This is a story about a Big Brother spying program that targets law-abiding Americans, and about executions of American citizens, without trial, ordered not by a judge but by President Obama, but the story begins with a crisis in water.
Yesterday, at a hearing of the House Committee on Rules, U.S. Representative Pete Visclosky testified that H.R. 5325, the Energy and Water Development and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, “does not come close to addressing the backlog that plagues waterborne infrastructure in the United States.” The bill takes away funding from projects by the Army Corps of Engineers to keep America’s dams from breaking, and also takes money away from an environmental fund that pays for mandatory cleanup of radioactive pollution resulting from America’s nuclear weapons arsenal. The reduced amount of money provided through H.R. 5325 is “insufficient to meet the federal government’s legal obligations to clean up its defense nuclear waste,” Visclosky reports.
The withdrawal of funding for basic environmental safety becomes all the more alarming when it is considered the government programs that are receiving funding instead. Section 303 of H.R. 5325 authorizes the continued funding of espionage programs, even without the passage of a separate authorization bill for those programs.
“Sec. 303. Funds appropriated by this or any other Act, or made available by the transfer of funds in this Act, for intelligence activities are deemed to be specifically authorized by the Congress for purposes of section 504 of the National Security Act of 1947 (50 U.S.C. 414) during fiscal year 2013 until the enactment of the Intelligence Authorization Act for fiscal year 2013.”
Keeping Big Brother spying programs that often target Americans who aren’t even suspected of criminal behavior is controversial, and opposition to the Intelligence Authorization Act may arise. So, it’s easier to keep those programs going with a little clause tacked into legislation that funds popular energy and water projects.
A few U.S. Representatives seem to have noticed this legislative maneuver, and have proposed amendments to limit, or enable oversight of, government surveillance programs. These include:
From Representative Rush Holt
Amendment 19: To “require the AG and DNI to reveal how many U.S. Persons had their domestic communications intercepted since the implementation of the FISA Amendments Act”
Amendment 20: To protect whistleblowers who report abuses taking place within surveillance programs created under laws such as the FISA Amendments Act
Amendment 21: Restricting the purposeful execution of Americans without trial
Amendment 22: To “require the Director of National Intelligence and Director of the CIA to publicly disclosure any legal opinions or memoranda used to justify the President’s target killing program against United States persons”
From Sheila Jackson Lee:
Amendment 2: To “prevent any of the funds authorized under this Act from being used to violate a person’s civil liberties”
These amendments all would protect the American people from the impact of the FISA Amendments Act, a law passed in 2008 that retroactively legalized George W. Bush’s massive electronic spying against millions of Americans and established a new electronic dragnet that’s watching and listening to Americans as they engage in legal but personal activity online, listening in to them as they make private telephone calls, and reading through their emails, all without any search warrant. Barack Obama once promised to reform the FISA Amendments Act, but now supports legislation that ensures that FISA spying against Americans will continue without reform for as long as he could possibly be President, even beyond a second term, if he should win one.
The Senate Intelligence Committee has already approved a FISA Amendments Act extension bill, in a secret vote in a closed-door meeting. The fate of the proposed amendments to H.R. 5325 that were considered yesterday by the House Rules Committee is the first sign of the chances of a larger effort to resist FISA Amendments Act renewal in the House. The way that the vote went down on these amendments yesterday, then, is a preview of how the struggle over government spying powers may continue as the summer progresses.
The signs are not positive. In a single vote, the Rules Committee chose to narrow the time period in which the amendments to H.R. 5325 can be offered, down to only a few minutes on the House floor. The committee vote was 3 to 7, with the majority voting to make it more difficult for the amendments to move forward.
At this very moment, the House Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security is holding a meeting on plans to extend the FISA Amendments Act all the way into 2017, without reform. I’ll report on this hearing later in the day.