The Times West Virginian

Headline News

June 12, 2013

Congress briefed on surveillance programs

WASHINGTON — Dogged by fear and confusion about sweeping spy programs, intelligence officials sought to convince House lawmakers in an unusual briefing Tuesday that the government’s years-long collection of phone records and Internet usage is necessary for protecting Americans — and does not trample on their privacy rights.

But the country’s main civil liberties organization wasn’t buying it, filing the most significant lawsuit against the massive phone record collection program so far. The American Civil Liberties Union and its New York chapter sued the federal government Tuesday in New York, asking a court to demand that the Obama administration end the program and purge the records it has collected.

The ACLU is claiming standing as a customer of Verizon, which was identified last week as the phone company the government had ordered to turn over daily records of calls made by all its customers.

The parade of FBI and intelligence officials who briefed the entire House on Tuesday was the latest attempt to soothe outrage over National Security Agency programs which collect billions of Americans’ phone and Internet records. Since they were revealed last week, the programs have spurred distrust in the Obama administration from across the globe.

Several key lawmakers, including House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, refocused the furor Tuesday on the elusive 29-year-old former intelligence contractor who is claiming responsibility for revealing the surveillance programs to two newspapers. Boehner joined others in calling Edward Snowden a “traitor.”

But attempts to defend the NSA systems by a leading Republican senator who supports them highlighted how confusingly intricate the programs are — even to the lawmakers who follow the issue closely.

Explaining the programs to reporters, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a member of the Senate Armed Services and Judiciary committees, initially described how the NSA uses pattern analysis of millions of phone calls from the United States, even if those numbers have no known connection to terrorism. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper has vigorously maintained that there are strict limits on the programs to prevent intruding on Americans’ privacy, and senior officials quickly denied Graham’s description.

Graham later said he misspoke and that Clapper was right: The phone records are only accessed if there is a known connection to terrorism.

House lawmakers had more questions and, in many cases, more concerns about the level of surveillance by U.S. intelligence agencies Tuesday after FBI, Justice and other intelligence officials briefed them on the two NSA programs.

“Really it’s a debate between public safety, how far we go with public safety and protecting us from terrorist attacks versus how far we go on the other side,” said Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger of Maryland, top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee. “Congress needs to debate this issue.”

He said his panel and the Judiciary Committee would examine what has happened and see whether there are recommendations for the future.

Rep. Brad Sherman, D-Calif., like many members, said he was unaware of the scope of the data collection.

“I did not know 1 billion records a day were coming under the control of the federal executive branch,” Sherman said.

Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., said there was a lot of heated discussion and that, “Congress didn’t feel like they were informed.”

Cohen conceded many lawmakers had failed to attend classified briefings in previous years where they could have learned more. “I think Congress has really found itself a little bit asleep at the wheel,” he said.

One of the Senate’s staunchest critics of the surveillance programs put Clapper in the crosshairs, accusing him of not being truthful in March when he asked during a Senate hearing whether the NSA collects any data on millions of Americans. Clapper said it did not. Officials generally do not discuss classified information in public settings, reserving discussion on top-secret programs for closed sessions with lawmakers where they will not be revealed to adversaries.

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said he had been dissatisfied with the NSA’s answers to his questions and had given Clapper a day’s advance notice prior to the hearing to prepare an answer. Not fully believing Clapper’s public denial of the program, Wyden said he asked Clapper privately afterward whether he wanted to stick with a firm ‘no’ to the question.

On Tuesday, Wyden revealed his efforts to get Clapper to tell him about the program and called for hearings to discuss the programs. He was also among a group of senators who introduced legislation to force the government to declassify opinions of a secret court that authorizes the surveillance.

“The American people have the right to expect straight answers from the intelligence leadership to the questions asked by their representatives,” Wyden said.

Clapper’s spokesman did not comment on Wyden’s statement. But in an interview with NBC News earlier this week, Clapper said he “responded in what I thought was the most truthful or least most untruthful manner, by saying, ‘No,”’ because the program was classified.

The Senate Intelligence Committee will be briefed on the programs again Thursday.

Congressional leaders and intelligence committee members have been routinely briefed about the spy programs, officials said, and Capitol Hill has at least twice renewed laws approving them. But the disclosure of their sheer scope stunned some lawmakers, shocked foreign allies from nations with strict privacy protections and emboldened civil liberties advocates who long have accused the government of being too invasive in the name of national security.

On the heels of new polls showing a majority of Americans support some aspects of the spy programs, lawmakers defended the daily surveillance of billions of phone and Internet records that they said have helped make the U.S. safer in the years after the 9/11 attacks. A poll by The Washington Post and the Pew Research Center conducted over the weekend found Americans generally prioritize the government’s need to investigate terrorist threats over the need to protect personal privacy.

But a CBS News poll conducted June 9-10 showed that while most approve of government collection of phone records of Americans suspected of terrorist activity and Internet activities of foreigners, a majority disapproved of federal agencies collecting the phone records of ordinary Americans. Thirty percent agreed with the government’s assessment that the revelation of the programs would hurt the U.S.’ ability to prevent future terrorist attacks, while 57 percent said it would have no impact.

Instead, ire focused on Snowden, the CIA employee-turned-NSA contractor who admitted in an online interview that he exposed the programs in an attempt to safeguard American privacy rights from government snooping.

“He’s a traitor,” Boehner said on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”

“The disclosure of this information puts Americans at risk,” Boehner said. “It shows our adversaries what our capabilities are. And it’s a giant violation of the law.”

His comments echoed a growing chorus in Congress condemning Snowden’s actions.

“This is treason,” Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., said late Monday.

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., also chimed in Monday, calling the disclosure “an act of treason,” and that Snowden should be prosecuted.

Only one American — fugitive al-Qaida propaganda chief Adam Gadahn — has been charged with treason since the World War II era. A law enforcement official said prosecutors were building a case against Snowden on Tuesday and had not decided what charges would be brought against him.

The official spoke on condition of anonymity because there is no final decision on the charges. But it’s unlikely that Snowden would be charged with treason, which carries the death penalty as a punishment, and therefore could complicate extradition from foreign countries.

Snowden, who was formally fired Tuesday from his job with government contracting firm Booz Allen Hamilton, was last seen in Hong Kong. In a video interview with The Guardian newspaper, Snowden admitted to revealing the two classified NSA programs. U.S. officials have said Snowden would have had to sign a non-disclosure agreement to handle the classified material, and at the least could be prosecuted for violating it.

Snowden’s exact whereabouts were unknown Tuesday.

1
Text Only
Headline News
  • Obama Exporting Pollu_time.jpg ‘Not in my backyard’: U.S. sending dirty coal abroad

    As  the Obama administration weans the U.S. off dirty fuels blamed for global warming, energy companies have been sending more of America’s unwanted energy leftovers to other parts of the world where they could create even more pollution.
    This fossil fuel trade threatens to undermine President Barack Obama’s strategy for reducing the gases blamed for climate change and reveals a little-discussed side effect of countries acting alone on a global problem. The contribution of this exported pollution to global warming is not something the administration wants to measure, or even talk about.

    July 28, 2014 1 Photo

  • U.S.: Russia fired rockets into Ukraine

    Stepping up pressure on Moscow, the U.S. on Sunday released satellite images it says show that rockets have been fired from Russia into neighboring eastern Ukraine and that heavy artillery for separatists has crossed the border.
    The images, which came from the U.S. Director of National Intelligence and could not be independently verified by The Associated Press, show blast marks where rockets were launched and craters where they landed. Officials said the images show heavy weapons fired between July 21 and July 26 — after the July 17 downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17.

    July 28, 2014

  • Plan to simplify health renewals may backfire

    If you have health insurance on your job, you probably don’t give much thought to each year’s renewal. But make the same assumption in one of the new health law plans, and it could lead to costly surprises.
    Insurance exchange customers who opt for convenience by automatically renewing their coverage for 2015 are likely to receive dated and inaccurate financial aid amounts from the government, say industry officials, advocates and other experts.
    If those amounts are too low, consumers could get sticker shock over their new premiums. Too high, and they’ll owe the tax man later.

    July 28, 2014

  • W.Va. Judge: WVU, IMG College deal is OK

    A judge has denied a motion by West Virginia Radio Corp. to toss the media rights contract between West Virginia University and IMG College.
    Media outlets report Monongalia County business court circuit judge Thomas Evans set aside a motion for summary judgment against WVU and others.
    West Virginia Radio was seeking to void any contract entered by WVU and IMG. West Virginia Radio unsuccessfully bid on the contract, then filed a motion for summary judgment in February, claiming school officials violated state procurement laws.
    Evans ruled the code cited by the plaintiffs didn’t apply to the $86.5 million, 12-year agreement reached last year.

    July 28, 2014

  • Powerful storms rip through eastern U.S.

    Powerful storms raking across several states in the eastern U.S. on Sunday have destroyed at least 10 homes in Tennessee, and there were no immediate reports of any deaths or injuries, authorities said.

    July 27, 2014

  • Lawmakers say Obama too aloof with Congress

    President Barack Obama’s request for billions of dollars to deal with migrant children streaming across the border set off Democrats and Republicans. Lawmakers in both parties complained that the White House — six years in — still doesn’t get it when it comes to working with Congress.

    July 27, 2014

  • U.S. faces intelligence hurdles in downing of airliner

    A series of unanswered questions about the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 shows the limits of U.S. intelligence gathering even when it is intensely focused, as it has been in Ukraine since Russia seized Crimea in March.

    July 27, 2014

  • House approves bill to boost child tax credit for some

    More families with higher incomes could claim the popular child tax credit under a bill that won approval Friday in the House. But in a dispute that divides Republicans and Democrats, millions of the poorest low-income families would still lose the credit in 2018, when enhancements championed by President Barack Obama are set to expire.

    July 26, 2014

  • U.S.: Russia firing across border into Ukraine

    Russia is launching artillery attacks from its soil on Ukrainian troops and preparing to move heavier weaponry across the border, the U.S. and Ukraine charged Friday in what appeared to be an ominous escalation of the crisis.
    Russia accused Washington of lying and charged Ukraine with firing across the border on a Russian village. It also toughened its economic measures against Ukraine by banning dairy imports.

    July 26, 2014

  • U.N. school in Gaza in cross-fire; 15 killed

    A U.N. school in Gaza crowded with hundreds of Palestinians seeking refuge from fierce fighting came under fire Thursday, killing at least 15 civilians and leaving a sad tableau of blood-spattered pillows, blankets and children’s clothing scattered in the courtyard.

    July 25, 2014

House Ads
Featured Ads