National Security Brief: House Defeats Measure To Scale Back NSA Dragnet


NSA Headquarters

NSA Headquarters (Credit: Getty)

Democrats and Republicans joined together on Wednesday to defeat an amendment to the Defense appropriations bill that would have restricted the National Security Agency’s ability to collect Americans’ phone records.

The amendment — sponsored by Reps. Justin Amash (R-MI) and John Conyers (D-MI) — was defeated by a vote of 205-217 in what the New York Times described as “a rare instance in which a classified intelligence program was openly discussed on the House floor, and disagreements over the program led to some unusual coalitions”:

Conservative Republicans leery of what they see as Obama administration abuses of power teamed up with liberal Democrats long opposed to intrusive intelligence programs. The Obama administration made common cause with the House Republican leadership to try to block it.

While the House Democratic leadership also apposed the measure, the Washington Post notes the significance of the vote, “the ability of Amash and Conyers to bring the measure to the House floor as an amendment to a Defense Department appropriations bill — and their ability to get more than 200 votes in their favor — was a testament to lawmakers’ growing concerns about the NSA’s bulk collection of data.”

NSA Director Gen. Keith Alexander spent hours on Capitol Hill lobbing members to vote against the measure and House Intelligence Committee chair Rep. Mike Rogers (R-MI) blasted his colleagues. “What they’re talking about doing is turning off a program that after 9/11 we realized we missed — we the intelligence community — missed a huge clue,” he said.

Rep. Jarod Nadler (D-NY), however, noted that the momentum is on the side of reining in the NSA programs, saying that the section of the PATRIOT Act that is used to authorize the spying dragnet is “going to end — now or later. The only question is when and on what terms.”

In other news:

  • The Guardian reports: The first talks between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators for almost three years are scheduled to begin in Washington next Tuesday, according to an Israeli minister. The statement was not immediately confirmed by officials from either side.
  • The Hill reports: The cost to run the detention facility at Guantánamo Bay in 2013 is $454 million — a figure significantly higher than previous estimates, according to a new Pentagon assessment.
  • Reuters reports: The top U.S. military officer said on Wednesday he was cautious over recommending armed intervention in Syria, concerned that ill-conceived action could turn the country into a failed state.
  • Reuters also reports: Syrian authorities are blocking access to the old city of Homs, where trapped civilians are in dire need of food and medical supplies, the Red Cross said on Wednesday, warning of possible “tragic” consequences.