Here’s why things get passed by Congress that they later regret….From Representative Justin Amash:
A leader of the US congressional insurrection against the National Security Agency’s bulk surveillance programs has accused his colleagues of withholding a key document from the House of Representatives before a critical surveillance vote.
Justin Amash, the Michigan Republican whose effort to defund the NSA‘s mass phone-records collection exposed deep congressional discomfort with domestic spying, said the House intelligence committee never allowed legislators outside the panel to see a 2011 document that described the surveillance in vague terms.
The document, a classified summary of the bulk phone records collection effort justified under Section 215 of the Patriot Act, was declassified by the Obama administration in late July.
The Justice Department and intelligence agencies prepared it for Congress before a 2011 vote to reauthorize the Patriot Act, and left it for the intelligence committees in Congress to make the document available to their colleagues.
“It is not acceptable for the intelligence committee, or any other committee, to withhold critically important information pertaining to a program prior to the vote,” Amash told the Guardian.
While the document does not go into great detail about the program, first revealed by the Guardian through documents provided by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, it does tell legislators that NSA is collecting phone records in “bulk” from Americans. The Obama administration and intelligence agencies have pointed to the availability of the document as an example of keeping Congress fully informed about controversial NSA surveillance.
“We believe that making this document available to all members of Congress, as we did with a similar document in December 2009, is an effective way to inform the legislative debate about the reauthorization of Section 215,” assistant attorney general Ronald Weich wrote to the Republican and Democratic leaders of the House intelligence committee on February 2 2011. The hundreds of members of Congress who did not serve on the intelligence committee were to be told they could read the document in a secured facility.
But Amash claimed on his Facebook page that never happened.
“I can now confirm that the House permanent select committee on intelligence did not, in fact, make the 2011 document available to representatives in Congress,” Amash wrote late Sunday, “meaning that the large class of representatives elected in 2010 did not receive either of the now declassified documents detailing these programs.”
A spokeswoman for the House intelligence committee, Susan Phelan, did not return a message from the Guardian on Monday. The committee staff said only Phelan was authorized to address the press.
But one of Amash’s Democratic colleagues, a former member of the House intelligence committee, backed Amash’s claim.
“I was not aware of the document,” Rush Holt, a New Jersey Democrat, told the Guardian.
“This is another example of the difficulty in Congress exerting any oversight of the intelligence community, because the information is frequently not made available to all members.”