Democratic Sen. Jeff Merkley, who has led criticism of the Obama administration for keeping Congress in the dark about National Security Agency surveillance, last year skipped a briefing where he would have learned about the program.
The meeting was Nov. 27 on Capitol Hill with Director of National Intelligence James Clapper; Lisa Monaco, then-National Security Division chief at the Justice Department; Bob Litt, general counsel for the director of national intelligence; and Rajesh De, NSA general counsel, BuzzFeed reports.
Two other senators, Merkley's fellow Oregonian Ron Wyden and Colorado's Mark Udall, attended the briefing. The three Democrats had requested the meeting together.
The purpose of the meeting was to brief the senators on how the government was using Section 702, which is the legal provision that the NSA used to create the PRISM surveillance program that was leaked to journalists last week by technology consultant Edward Snowden.
However, an unidentified source told BuzzFeed that Merkley left the meeting early because of a scheduled appearance on MSNBC's "HardballWith Chris Matthews."
During an appearance last week on MSNBC, Merkley responded to President Barack Obama's charge that the NSA surveillance program is something that Congress not only discussed, but authorized.
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Merkley said he "had no idea about" PRISM.
"I don't know how many people knew about it in Congress, but I suspect a very small number on the intelligence committees," the first-term senator said. "And so when the president says all — I think he said all members of Congress, or full disclosure to all your members — I think very small number of senators and congressmen have full details on these programs."
"I certainly never heard of it," he said in a separate appearance on the same network. "I doubt that more than the intelligence committee would have known about that."
Merkley's office admitted that he had missed the meeting, but said he is still disturbed by the activities of the NSA.
"Sen. Merkley is deeply concerned about the privacy of American citizens and the scope of government data collection, and has sought out various information in that regard," a Merkley spokesman said. "In this case, Sen. Merkley thought the meeting would be on an area that he had already been briefed on, and when conflicts arose he missed the meeting."
Another aide told BuzzFeed that "there was no reason for the senator to believe this was going to be a meeting about this new wide-ranging surveillance program."
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