Tags: Rand Paul Seeks Senate Showdown Sunday on Spying

Rand Paul Seeks Senate 'Showdown' Sunday on Spying

Friday, 29 May 2015 06:59 PM

Republican presidential candidate Rand Paul said he’s ready for a “spying showdown” when the Senate holds a rare Sunday session, a sign he isn’t relenting in his fight against renewing anti-terrorism programs set to expire Monday.

Paul, of Kentucky, asked supporters in an e-mail Friday to join him in opposing National Security Agency spying. Three surveillance provisions of the USA Patriot Act are set to expire at 12:01 a.m. Monday. Like any U.S. senator Paul has the ability to tie the chamber in procedural knots.

“We fought a revolution over this,” Paul told a Republican Party meeting Friday in Rock Hill, South Carolina. “John Adams said that the spark that led to the American Revolution was James Otis’ fight against general warrants,” Paul said, referring to the colonial Massachusetts lawyer credited with popularizing the phrase, “Taxation without representation is tyranny.”

Paul said there was no deal on the NSA provisions that could meet civil libertarians’ demands and there’s been “no communication with anyone that’s interested in negotiating.”

President Barack Obama’s administration warns that failing to renew the spying measures will put the U.S. at risk for terrorist attacks.

Obama Decries

The president, a number of lawmakers and a coalition of companies and technology groups are urging senators to pass the proposed USA Freedom Act, which would prohibit the government from collecting telephone records in bulk while renewing three other anti-terrorism programs.

Obama on Friday decried the “handful of senators who are resisting these reforms.” After meeting with Attorney General Loretta Lynch in the Oval Office, Obama told reporters that letting the provisions expire, even temporarily, puts the nation at risk.

“I don’t want us to be in a situation in which for a certain period of time, those authorities go away and suddenly we’re dark,” Obama said. “Heaven forbid we’ve got a problem where we could’ve prevented a terrorist attack or apprehended someone who was engaged in dangerous activity but we didn’t do so simply because of inaction in the Senate.”

The bill, passed by the House 338-88 on May 13, would require the NSA to get court warrants to obtain individual phone records held by telecommunication companies.

’Fundraising Gimmicks’

“I think this whole thing is ridiculous,” Representative Devin Nunes, a California Republican and chairman of the House intelligence committee, said in a phone interview. Nunes sponsored the House bill. “It may be a joke to some and nice fundraising gimmicks, but at the end of the day it won’t be funny if somebody gets killed,” he said.

Other Republicans led by Senator Majority Leader Mitch McConnell oppose the bill for different reasons than Paul. They’re unconvinced the government will have adequate technology to search phone records held by carriers. McConnell, with Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr, a Republican from North Carolina, was seeking changes to the bill.

The bill, H.R. 2048, fell three votes short of the 60 needed to advance in the Senate on May 23. Even if it got enough votes on Sunday, Paul could delay further action beyond the expiration of the three surveillance provisions.

’Important Capability’

Without the provisions “the intelligence community will lose important capabilities,” Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said in a statement. “We would lose entirely an important capability that helps us identify potential U.S. based associates of foreign terrorists.”

Those measures allow investigators to seize targeted phone, hotel and banking records of suspected terrorists and spies; use roving wiretaps; and use tools to search for lone-wolf terrorists not connected to an organization. Other NSA surveillance methods would continue unchanged.

With an expiration, the government wouldn’t be able to collect and store bulk phone records. Instead, investigators would have to get a court warrant and go to phone companies to obtain individual records.

Roving wiretaps enable investigators to track suspected terrorists who change the devices they use to communicate, without having to get a court warrant for each device. If the authority expired, the FBI maintains it would be able to continue using roving wiretaps that were already approved but couldn’t begin new ones, senior administration officials told reporters on May 27.

Lone Wolf

The authority allowing the government to track so-called lone wolf terrorists has never been used, said the officials, who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity.

McConnell is seeking a two-month extension of current NSA spying authority to let lawmakers craft an agreement. That proposal didn’t even get a majority in the Senate on May 23.

McConnell’s spokesman, Don Stewart, has reported no progress this week deciding what the Senate will do Sunday.

The House returns to Washington on Monday, meaning the three programs would temporarily expire unless the Senate passed the USA Freedom Act unchanged. Nunes said the Senate on Sunday might alter the measure in an effort to get enough votes to move it forward.

Certifying Technology

“My best guess as to how they would proceed would be some type of amendment to USA Freedom that could get to 60 votes,” Nunes said. He predicted that whatever gets 60 votes in the Senate would also be passed by the House.

Nunes said lawmakers may decide to add language requiring the government to certify technology exists to get phone data held by telephone companies. If the technology didn’t exist, the timeline for ending the NSA program could be extended.

The idea would be “to say why don’t we give them two years to make that happen and insist on some kind of certification that it’s really working before we get rid of the program,” said Stewart Baker, former NSA general counsel and now a partner at the Washington law firm Steptoe & Johnson LLP.

Another possible amendment could be requiring phone companies to retain records for a certain period of time to ensure they’re available for counterterrorism investigations, Baker said in an interview with Bloomberg TV.

Nunes said he has spoken with senators about possible amendments and is available to examine proposals. He said he will return to Washington on Sunday though he would come back earlier if a deal was reached.

Game Plan

“I assume it will start to coalesce over the weekend. I assume they’ll have a game plan on Sunday,” he said.

Paul is seeking votes on amendments that would prohibit the government from collecting bulk records and ensure there aren’t constitutional violations in other spy programs. Paul’s spokeswoman, Jillian Lane, declined by e-mail Friday to describe the specific amendments Paul wants a vote on.

Two House Republicans who oppose the government surveillance were on hand for the chamber’s brief, pro-forma session Friday to make sure no vote would be held to extend the Patriot Act provisions.

“We had double-fail-safe protection on the floor,” Representative Tom Massie of Kentucky said. Massie and Representative Justin Amash of Michigan said letting the Patriot Act provisions expire would be the best outcome.

“We want to make sure we’re here as a backstop to make sure we prevent anything from going through that would violate the rights of Americans,” Amash said.

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Republican presidential candidate Rand Paul said he's ready for a "spying showdown" when the Senate holds a rare Sunday session, a sign he isn't relenting in his fight against renewing anti-terrorism programs set to expire Monday.
Rand Paul Seeks Senate Showdown Sunday on Spying
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2015-59-29
Friday, 29 May 2015 06:59 PM
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