Connect with us

Hi, what are you looking for?

Smart Income LibrarySmart Income Library


House GOP manage to reauthorize surveillance bill, but divisions remain

House Republicans managed to find a path to restructure a surveillance mechanism used by government agencies, momentarily overcoming divisions within the fractious conference that for months have foiled leadership plans to address the issue.

In a bipartisan vote, the House reauthorized a part of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) on Friday, 273-147. But stark opposition from another bipartisan group of lawmakers moved far-right members to compel a motion to reconsider the legislation, forcing the House to vote next week on defending the measure and stalling its passage to the Senate, which must act before a lapse occurs next Friday.

House GOP leadership’s goal to consider the bill by the end of this week almost did not happen after 19 far-right Republicans blocked debate on the measure Wednesday by voting against advancing beyond a procedural hurdle. The group took advantage of Republicans’ narrow two-vote majority to press demands for changes to the bill.

The divisions center on how to amend Section 702 of the FISA law. The post-9/11 provision gave U.S. spy agencies the ability to collect without a warrant the communications of noncitizens abroad who are suspected of threatening U.S. national security or whose emails and text messages might provide foreign intelligence. At issue is whether spy agencies can analyze communications by Americans who may have interacted with foreign targets, which privacy advocates on the far right and left say is unconstitutional.

The group that blocked debate on the bill Wednesday wanted Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) to include language to bar U.S. government agencies from buying Americans’ personal information from private data brokers and to require U.S. agencies to obtain a warrant before viewing communications by Americans swept up in overseas intelligence gathering.

Although Johnson included neither objective in the bill put up for floor debate Friday, he found a solution Thursday that appeased the hard-liners, agreeing to shorten the reauthorization window from five to two years. The speaker argued that doing so would allow far-right members a chance to incorporate their legislative changes under a Trump administration, if the former president is elected later this year.

Donald Trump also played a role in rallying support for the measure, saying at a news conference with Johnson on Friday that he is “not a big fan of FISA” but that changes “would come due in the early part of my administration on the basis that we live up to the polls.”

Johnson also promised a vote on a separate bill next week that would ban U.S. agencies from purchasing information on Americans from data companies.

The changes were enough to persuade hard-liners to drop their blockade Friday, allowing floor debate to proceed. But it did not prevent a suspenseful moment on the House floor when an amendment almost led to the adoption of language that would have forced the government to require a warrant if the FBI wants to analyze Americans’ communications swept up under Section 702.

Members of the far-right House Freedom Caucus were cheering and clapping for members of the far-left “Squad” and Congressional Progressive Caucus as they voted for the amendment.

The amendment, offered by a political odd couple, Reps. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.) and Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), was not adopted as it ended in a tie vote. The amendment would have dramatically changed the FISA bill, probably rendering it dead on arrival in the Senate. According to three Democrats familiar with the development, the White House whipped House Democrats to vote against it.

“I think we got closer than we’ve ever gotten before to making sure that the intelligence community does not continue to do warrantless surveillance on Americans,” Jayapal said. “At the end of the day, the White House and intelligence community have to take seriously the concern that so many of us across the aisle have.”

Far-right lawmakers were more aggressive in their blame and issued a warning to Republicans who supported the bill.

“Every one of these members who voted against a warrant requirement, they are the deciding vote. They own it, and some of them may see me showing up in their districts very soon to campaign against them,” Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) said.

Privacy and national security hawks have warred within the conference for months over how to address changes to Section 702, leading Johnson to twice pull consideration of several measures because of lagging support. Those arguing on the side of privacy say government agencies should require a warrant, while national-security-minded Republicans — and Democrats — say that adding warrants would severely affect agencies’ ability to thwart terrorist activity.

The Biden administration has for months stressed the need to reauthorize Section 702, one of the most powerful foreign surveillance authorities in its arsenal. Section 702 provides more than 60 percent of the intelligence summarized in the president’s daily brief, administration officials have said.

Section 702 “contributed directly to us being able to take [al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-] Zawahiri off the battlefield,” National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said Friday. It helped identify the perpetrator of the ransomware attack against Colonial Pipeline, he said. “It helped us uncover Russian atrocities in Ukraine, including the forced relocation to Russia of Ukrainian children and attacks on Ukrainian refugees. And it helped us disrupt an assassination plot on U.S. soil against a dissident by a hostile foreign power.”

Kirby added: “It’s vital to our ability to defend ourselves, to defend the American people.”

Members of the House Intelligence Committee dominated floor debate early Friday to voice bipartisan support for the bill and encourage colleagues to vote against the amendment.

“There already is a warrant requirement for the protection of Americans and people who are here in the United States, ” Turner said. “This amendment … applies to the data that we collect in spying on Hamas, Hezbollah, the Chinese Communist Party. To give them a warrant, to give them constitutional protection, means they are open for business.”

That did not stop Trump’s supporters in the House from falsely claiming that without changes, the “weaponized” Justice Department under President Biden will continue to target Trump and other conservatives.

“The question today is, ‘Do you trust the government?’” Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) said. “The same intelligence community that spied on President Trump’s campaign has been deeply invested in reauthorizing FISA. … These are also the same people in the intelligence community who abused FISA and spied on hundreds of thousands of Americans, and I would argue, they’ll continue to do it.”

In response, Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-Tex.), a former Navy SEAL, tried to separate myths from facts.

“Myth: FISA is used to spy on Americans. The myth goes like this — if you queried an American’s name, you can see their inbox, but it’s not true. It’s used to spy on foreign intelligence targets, foreign terrorists, and you need a warrant to do so,” he said. “The reforms in here would stop in their tracks what happened to President Trump.”

Privacy advocates decried the bill’s passage without a warrant requirement. Elizabeth Goitein, senior director of the Brennan Center for Justice’s Liberty and National Security Program, characterized lawmakers who supported Friday’s vote as “a craven betrayal of the Americans who placed their faith in these members to protect their rights.”

Former national security officials, however, hailed the vote.

“The fact that there were such strong bipartisan votes for the surveillance amendments supported by the intelligence community suggested that many Congress members felt that the political optics of voting for the warrant requirement were irresistible,” said Glenn S. Gerstell, a former National Security Agency general counsel. “Ultimately, however, members recognized that the bill already addressed most of their concerns over privacy and would go a long way to preventing a recurrence of FBI compliance failures.”

Leigh Ann Caldwell and Liz Goodwin contributed to this report.

This post appeared first on The Washington Post

You May Also Like

Tech News

The new 2024 VanMoof S5 in Amsterdam where the majority of this UK-owned company still works. | Photo by Thomas Ricker / The Verge...

Editor's Pick

On this week’s edition of Stock Talk with Joe Rabil, Joe explains how to use one SMA to pinpoint great entries in pullback plays,...

Tech News

Rufino Choque, from the Urus Indigenous community, stands over a boat in the middle of the extinct Poopó Lake, which disappeared in 2015. |...

Editor's Pick

While the S&P 500 did manage to finish the week above tactical support at 5250, one of the most widely-followed macro technical indicators recently...