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Posts tagged ‘Ron Wyden’

Reid Welcomes NSA Ruling, Is Open to Restrictive Legislation.

Joining other senators who welcomed a federal ruling that the National Security Agency’s cellphone snooping is likely unconstitutional, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid says he’s now open to legislation that would curb some of the agency’s data collection, two reports said.”We know that senators, both Democrats and Republicans, would like to change the law that relates to some of the collection activities,” Reid said Tuesday, according to Politico 
and the Huffington Post.

“I think that’s good, I think we need a good, public debate on this,” Reid said.

NSA critic Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., called Monday’s ruling by U.S. District Judge Richard Leon “a wake-up call to those who are supporting the status quo” that “puts at risk the liberties of the people and is damaging our economy.”

“I think our side is on the march,” he said, the Huffington Post reported.

But Reid said Leon’s ruling isn’t crystal-clear.

“All the rulings that have taken place on bulk collection, they don’t agree with what Leon said,” Reid said, the Huffington Post reported.

He’s not alone in his concern: Senate Intelligence Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein,D-Ca., one of the NSA’s biggest supporters, noted that a federal court decision last month ruled the NSA’s business records program constitutional, Politico reported.

But on “Andrea Mitchell Reports” on Tuesday, Feinstein eased up on her insistence, in an op-ed piece she wrote for The Wall Street Journal in October, that the program “is necessary and must be preserved if we are to prevent terrorist attacks.”

“I’m not saying it’s indispensable,” she said Tuesday. “But I’m saying that it is important, and it is a major tool in ferreting out a potential terrorist attack.”

Feinstein said that “only the Supreme Court can resolve the question on the constitutionality of the NSA’s program . . . I am very eager to see the court take this case. We will know once and for all,” the Huffington Post quoted her as saying.

Georgia Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss criticized Leon’s ruling, calling it “very disturbing,” Politico reported.

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© 2013 Newsmax. All rights reserved.

By Cathy Burke

Obama Won’t Release Senate Report on CIA Torture.

Image: Obama Won't Release Senate Report on CIA Torture

By Lisa Barron

The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence adopted a 6,300 page report on the CIA’s post-9/11 torture program a year ago — but it remains classified, meaning nobody else has seen it.

That’s because the Obama administration has yielded to pressure from a faction in the CIA to keep the agency’s rendition, detention, and interrogation tactics secret, The Atlantic reports.

Senators from both parties, however, have pushed the White House to make the contents of the report public.

Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona has said the report “confirms for me what I have always believed and insisted to be true—that the cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment of prisoners is not only wrong in principle and a stain on our country’s conscience, but also an ineffective and unreliable means of gathering intelligence.”

Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, who heads the intelligence committee, said she thinks releasing the information “will settle the debate once and for all over whether our nation should ever employ coercive interrogation techniques such as those detailed in this report.”

In addition, the study contradicts the belief that these techniques were what led to finding Osama bin Laden‘s courier, suggesting that “the CIA detainee who provided the most accurate information about the courier provided the information prior to being subjected to coercive interrogation techniques,” according to McCain, Feinstein, and Democratic Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, reports Politico Magazine.

And Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., told the publication that the reports details how “the CIA repeatedly provided inaccurate information about its interrogation program to the White House, the Justice Department, and Congress.”

The CIA reportedly sent a response to the report to Congress, criticizing many of its findings, but has apparently addressed just the bullet points that come before the executive summary.

Meanwhile, the Center for Victims of Torture is pressing not only for the release of the study but also for a response from the government.

“The Intelligence Committee’s 6,000-plus page report, containing more than 35,000 footnotes, is a serious and comprehensive review of the CIA’s past torture program. The report is a significant step to making sure the U.S. government does not return to official policies of torture and cruel treatment,” said Curt Goering, executive director of CVT.

“The Administration needs to get right its response to it. While the CIA certainly has a role in reviewing the report and providing feedback to the Intelligence Committee, given the agency’s large hand in policies of torture and cruel treatment, their comments should not be allowed to pass through without an independent assessment from other relevant agencies, including the White House.”

“Not doing so would be like letting the fox guard the henhouse,” he added.

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© 2013 Newsmax. All rights reserved.

Rep. Sensenbrenner: Clapper Must Be Prosecuted for Lying to Congress.

Image: Rep. Sensenbrenner: Clapper Must Be Prosecuted for Lying to Congress

By Drew MacKenzie

Rep. James Sensenbrenner Jr., the architect of the Patriot Act, has urged authorities to prosecute Director of National Intelligence James Clapper for lying to Congress.

The Wisconsin Republican told The Hill that the Justice Department should bring charges against Clapper for his false testimony during a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing in March.

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“Lying to Congress is a federal offense, and Clapper ought to be fired and prosecuted for it,” he said. “The only way laws are effective is if they’re enforced. If it’s a criminal offense — and I believe Mr. Clapper has committed a criminal offense — then the Justice Department ought to do its job.”

The call for Clapper’s prosecution came as President Barack Obama revealed in an interview on MSNBC’s “Hardball With Chris Matthews” that he plans to introduce curbs on the National Security Agency to guard against unwarranted snooping in Americans’ private affairs.

During the intelligence hearing, Clapper was asked by Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., whether the NSA collects data on millions of Americans. Clapper replied that NSA does “not wittingly” gather information from Americans in general.

But thousands of documents leaked by NSA contractor Edward Snowden have proved that the agency collects bulk records of phone calls and Internet data on virtually every American.

Clapper has since claimed that he was attempting to give the “least untruthful” answer that would not disclose classified information about the agency’s work. He has since apologized to Dianne Feinstein, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, for his “clearly erroneous” statement to Congress.

Sensenbrenner, also demanded that Obama should fire Clapper, a retired Air Force lieutenant general, and NSA Director Keith Alexander over the spying revelations and replace them with civilians.

“The successor of both Clapper and Alexander ought to be civilians,” he said. “I think that civilians would be able to have a better balance in seeing the distinction between security and civil liberties.”

Alexander, four-star Army general, is planning to retire in the spring, according to The Hill.

In October, Sensenbrenner said he planned to introduce legislation that would scale back some of the counterterrorism laws he once championed while indicating that the NSA had taken advantage of the intent of the 2011 Patriot Act.

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The move could put an end to the NSA’s massive bulk collection of Internet and telephone data that Sensenbrenner said made him, “appalled and angry.”

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© 2013 Newsmax. All rights reserved.

Report: NSA Tracks Billions of Cellphones Daily.

The National Security Agency tracks the locations of nearly 5 billion cellphones every day overseas, including those belonging to Americans abroad, The Washington Post reported Wednesday.

The NSA inadvertently gathers the location records of “tens of millions of Americans who travel abroad” annually, along with the billions of other records it collects by tapping into worldwide mobile network cables, the newspaper said.

Such data means the NSA can track the movements of almost any cellphone around the world and map the relationships of the cellphone user. The Post said a powerful analytic computer program called CO-TRAVELER crunches the data of billions of unsuspecting people, building patterns of relationships between them by where their phones go. That can reveal a previously unknown terrorist suspect, in guilt by cellphone-location association, for instance.

As the NSA doesn’t know which part of the data it might need, the agency keeps up to 27 terabytes, or more than double the text content of the Library of Congress‘ print collection, the Post said. A 2012 internal NSA document said the volumes of data from the location program were “outpacing our ability to ingest, process and store” it, the newspaper said.

The program is detailed in documents given to the newspaper by former NSA systems analyst Edward Snowden. The Post also quotes unidentified NSA officials, saying they spoke with the permission of their agency.

Shawn Turner, a spokesman for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, declined to comment on the report.

DNI General Counsel, Robert Litt, has said that NSA does not intentionally gather bulk location data on U.S. cellphones inside the U.S. — but NSA Director Keith Alexander testified before Congress his agency ran tests in 2010 and 2011 on “samples” of U.S. cell-site data to see if it was technically possible to plug such data into NSA analysis systems. 

Alexander said that the information was never used for intelligence purposes and that the testing was reported to congressional intelligence committees. He said it was determined to be of little “operational value,” so the NSA did not ask for permission to gather such data.

Sen. Ron Wyden, a Democrat and a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said at the time that Alexander could have explained more. 

“The intelligence leadership has decided to leave most of the real story secret,” Wyden said, though he would not elaborate on the extent of the program. 

Wyden and two other Democratic lawmakers have introduced an amendment to the 2014 defense spending bill that would require intelligence agencies to say whether the NSA “or any other element of the intelligence community has ever collected the cell-site location information of a large number of United States persons with no known connection to suspicious activity, or made plans to collect such information.”

Alexander and other NSA officials have explained that when U.S. data is gathered “incidentally” overseas, it is “minimized,” meaning that when an NSA analysts realize they are dealing with a U.S. phone number, they limit what can be done with it and how long that data can be kept.

Rights activists say those measures fall short of protecting U.S. privacy.

“The scale of foreign surveillance has become so vast, the amount of information about Americans `incidentally’ captured may itself be approaching mass surveillance levels,'” said Elizabeth Goitein of the Brennan Center for Justice’s Liberty and National Security Program.

“The government should be targeting its surveillance at those suspected of wrongdoing, not assembling massive associational databases that by their very nature record the movements of a huge number of innocent people,” said Catherine Crump, a staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union.

© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


NSA Powers Restored after Obama Request to Secret Court.

The power used by the National Security Agency to spy on Americans‘ phone calls and e-mails was actually blocked during the Bush administration but overturned after Barack Obama took office through a secret court order, the Washington Post reports.

The Obama administration won permission in 2011 from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to spy on Americans without a warrant and to keep the information it collected for six years, according to interviews and declassified documents obtained by the Post.

The NSA has been intercepting more than 250 million Internet communications a year, 91 percent of which came from U.S. companies like Google and Yahoo.

The spying operation was exposed by Edward Snowden, who has since sought asylum in Russia to avoid prosecution for the leak.

Robert S. Litt, general counsel of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, confirmed to the newspaper that the Obama administration asked the court to lift the ban so the government could more quickly learn about terrorist plots.

“We wanted to be able to do it,” Litt said, referring to the searching of Americans’ communications without a warrant.

The court ruling also appears to be the basis of cryptic criticism from within Obama’s own party on Capitol Hill that the federal government had found a “back-door search loophole” to spy on Americans.

Chief among those critics were Democratic Sens. Ron Wyden of Oregon and Mark Udall of Colorado, who also tried unsuccessfully to pass legislation prohibiting the searches of Americans’ communications without a court warrant.

“Our founders laid out a roadmap where Americans’ privacy rights are protected before their communications are seized or searched — not after the fact,” Udall said in a statement to the paper.

© 2013 Newsmax. All rights reserved.

By Audrey Hudson

Appeals Court Rebuffs Obama Decision to Shutter Yucca Mountain.

Image: Appeals Court Rebuffs Obama Decision to Shutter Yucca Mountain

A federal court put a gridlocked U.S. Congress, already wrestling with shrinking budgets, back in the debate over Yucca Mountain, the multibillion dollar nuclear waste site abandoned by the Obama administration.

The U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington ruled yesterday in a 2-1 split that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission must resume consideration of an Energy Department application for the site, killed by President Barack Obama. The agency has at least $11.1 million for the work, the court said.

“That will not be sufficient to finish processing that application, which means the ball is still in Congress’s court when it comes to deciding the direction of U.S. nuclear waste policy,” Keith Chu, a spokesman for Senator Ron Wyden, chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said in a statement. “Judges aren’t going to solve this problem.”

While the split decision mandates the NRC resume its safety review, it doesn’t guarantee that the facility, which has cost taxpayers and industry at least $15 billion, will be built. Disagreement over a waste dump at Yucca Mountain, about 100 miles (161 kilometers) northwest of Las Vegas, has extended across decades, and the ruling means it will drag on longer.

“The court isn’t saying ‘approve Yucca Mountain,’” Victor Gilinsky, a former NRC member, said in a phone interview. The law requires the Energy Department, which would manage the site, to submit an application and the NRC as the regulator to review it, he said. If the Energy Department ultimately decides the Yucca Mountain site doesn’t meet the nation’s needs, “that’s the end of it,” he said.

Funding Withdrawn

The Obama administration halted design and development work for Yucca Mountain in 2009 and the next year cut funding, saying the site was “not a workable option.” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, has led opposition in Washington to the facility. The NRC ended its review of the application, citing lack of funds.

The Nuclear Policy Waste Act, signed by President Ronald Reagan in 1983, requires the NRC to consider the Energy Department’s application for the repository, U.S. Circuit Judge Brett Kavanaugh wrote in yesterday’s ruling. The commission “is simply flouting the law” by not acting, he said.

“This case has serious implications for our constitutional structure,” Kavanaugh wrote. “It is no overstatement to say that our system of separation of powers would be significantly altered if we were to allow executive and independent agencies to disregard federal law in the manner asserted in this case by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.”

Under Review

It remains unclear what the NRC will do next. The agency’s Office of General Counsel, led by Margaret Doane, is reviewing the ruling.

“We will have no further statement at this time, but will be advising the commission on its options for a path forward,” Doane said in an e-mailed statement.

Congress in the 1980s designated Yucca Mountain as the repository’s site, and lawmakers would have to pass legislation to reverse the decision. Wyden has introduced a bipartisan nuclear-waste storage bill, which would set up a process to pick a site based on garnering a community’s consent. Republicans who control the U.S. House have said Yucca Mountain should be the waste site.

The court’s decision “is a significant milestone for Yucca Mountain and a clear rebuke of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s failure to implement” federal law, Republican Representatives Fred Upton of Michigan and John Shimkus of Illinois, said in a statement. Upton is chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, and Shimkus leads its panel on environment and the economy.

State Actions

Officials from states where nuclear waste is stored, including South Carolina and Washington, asked the court to force the NRC to act.

“Congress passed laws designating Yucca Mountain as America’s nuclear lock box,” South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson said in a statement. “The site work has already been done” and the project should be completed “as quickly as possible,” he said.

Yucca Mountain foes said the court’s action was insignificant because Congress hasn’t appropriated money for the repository.

“There is no money, we’ve cut funding for many years now and there is none in the pipeline,” Reid told reporters at a clean-energy summit in Nevada. “This is just a bump in the road, without being disrespectful to the court, it means nothing.”

Congress will be forced to revisit the waste-site funding, Katherine Fuchs, a nuclear subsidies campaigner for the environmental group Friends of the Earth, said in a statement.

New Laws

“The NRC will quickly spend the remaining funds and then Congress must go back to the drawing board to develop new laws on how highly radioactive spent fuel is managed,” Fuchs said.

About 65,000 tons of spent nuclear fuel are stored at 75 U.S. operating and closed U.S. reactor sites, and 2,000 tons are added each year, a panel formed by Obama to examine waste- storage options said in a January 2012 report.

The Energy Department collects about $750 million annually from the industry to pay for waste disposal. The Nuclear Energy Institute, a Washington-based industry group whose members include Exelon Corp. of Chicago and Southern Co. of Atlanta, has protested having to pay the fee without the establishment of a permanent repository.

The Energy Department has said it will work with Congress to develop a plan for nuclear-waste storage. The agency “will respond appropriately to whatever steps the NRC takes” in response to the court’s decision, department spokeswoman Niketa Kumar said in an e-mailed statement.

Even if Congress decides to continue with Yucca, the group working on the project at the Energy Department doesn’t exist. A new group would need to be assembled.

“The fact is, they’ve disbanded the team,” said Gilinsky, the former NRC commissioner. “They can’t put this thing back together again.”
© Copyright 2013 Bloomberg News. All rights reserved.


Fleitz: The Truth About Senator Wyden and the Snowden Leaks.

In the wake of leaks to the press of extremely sensitive NSA programs by former NSA technician Edward Snowden, some are lionizing Senate Intelligence Committee member Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) for his supposed lonely quest objecting to these programs.

Senator Wyden claims he has long objected to the programs leaked by Snowden as serious threats to the civil liberties of Americans but was unable to say anything publicly about his objections or force changes to end these programs because of Senate Intelligence Committee rules on classified matters.

This is not true.

First, it is important to emphasize that the NSA programs in question which involve collecting and storing cell phone metadata and internet activity by Americans are under strict controls and oversight. There is no evidence these programs have ever been abused and it is unclear whether some controversial new NSA monitoring efforts have ever been used.

The House and Senate intelligence committees carefully oversee programs like those leaked to the news media by Snowden. From my five years on the House Intelligence Committee staff,  I can attest that these types of intelligence  programs are vigorously debated by both intelligence committees. There are many people inside and outside of Congress that have faulted congressional review of these programs not because these reviews have been lacking but because they don’t like the outcome.

Senator Wyden objected to the NSA programs leaked by Snowden, but the majority of House and Senate intelligence committee members disagreed with him. This included liberal Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.) and the liberal Democratic ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.).

Wyden unsuccessfully tried to pass amendments to stop these programs in closed Senate Intelligence Committee sessions and his concerns were fully debated. Since the intelligence committees don’t operate on the basis of consensus, some members – usually more radical members like Wyden – do not always get what they want.

Simply put, most Senate Intelligence Committee members – including most Democratic committee members as well as Senate Majority leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) – thought Wyden was wrong.

Unable to win over the Senate Intelligence Committee, Senator Wyden claims there was nothing more he could do about his objections to the NSA programs for classification reasons.

In fact, there are many things a senator on the intelligence committee can do to express his or her concerns in a situation like this. Wyden could have put holds on nominations. He could have filibustered legislation. Wyden could have written to President Obama and demanded a meeting with him.

If these steps failed, Senator Wyden – if he truly believed the NSA programs were a serious threat to the civil liberties of Americans – could have denounced them from the floor of the Senate and explained his concerns. Under the speech and debate clause of the U.S Constitution, Wyden could not be prosecuted or kicked out of the Senate for doing this.

Wyden probably would have been kicked off the intelligence committee if he revealed the NSA programs from the Senate floor, but I believe if he truly felt these programs posed a threat to the American people, he was morally obligated to do this. Being thrown off the intelligence committee would have been a small price to pay for his convictions.

So why didn’t Senator Wyden start this debate himself by going to the floor of the Senate? I see two possible reasons for this.

First, despite his claims to the contrary, Wyden may not have thought these programs were as bad as he is now claiming, certainly not bad enough to be forced off the intelligence committee. He also knew other intelligence committeeDemocrats disagreed with him and would not back him up.

Second, Wyden might have thought the NSA programs were a serious threat but he also did not want to lose the power, access and status of membership on the intelligence committee.
Either way, Wyden is hardly the lonely crusader against NSA abuses that his supporters claim he is.

Senator Ron Wyden did not need Edward Snowden to start a debate over the NSA programs. If Wyden felt the NSA programs were a serious threat to the civil liberties of Americans and he was unable to stop them through other means, he should have started a public debate about them himself by denouncing these programs from the floor of the Senate. Because Wyden did not do this, it is hard to take seriously his claims about this issue and his demands for reforms.

Fred Fleitz served for 25 years in U.S. national security positions with the CIA, the State Department, and the House Intelligence Committee. He is currently Chief Analyst with, Newsmax Media’s global intelligence and forecasting service.

© 2013 Newsmax. All rights reserved.

By Fred Fleitz

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