Lawmakers Deny Knowing About Cell Phone, Internet Tracking

Saturday, 08 Jun 2013 10:07 AM

By Sandy Fitzgerald

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Congressional intelligence briefing sessions have not included details about President Barack Obama’s data-gathering programs, despite claims by the president that Congress approved the measures and “every member” knew about them, Republican Rep. Aaron Schock said.

“I can assure you the phone number tracking of non-criminal, non-terrorist suspects was not discussed,” the Illinois lawmaker told Politico. “Most members have stopped going to their classified briefings because they rarely tell us anything we don’t already know in the news. It really has become a charade.”

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Responding to the furor over the National Security Agency’s data monitoring programs, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky introduced legislation Friday that requires a warrant be issued before any government agency can search phone records of Americans.

Paul calls the revelation of the program to collect phone records of millions of Verizon customers “an astounding assault on the Constitution.”

But meanwhile, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle deny Obama’s claims that they knew about plans to monitor cell phone and Internet use of Americans, and many said they either learned of the programs through the news or after asking specifically to be briefed.

Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said that the average member of Congress doesn’t receive such briefings, and would not have know about programs to monitor cell phone records and Internet use unless they were on an intelligence committee, like Schock, were in special sessions in 2011 or asked to be briefed.

Durbin said he only learned about the two programs after asking for a briefing after being urged by Democratic Sen Ron Wyden of Oregon.

And while Obama said members of Congress “could raise those issues very aggressively,” Democratic Sen. Barbara Mikulski of Maryland told Attorney General Eric Holder Thursday that the news that Congress was “fully briefed” came as a surprise to her and other lawmakers.

“This ‘fully briefed’ is something that drives us up the wall, because often ‘fully briefed’ means a group of eight leadership; it does not necessarily mean relevant committees,” Mikulski said.

Briefings were made available, and regularly given to those on House and Senate intelligence committees, but weren’t offered -- except by request -- to other lawmakers.
The Senate Intelligence Committee has in the past invited all 100 senators to read a classified report concerning “roving authority for electronic surveillance” in a secure location in the Hart Senate Office Building, but Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said she does not know how many actually read the report.

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In addition, nine senators and 61 congressmen have taken office after the 2010 and 2011 briefings, and new members like Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas say they were not informed of either program without asking about it.

“Americans trusted President Obama when he came to office promising the most transparent administration in history,” Cruz said Friday. “But that trust has been broken and the only way to earn it back is to tell the truth.”

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