Not more than two weeks after he tried to defund the National Security Agency’s (NSA) surveillance programs of Americans, US Rep. Justin Amash claims documents were withheld by the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI) related to the program.
Amash claimed that the committee withheld a declassified 2011 document that explained in general terms the program he was seeking to defund. Amash said on his Facebook page that members elected in 2010, of which Amash is one, did not see this classified document when they came into office. Amash also claimed that not all members of Congress were privy to the document either.
Democratic US Rep. Rush Holt of New Jersey, who was elected in 1998, vouched for Amash’s claim saying, “I was not aware of the document.”
One particular supporter of the data mining program, California US Senator Dianne Feinstein, issued a statement before the amendment vote that Congress knew about the program in advance. Feinstein’s statement said the program, “has been reviewed and authorized by all three branches of government.” The wording of the statement implied that all three branches were adequately informed about the program. Amash’s assertion suggests this is untrue. Rather, it appears only certain members of Congress knew about the program and may have actively ensured that not all members learned about it.
A spokesperson for the HPSCI responded to Amash, saying that the representative had plenty of opportunities to learn about that document and others:
“Priot to voting on the PATRIOT Act reauthorization . . . Chairman [Michigan US Rep. Mike] Rogers hosted classified briefings to which all Members were invited to have their questions about these authorities answered. . . .
“Additionally, over the past two months, Chairman Rogers has hosted four classified briefings, with officials from the NSA and other agencies . . . and has invited all Republican Members to attend and receive additional classified briefings on the use of these tools from Committee staff.”
Amash’s battle for transparency still faces several hurdles as defenders of the robust surveillance programs making rounds in the media. On a Sunday morning talk show, former NSA chief, General Michael Hayden said, “There have been no abuses” of the programs. He also predicted that those programs would begin collecting even more data from Americans.
In March, the Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, testified before Congress that the NSA was not collecting the data of Americans. After the revelations of Edward Snowden became public, Clapper admitted to lying to Congress, calling it an “erroneous statement.” Clapper was not fired or disciplined, and now he is heading up efforts to provide independent reviews of the programs he inaccurately testified about months ago.
The exertions of Justin Amash to defend the privacy of Americans have not gone unnoticed, and he in fact came close to making a real dent in the national security state. However, with his new claim that documents were withheld, it may also show that his opponents are not laying down either.