Senators Skip Classified Briefing On NSA To Get Out Of Town Early

Less than half the Senate managed to show up for a classified briefing on the NSA’s surveillance programs the other day:

A recent briefing by senior intelligence officials on surveillance programs failed to attract even half of the Senate, showing the lack of enthusiasm in Congress for learning about classified security programs.

Many senators elected to leave Washington early Thursday afternoon instead of attending a briefing with James Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence, Keith Alexander, the head of the National Security Agency (NSA), and other officials.

The Senate held its last vote of the week a little after noon on Thursday, and many lawmakers were eager to take advantage of the short day and head back to their home states for Father’s Day weekend.

Only 47 of 100 senators attended the 2:30 briefing, leaving dozens of chairs in the secure meeting room empty as Clapper, Alexander and other senior officials told lawmakers about classified programs to monitor millions of telephone calls and broad swaths of Internet activity. The room on the lower level of the Capitol Visitor Center is large enough to fit the entire Senate membership, according to a Senate aide.

The Hill was not provided the names of who did, and who didn’t, attend the briefing.

The exodus of colleagues exasperated Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who spent a grueling week answering colleagues’ and media questions about the program.

“It’s hard to get this story out. Even now we have this big briefing — we’ve got Alexander, we’ve got the FBI, we’ve got the Justice Department, we have the FISA Court there, we have Clapper there — and people are leaving,” she said.

It would be interesting to know who was and wasn’t there and compare to a list of the Senators who have been speaking out most vociferously on this subject. At the very least, don’t these Senators owe to themselves and their constituents to actually spend some time finding out what they’re talking about?

FILED UNDER: Congress, Intelligence, National Security, Quick Takes, US Politics
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020.

Comments

  1. Caj says:

    And we should be surprised why? Nothing is more important to some of them than NOT being at work! Whinge & cry about ‘spying’ on Americans and some can’t even be bothered to listen to those who could give them more information on what the program does and does not do. Typical behaviour from some who couldn’t give a damn about the country or it’s people. It’s all about them!

  2. al-Ameda says:

    Who can be surprised?

    I’ve thought from the get-go that the “outrage” concerning current NSA data mining activities (which have been going on since 2006) is for the most part phony. Members of Congress as well as the public have known for a few years that these activities have been happening probably since the Patriot Act was passed and definitely since it was reauthorized.

    We get the government we want and deserve. Those Senators fleeing the room? Guess what they are no different than about 150 million Americans for whom a serious discussion on a serious issue is next to impossible.

  3. OzarkHillbilly says:

    It would be interesting to know who was and wasn’t there and compare to a list of the Senators who have been speaking out most vociferously on this subject. At the very least, don’t these Senators owe to themselves and their constituents to actually spend some time finding out what they’re talking about?

    This. A thousand times this. They are shoked, SHOCKED! I tell you.

  4. fred says:

    Of course they would. Most reps, especially GOPers don’t work more than 2 days a week. Of course the old news media, now the information marketplace have failed our country by not informing the general public of the work ethic of congress and how for example GOP reps individual wealth is $966K per. Corporations are people my friends per the GOP and they make up the GOP congress. Where is the ACLU? They should be fighting gerrymandering which is unconstitutional and congressional non-representation in the courts but they are nowhere to be seen fighting for America.

  5. rudderpedals says:

    Shame our media couldn’t be bothered to practice a little bit of journalism and report up a list of the no shows. Laziness doesn’t help move a federal shield law any closer to passage.

  6. walt moffett says:

    Maybe Senator Feinstein will release a list. However, I doubt it, classified meeting, drop dead before reading and all that.

  7. stonetools says:

    This is why I think this “scandal” is going down the memory hole shortly. The legislators who skedaddled know what civil libertarians feared: that the public just doesn’t care all that much about privacy. More proof:

    By the end of the Clinton administration, the government conceded that the Internet had made it impossible to control the spread of strong cryptographic software. But more than a decade later, the cypherpunks seem to have lost the war. Software capable of withstanding NSA snooping is widely available, but hardly anyone uses it. Instead, we use Gmail, Skype, Facebook, AOL Instant Messenger and other applications whose data is reportedly accessible through PRISM.

    And that’s not a coincidence: Adding strong encryption to the most popular Internet products would make them less useful, less profitable and less fun.

  8. john personna says:

    @stonetools:

    I really don’t know if this paragraph is overblown, but consider:

    Every night, churning away in the Democratic National Committee’s central servers, the VoteBuilder software combined the list of registered Democrats with demographics and marketing information. The company would not speak to me, but you can guess which data were relevant. Who was a regular churchgoer? Who lived in a city apartment block? Who lived in a city apartment block and had a Hispanic name? Who had lentils on their shopping list? Every morning, it e-mailed the results to us: a list of likely Democrats in Denver, to be contacted and encouraged to vote.

    If the DNC had church attendance and eating habits (a) we’ve certainly bridged “commercial” and “political” use of big data, (b) there are probably not barriers to that kind of “freely available data” being used by government proper, and (c) as many note this isn’t really new.

    “Privacy is dead, get over it” is a rational position.

    (As opposed to “it’s just the NSA and they have limits.”)

  9. john personna says:

    (I think the idea that all data-release is voluntary should also be well-dead by now. To avoid leaving breadcrumbs in your life you’d have to pay cash always, and use only broadcast media.)

  10. Nate Roth says:

    Why can’t we get list of those senators who chose not to attend?

  11. stonetools says:

    @Nate Roth:

    Wait a day or two. I don’t think the info is classified.

  12. michael reynolds says:

    Yet another scandal going nowhere. First, it was old news. My kid was all over this story years ago, via Reddit. Second, very few people are upset. Third, no one can connect the dots from PRISM to any real world harm. Fourth, it’s a bipartisan thing. Fifth, Snowden doesn’t work too well as the hero of the story, what with having run to the loving arms of those great civil libertarians in the People’s Republic of China.

    But finally, and most important, privacy is dead. As john personna points out, it’s not an irrational position. It’s been my position from Day One of this story.

  13. john personna says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Let’s say that some service does some data mining and offers the results to local police departments. It is the ThreatRisc(TM) for any given individual.

    We would both scan low, I presume, and so any roof mounted camera that saw our cars speeding by a little bit would give the cop a green light to ignore. Perhaps we were just passing someone with a ThreatRisc a bit higher. Red light. Stop. Question. Etc.

    Is that world better or worse? Sometimes I don’t know.

  14. stonetools says:

    @michael reynolds:

    But finally, and most important, privacy is dead. As john personna points out, it’s not an irrational position. It’s been my position from Day One of this story.

    Its not really that privacy is dead. Its that privacy is not paramount for most people. There are cyberpunks out there who do PGP, encrypt their hard drives, never use social media, never post their real name on the Internet, and pay for everything by cash. But they are mostly still living in their mother’s basement.
    Once they get out in the real world and, say, get a girlfriend, the privacy concerns go away (The girlfriend tells them : “Either the privacy obsession goes or I do.”)
    For most Americans, they would prefer that the government doesn’t snoop through their phone data. But they care about security more and convenience maybe even more than that. (” You mean I can encrypt my email, but I can’t do a search for it when I want to find it again? WTF??”)
    Another problem has been that the original STARTLING! revelations that the government was surveilling all our phone calls and reading all our emails has been walked back to something a lot more tame. We are now talking about making FISA courts more transparent. That’s not too exciting anymore . Why should a legislator postpone his vacation for that?

  15. Hugo says:

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  16. Ben Wolf says:

    Polls show quite a few, even a majority, disapprove of NSA domestic spying and approve of Snowden’s actions.

    Partisans can continue to tell themselves whatever they want. This story is far from over and a whole new set of leaks is on the way soon, in addition to yesterday’s revelation of additional government corruption.

  17. refn says:

    The Democrats and Republicans in the Congress are all degenerate scum.

  18. bill says:

    @al-Ameda: for once i agree with you! well, maybe twice….

  19. The NSA can and does listen to ordinary Americans’ phone calls without warrants.

    HarvardLaw? I told you so.

    http://news.cnet.com/8301-13578_3-57589495-38/nsa-admits-listening-to-u.s-phone-calls-without-warrants/

  20. “Another problem has been that the original STARTLING! revelations that the government was surveilling all our phone calls and reading all our emails has been walked back to something a lot more tame.”

    Uhhhh, no it hasn’t.

    http://news.cnet.com/8301-13578_3-57589495-38/nsa-admits-listening-to-u.s-phone-calls-without-warrants/

  21. Ellie says:

    They don’t read the bills, they don’t attend meetings, they don’t vote or listen to the people that sent them to the swamp, they are sleazy and corrupt. Someone tell me why are these people still in office?

  22. michael reynolds says:

    @Kathy Kattenburg:
    Your hero is now outing US intel which has nothing at all to do with privacy issues. He is clearly guilty of espionage. He is clearly and unmistakably a traitor. Your 60’s nostalgia has you supporting a narcissistic little creep who will spend his life either on the run or in prison and will deserve the latter.

  23. john personna says:

    I suggested earlier that a lot of this falls out of costs.

    I give you:

    These estimates show only $27M in capital cost, and $2M in electricity and take less than 5,000 square feet of space to store and process all US phonecalls made in a year.

    via boingboing

  24. john personna says:

    @michael reynolds:

    I would split that difference. Snowden is a traitor who is trading in privacy secrets.

  25. @michael reynolds:

    Snowden is not and has not “outed U.S. intel.” That’s flatly incorrect. He has not revealed any sources or methods at all. All he’s done is reveal the existence of a massive government surveillance program that has the communications data of every individual in the U.S. Even the existence of the program is not a secret. We’ve known about it since the NYT exposed it during the Bush administration. What we didn’t know is that ALL Americans’ records are being swept up, and that the NSA is not even abiding by the restrictions in the amended FISA that legalized the Bush admin’s illegal behavior.

    It’s the U.S. government that’s guilty of espionage without individualized suspicion much less probable cause, and afaic, THAT is traitorous.

  26. @john personna:

    Trading in privacy secrets? Meaning that the government violating the privacy of over 300 million Americans is a violation of the GOVERNMENT’S privacy?

  27. shiloh says:

    where or how to get the names of who went and who went home?