National Security Brief: The Battle Over NSA Surveillance Just Beginning


wyden-udallThe House last week narrowly defeated an amendment to a defense spending bill that sought to limit the scope of the NSA’s counterterror surveillance, but as the New York Times reports on Monday, “what began on the political fringes only a week ago has built a momentum that even critics say may be unstoppable, drawing support from Republican and Democratic leaders, attracting moderates in both parties and pulling in some of the most respected voices on national security in the House.”

Indeed, the Senate Intelligence Committee’s top Republican said on Sunday that the NSA should be reined in. “I do think that we’re going to have to make some changes to make things more transparent,” Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) said on ABC’s This Week.

The Times adds that House members will soon be introducing legislation “that would restrict phone surveillance to only those named as targets of a federal terrorism investigation, make significant changes to the secret court that oversees such programs and give businesses like Microsoft and Google permission to reveal their dealings before that court.”

Even Rep. Mike Rogers (R-MI), the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee and a supporter of the NSA programs, has said that he plans to include privacy safeguards in a new intelligence policy bill he plans to introduce in the coming months.

Others have said they plan to try to change the way the secret court authorizing NSA surveillance operates. Currently, the court hears only one side of an argument on whether to authorize spying on a specific target. “There should be another step here,” Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) said on Sunday. “These FISA courts, there should be a real court proceeding. In this case it’s fixed in a way, it’s loaded. There’s only one case coming before the FISA court, the government’s case. Let’s have an advocate for someone standing up for civil liberties.”

The New York Times editorialized on Monday that FISA court reform should go one step further, “the method by which the court’s judges are chosen.” The Times notes that “[a]ll 11 of the current members were assigned to the court by Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. In the nearly eight years he has been making his selections, Chief Justice Roberts has leaned about as far right as it is possible to go. Ten of those 11 members were appointed to the bench by Republican presidents; the two previous chief justices put Republican-appointed judges on the court 66 percent of the time, as reported by Charlie Savage in The Times.”

In other news:

  • The Washington Post reports: The first substantive peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians in years will begin Monday evening in Washington, the Obama administration announced, after Israeli leaders agreed Sunday to release 104 Palestinian prisoners.
  • Los Angeles Times reported on Sunday: Hoping to appease right-wing lawmakers opposed to restarting Palestinian peace talks, Israel’s coalition government Sunday approved a draft bill that would require — if passed by the Knesset — that a proposed deal be approved by voters in a referendum.
  • Reuters reports: Lawmakers in the U.S. House of Representatives are due to vote on a tough Iran sanctions bill this week that seeks to squeeze the Islamic Republic’s oil exports to a trickle.
  • The New York Times reports: The Obama administration’s response was once again muted on Sunday after the second mass killing of Egyptian demonstrators in three weeks, as Western diplomats worked behind the scenes to calm the tensions, and lawmakers expressed scant support for cutting off American aid to Egypt.