One nation under surveillance
Local lawmakers remain mum on reports of government eavesdropping on American acitizens
By André Coleman 06/12/2013
Since The Guardian and The Washington Post first reported last week on widespread government surveillance of American Internet and telephone accounts, local congressional representatives Adam Schiff and Judy Chu have remained uncharacteristically mum on the controversy.
Neither lawmaker, both Democrats representing portions of Pasadena, provided statements about the revelations leaked to the press by former NSA employee Edward Snowden, 29. And neither personally returned calls made Monday and Tuesday seeking comment from the Pasadena Weekly on what they know about the National Security Agency spying program, code-named PRISM.
However, Congresswoman Barbara Lee, the only member of Congress to vote against the invasions of Afghanistan following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and Iraq, decried the spying operation.
“I voted against the PATRIOT Act, the overly broad law that the administration is using to justify this surveillance,” the Oakland Democrat told the Weekly Monday. “The right to privacy in this country is nonnegotiable.”
Shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks, Schiff, a former federal prosecutor who serves on the House Committee on Appropriations and the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, co-authored the PATRIOT Act, allowing authorities to enter the homes of suspected terrorists without a warrant and detain suspected terrorists indefinitely. The act also provided the government with broad surveillance powers.
Chu, who was elected to represent Pasadena after last year’s political redistricting, sits on the House Judiciary Committee. She serves as a member of the Judiciary Committee’s Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security Subcommittee.
“We have a system of checks and balances in place to protect our most basic civil liberties,” said Lee, also a member of the House Committee on Appropriations. “And while I believe that national security is paramount, we must move forward in a way that does not sacrifice our American values and freedoms.”
In the Senate, California Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein said there was never any secret among lawmakers about the government surveillance program. In fact, “As far as I know, this is the exact three-month renewal of what has been in place for the past seven years,” Feinstein said, according to a report appearing at Politico.com. “This renewal is carried out by the FISA [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court] under the business records section of the PATRIOT Act. Therefore, it is lawful. It has been briefed to Congress.
“I know that people are trying to get to us,” Feinstein said. “This is the reason why the FBI now has 10,000 people doing intelligence on counterterrorism. This is the reason for the national counterterrorism center that’s been set up in the time we’ve been active. It’s to ferret this out before it happens. It’s called protecting America.”
However, fellow Democratic Sen. Mark Udall of Colorado disagreed. “I think we ought to reopen the PATRIOT Act and put some limits on the amount of data that the National Security Agency is collecting,” Udall said on the ABC Sunday news program “This Week.” Udall called for a better balance between protecting the country against terrorist attacks and honoring and protecting Americans’ constitutional rights, including the Fourth Amendment’s protections against unwarranted searches and seizures.
In separate but related developments, Schiff on Tuesday introduced legislation that would end indefinite detentions of Americans by rescinding 2001’s Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF). And Lee has introduced a bill that would end CIA assassinations of America’s military and political enemies through the use of drones. Both bills, the authors claim, are aimed at ending the nearly 12-year-long War on Terror.
Under Schiff’s bill, the president would lose the ability to order the use of military force based on his sole determination of terrorist activities. Enacted shortly after 9/11, AUMF gives the president the power to use “force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons.”
Lee’s legislation, the Drones Accountability Act, would prohibit the CIA from launching lethal drone strikes and require the disclosure of legal opinions and justifications surrounding the use of drones.
“I’m convinced that if we do not repeal this authorization to use force that I voted against in 2001, we are going to see this state of perpetual war last forever,” Lee said earlier this year, referring to AUMF.
Earlier this week, calls for reforming the country’s national security state were punctuated by revelations by Snowden, who provided reporter Glenn Greenwald of The Guardian with details about the US surveillance program, which has been collecting records on domestic telephone calls and overseas Internet activity in the global hunt for terrorists.
In addition, The Guardian and The Post reported nine major Internet providers gave government agents access to their servers.
“The government has granted itself power it is not entitled to. There is no public oversight. The result is people like myself have the latitude to go further than they are allowed to,” Snowden told The Guardian.
Snowden’s claims came after a secret FISA court ruling, published in The Guardian, ordered Verizon Business Network Services to turn over details of phone calls made from April 25 to July 19. The paper also revealed that PRISM is able to extract details of online activities — including audio and video chats, photographs, e-mails, documents and other materials — from computers systems at Microsoft, Google, Apple and other Internet firms.
Schiff said the AUMF gives the president the power to wage an endless war. Members of the Bush and Obama administrations have claimed drone strikes and wiretaps are legal under the AUMF and the PATRIOT Act.
The Obama administration has come under fire over the past month for several alleged abuses of power, including wiretapping scandals involving a FOX News reporter and The Associated Press. Several right-wing groups are also claiming they have been unjustly audited by the Internal Revenue Service.
“When Congress passed the AUMF shortly after 9/11, we did not intend to authorize a war without end,” said Patrick Boland, Schiff’s communications director. “The cessation of our combat mission in Afghanistan next year is a logical end point for an authorization that now provides a poor description of the groups which threaten us, and an increasingly precarious legal rationale for going after them. As the president observed recently, if we don’t define the nature of the threat we face, it will define us.”
Since the AUMF was passed, the US has invaded Afghanistan and Iraq. The AUMF has also been used to justify strikes against al Qaeda operatives in other countries, according to Schiff, as well as the continued detention of accused terrorists at the Guantanamo Bay military prison in Cuba.
Schiff’s legislation would sunset the AUMF beginning in 2015, coinciding with the final group of American troops returning home from Afghanistan. Obama has said he supports repealing AUMF. In a speech presented at the National Defense University in May, Obama called on Congress to replace AUMF.
“I look forward to engaging Congress and the American people in efforts to refine, and ultimately repeal the AUMF’s mandate,” Obama said. “And I will not sign laws designed to expand this mandate further. Our systematic effort to dismantle terrorist organizations must continue. But this war, like all wars, must end.”