Lawmakers: Surveillance Reports to Congress 'Misleading'

Image: Lawmakers: Surveillance Reports to Congress 'Misleading'

Thursday, 11 Jul 2013 12:21 PM

By Sandy Fitzgerald

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The Obama administration offered misleading reports about national security programs, lawmakers tasked with overseeing policies are complaining.

Officials have either outright denied collecting information about millions of people, or have in many cases, left the impression that only information on certain cases is collected, The Washington Post reports.

“The national security state has grown so that any administration is now not upfront with Congress,” said New York Democratic Rep. Jerrold Nadler, a senior member of the House Judiciary Committee. “It’s an imbalance that’s grown in our government, and one that we have to cleanse.”

The most recent denials came from James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, who told the Senate Intelligence Committee in March that the government does not collect information about millions of Americans. He later apologized, said his statements were "erroneous," after National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden publicly disclosed such programs two months later.

Clapper explained in a letter to Democratic Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Dianne Feinstein of California that he was “faced with the challenge of trying to give an unclassified answer about our intelligence collection activities, many of which are classified.”

Clapper said he mistakenly answered questions about more restricted eavesdropping on actual telephone conversations under Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act authorities, and did not realize Democrat Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon was asking about another section of the Patriot Act.

Wyden, who questioned Clapper in March, told The Post that Clapper's statements, when taken along with Justice Department reports that the cases were investigated in a manner much like that done in a grand jury investigation, have made it "impossible for the public or Congress to have a genuinely informed debate" about surveillance.

“These statements gave the public a false impression of how these authorities were actually being interpreted,” said Wyden, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee. “The disclosures of the last few weeks have made it clear that a secret body of law authorizing secret surveillance overseen by a largely secret court has infringed on Americans’ civil liberties and privacy rights without offering the public the ability to judge for themselves whether these broad powers are appropriate or necessary.”

Obama administration officials, claim they are being as transparent as they can about sensitive classified programs, noting all House and Senate members were invited to classified briefings in 2010 and 2011 to discuss the programs.

However, the information given during some of those meetings was also confusing, reports The Post. When Justice Department officials appeared at hearings in 2009 and 2011, two top officials told lawmakers \ the government's authority in national security cases was "roughly analogous” to that available to FBI agents investigating crimes using grand jury subpoenas.

Justice Department spokesman Brian Fallon stood by the testimony, saying "the statute itself describes the program in this way."

Some lawmakers, though, say the testimony offered no indication that all Americans were subject to surveillance. “I don’t know if it was an outright lie, but it was certainly misleading to what was going on,” said Nadler.

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