 20 main conclusions about the post-9/11 torture program that – the investigation found – intentionally evaded White House, congressional, and intra-agency oversight.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the Senate Intelligence Committee’s chairwoman, quickly condemned McClatchy’s report on the classified conclusions of her committee’s investigation.

“If someone distributed any part of this classified report, they broke the law and should be prosecuted,” Feinstein said in a prepared statement. “The committee is investigating this unauthorized disclosure and I intend to refer the matter to the Department of Justice.”

McClatchy responded to Feinstein’s threat, asserting journalistic privilege and the public’s right to know in the face of persistent government secrecy and conceit.

“We are disappointed that Sen. Feinstein plans to seek a Justice Department investigation of our journalism,” said James Asher, McClatchy’s Washington bureau chief. “We believe that Americans need to know what the CIA might have done to detainees and who is responsible for any questionable practices, which is why we have vigorously covered this story.”

In justifying its interrogation methods in order to win the Justice Department’s legal approval, the CIA told the Office of Legal Counsel that repeated use of torture like waterboarding “will not be substantial because the techniques generally lose their effectiveness after several repetitions.”

The CIA reportedly waterboarded detainees Abu Zubaydah and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed 83 and 183 times, respectively. They weren’t the only prisoners to be waterboarded or subjected to other harsh methods of interrogation, as has been reported for some time.

In its long-suppressed 2002 memo justifying these tactics, the Office of Legal Counsel said that it did not find “harsh interrogation techniques” to be illegal – pursuant to US and international law banning torture – based on information provided by the CIA. The Office of Legal Counsel added that “if these facts were to change, this advice would not necessarily apply.”

A 2004 report by the CIA’s inspector general found that the CIA had gone outside legal parameters in its interrogation activities. The internal watchdog said at the time that the “continued applicability of the DOJ opinion” was in question given the CIA had told the Justice Department that it would utilize waterboarding in the same manner the tactic was used in US military training for personnel in case of enemy capture. The inspector general report found that the CIA used waterboarding in a “manner different” than the military’s Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape training.

In addition, the CIA did not keep track of detainees captured under the program, the Senate report found, according to McClatchy.

“The CIA did not conduct a comprehensive or accurate accounting of the number of individuals it detained and held individuals who did not meet the legal standard for detention,” the probe found. “The CIA’s claims about the number of detainees held and subjected to its enhanced interrogation techniques were inaccurate.”

“The CIA’s records were hazy, inconsistent and at times inaccurate,” the former US official told McClatchy.

In a separate report published by Al Jazeera America on Thursday, US government sources claimed the Senate report also found that Britain had allowed the US to run a “black site” prison on the Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia in order to secretly hold suspects sans accountability.

The Diego Garcia prison held some “high-value” detainees and was operated under the “full cooperation” of the British government, Al Jazeera America reported citing US officials familiar with the Senate report.

Earlier this month, anonymous US officials with knowledge of the Senate investigation told the Washington Post that CIA officials lied to the government and public about the efficacy of their torture methods in accumulating reliable and valuable information from detainees.

Last week, the Senate Intelligence Committee voted to send their report’s 480-page executive summary, the findings, and conclusions to the White House for potential declassification ahead of public release.

The Committee and the CIA have in recent weeks gone back and forth with accusations of spying, meddling, and misrepresentation, highlighting an ongoing feud between the agency and the Committee since the Senate probe began in 2009.

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House to Vote on Bill to Stop ‘Imperial Presidency’ Next Week

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House Republican Conference Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers (Wash.) and Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R., Calif.) laid out their plans to counter President Barack Obama’s executive overreach, in a conference call Thursday.

The House will continue its efforts to push back against the “imperial presidency” next week, by voting on additional legislation that would allow Congress to challenge executive moves in federal court.

“Clearly President Obama has taken the über presidency to a whole new level,” McMorris Rodgers said. “While it’s not new for presidents to stretch their constitutional limits of power, executive overreach has accelerated at a faster pace under President Obama.”

“Throughout his tenure we have witnessed a pattern,” she said. “When the president disagrees with laws, he ignores them. And now that Obamacare isn’t working, President Obama is rewriting his own law on a whim.”

“He may have his pen and his phone, but we have the Constitution, and we must abide by it,” McMorris Rodgers said.

Republican complaints against Obama’s unilateral actions were only exacerbated this week when the administration announced that individuals would be able to keep their so-called “substandard” health insurance plans that do not comply with Obamacare until October 2017.

“This is just another example of the president picking and choosing portions of the law that he wants to enforce,” McMorris Rodgers said. “If you’ve spent any time around the legislative process, you know that there’s a big difference between the word ‘shall’ and ‘may.’ And you don’t have the choice when you are implementing the law to decide that you’re going to treat it as a ‘may.’ And that is what this president is doing.”

“[Obama] is unilaterally deciding what portions of the law he is going to implement and how and when he’s going to go about that,” she said.

Chairman Issa, who has led the push against the IRS targeting of conservative groups, said what is more concerning is the lack of transparency by the Obama administration.

Overreach at the IRS stands out, Issa said, while other abuses go unnoticed.

“The harder ones are simple discovery,” he said. “Every committee of the Congress has asked for and not received information on areas [such as] Benghazi, Fast and Furious, investigations of wrongdoing often having nothing directly to do with the president.”

“But repeatedly the president—who promised us the most transparent administration—has been the least willing to cooperate with Congress’ need to hold people accountable,” Issa said.

The lawmakers said H.R. 4138, the “ENFORCE the Law Act,” sponsored by Rep. Trey Gowdy (R., S.C.) is the best solution to ensure the president abides by Article II, section 3, the obligation to faithfully execute the law.

“It would be a clear delineation that Congress, either the House or the Senate, on behalf of the American people would have the ability to bring to the courts, just as an individual might if they have been harmed by their government, a concern about an executive order, or any overreach or misuse of the law,” Issa said.

The bill would authorize the House or Senate to sue the executive branch for not enforcing laws and provide an expedited process through federal district courts.

“This expedited review is crucial in order to ensure that when a lawsuit is brought against the administration to enforce our laws, the courts not only grant Congress standing, but also hear the case on an expedited timeline to prevent the president from stalling the litigation until his term is up,” Gowdy’s office said when announcing the legislation.

Gowdy said the most recent Obamacare delay emphasizes the need for his legislation.

“The latest delay once again illustrates how the president will unilaterally change a law to suit his political needs—even if it is his signature piece of legislation, the Affordable Care Act,” he said in a statement to the Washington Free Beacon.

“The administration is rewriting our laws by administrative fiat. This is not how our system was designed to work and the American people expect us to step up and take a stand,” Gowdy said.  “The ENFORCE the Law Act is one more remedy Congress can use to rein in executive overreach.”

Issa said the bill is the “perfect example” of what the House can do to “push back against any imperial presidency.”

“The left is constantly bringing suits to the EPA based on not doing enough on clean air and clean water and so on, and they’re always granted standing and then ultimately they often are forcing the EPA through ‘sue and settle’ to do things,” he said. “And yet when the president does something through executive order, or the EPA does something beyond their jurisdiction, it’s very hard to get into court. So this is a really smart way to do it.”

The House is expected to vote on the bill next week. Though Democrats control the Senate, Issa said Republicans are serious about advancing the legislation and could attach it to a “must-pass” bill, such as a budgetary measure, to force the Senate’s hand.

“One of the biggest challenges that we’ve had, specifically related to Obamacare, is that no one has standing in court yet,” McMorris Rodgers said. “Members in the House of Representatives have a responsibility to the people that we represent— 700,000 a piece.”

House to Vote on Bill to Stop ‘Imperial Presidency’ Next Week | Washington Free Beacon.

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CIA watchdog reportedly asks DOJ to probe allegations of spying on Senate staffers

Feb. 7, 2013: CIA Director nominee John Brennan testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington.AP

Feb. 7, 2013: CIA Director nominee John Brennan testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington.AP

The CIA Inspector General’s Office reportedly has asked the Justice Department to review allegations that the spy agency monitored the computers of Senate staffers who were preparing a report on the detention and interrogation of terror suspects.

The New York Times and McClatchy reported on the details of the mysterious case. Lawmakers have until now said little on the record, other than a vague allegation from a senator that the CIA had taken “unprecedented action.”

But, in response to published reports, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., said Wednesday that the alleged spying, if true, “would be an extremely serious matter” and could “violate federal law.”

CIA Director John Brennan on Wednesday said he was “deeply dismayed” that some Senate members made the allegations that “are wholly unsupported by the facts.”

“I am very confident that the appropriate authorities reviewing this matter will determine where wrongdoing, if any, occurred in either the executive branch or legislative branch,” Brennan said in a statement. “Until then, I would encourage others to refrain from outbursts that do a disservice to the important relationship that needs to be maintained between intelligence officials and Congressional overseers.”

The American Civil Liberties Union on Wednesday also flagged the allegations as a potentially serious breach. “If it turns out that the CIA was spying on the Senate committee that oversees the agency, it would be an outrageous violation of separation of powers,” Christopher Anders, senior legislative counsel with the American Civil Liberties Union, said in a statement.

The Times reported Wednesday that CIA officers gained access to the computer networks used by the Senate Intelligence Committee and that an initial investigation by the agency’s inspector general was begun in response to complaints by members of Congress that the staffers were being improperly monitored.

The Times also reported that CIA officials began the alleged monitoring after suspecting that the Senate staffers had unauthorized access to agency documents during the course of their investigation, which has been ongoing for four years and cost approximately $40 million.

McClatchy reported Wednesday that the yet-to-be-released Senate report is expected to harshly criticize the detention and interrogation program, with special attention on how the CIA reportedly misled the Bush White House and Congress about the specific interrogation tactics used. The report is also expected to conclude that the techniques did not provide intelligence that led to the Pakistan compound where Usama bin Laden was killed by Navy SEALs in 2011.

The report has not been declassified, but Brennan challenged several facts in the report as well as the intelligence value conclusion in a rebuttal published last June. This past December, Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., said that the committee was aware of an internal CIA study that largely agreed with the report and contradicted Brennan’s rebuttal.

The Times reported that Udall’s statement set in motion the agency’s monitoring and prompted a letter from Udall to President Obama Tuesday.

“The CIA has recently taken unprecedented action against the committee in relation to the internal CIA review,” the letter reportedly said, “and I find these actions to be incredibly troubling for the committee’s oversight responsibilities and for our democracy.”

via CIA watchdog reportedly asks DOJ to probe allegations of spying on Senate staffers | Fox News.

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