Se­nate ex­tends overseas spy­ing

U.S. mon­i­tor­ing of calls, emails with­out war­rants gets fresh ap­proval.

Austin American-Statesman - - THE SECOND FRONT - By Larry Mar­gasak

WASHINGTON — The Se­nate gave fi­nal con­gres­sional ap­proval Fri­day to a bill re­new­ing the government’s author­ity to mon­i­tor overseas phone calls and emails of sus­pected for­eign spies and ter­ror­ists — but not Amer­i­cans — with­out ob­tain­ing a court or­der for each in­ter­cept.

The clas­si­fied For­eign In­tel­li­gence Sur­veil­lance Act pro­gram was on the brink of ex­pir­ing by year’s end. The 73-23 vote sent the bill to a sup­port­ive Pres­i­dent Barack Obama, whose sig­na­ture would keep the war­rant­less in­ter­cept pro­gram in op­er­a­tion for an­other five years.

The Se­nate ma­jor­ity re­jected ar­gu­ments from an un­usual com­bi­na­tion of Demo­cratic lib­er­als and ide­o­log­i­cal Repub­li­can con­ser­va­tives, who sought to amend the bill to re­quire the government to re­veal statis­tics show­ing whether any Amer­i­cans were swept up in the for­eign in­ter­cepts. The at­tempt lost, with 52 votes against and 43 in fa­vor.

The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s in­tel­li­gence com­mu­nity and lead­ers of the Se­nate’s in­tel­li­gence com­mit­tee said the in­for­ma­tion should be clas­si­fied and op­posed the dis­clo­sure, re­peat­ing that it is il­le­gal to tar­get Amer­i­cans with­out an or­der from a spe­cial U.S. sur­veil­lance court.

The group seek­ing more dis­clo­sures also sought — un­suc­cess­fully — a de­ter­mi­na­tion by the government of whether any in­tel­li­gence agency at­tempted to use in­for­ma­tion gained from for­eign­ers to search for in­for­ma­tion on Ameri- cans with­out a war­rant, re­ferred to as “back­door” searches. The pro­hi­bi­tion against tar­get­ing Amer­i­cans with­out a war­rant pro­tects Amer­i­cans wher­ever they are, in the United States or some­where else.

The de­bate fo­cused on the need to bal­ance na­tional se­cu­rity with civil lib­er­ties. Sens. Dianne Fe­in­stein, D-Calif., and Saxby Cham­b­liss, RGa., the chair­woman and top Repub­li­can on the Se­nate In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee, warned that the clas­si­fied in­ter­cept pro­gram would be jeop­ar­dized if even sta­tis­ti­cal in­for­ma­tion was dis­closed.

They sparred re­peat­edly with Sen. Ron Wy­den, D-Ore., who held the bill up for months un­til he was al­lowed to ar­gue on the Se­nate floor that Amer­i­cans’ civil lib­er­ties were in dan­ger un­der the law.

In in­sist­ing on in­for­ma­tion about whether the for­eign in­ter­cepts led to war­rant­less “back door” searches of Amer­i­cans, Wy­den said there al­ready had been one in­stance of such a vi­o­la­tion.

He said the find­ing of a vi­o­la­tion, de­tails of which re­main clas­si­fied, “demon­strates the im­pact of the law on Amer­i­cans’ pri­vacy has been real and is not hy­po­thet­i­cal.”

“How many phone calls to and from Amer­i­cans have been swept up in this author­ity?” he said.

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