(UPDATED) Amash (R-MI) & Conyers (D-MI) offer amendment to curtail NSA, NSA against it, vote soon

UPDATE: The vote was today. Amash-Conyers lost 205-212. This is excellent news; there’s a huge bipartisan inside game we can build in. Names when available. Be optimistic and stay tuned.
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This is a Quick Hits follow-up to the NSA spying story, and the start of Congressional pushback. Republican House member Justin Amash (MI-03) and Democrat John Conyers (MI-13) have jointly authored an amendment to the Pentagon spending bill that will make it to the House floor for a vote, perhaps as early as today.

The details, from Ryan Grim and Matt Sledge at the Huffington Post (my emphasis and some reparagraphing):

NSA’s Keith Alexander Calls Emergency Private Briefing To Lobby Against Justin Amash Amendment Curtailing Its Power

The National Security Agency called for a “top secret” meeting with members of the House on Tuesday to lobby against the first House amendment to challenge the agency’s authority to cull broad swaths of communications data, according to an invitation circulated in Congress.

The amendment was authored by Rep. Justin Amash, a libertarian Republican from Michigan, and cosponsored by former chairman of the House Judiciary Committee and liberal Michigan Democratic Rep. John Conyers. The House ruled the amendment in order on Monday, and it is expected to get a vote sometime this week. NSA head Gen. Keith Alexander scheduled a last-minute, members-only briefing in response to the amendment, according to an invitation distributed to members of Congress this morning and forwarded to HuffPost. …

NSA-signThe Amash amendment would put the House on record when it comes to NSA snooping. The measure, which would be attached to the Pentagon’s spending bill, “ends authority for the blanket collection of records under the Patriot Act” and “bars the NSA and other agencies from using Section 215 of the Patriot Act to collect records, including telephone call records, that pertain to persons who are not subject to an investigation under Section 215.”

The section of the Patriot Act that Amash is targeting was the subject of the first piece in The Guardian about NSA leaker Edward Snowden‘s revelations. A secret intelligence court has interpreted the law to allow the NSA to collect hundreds of millions of records on every American phone call under the theory that such records might be useful in future terrorism investigations.

Gen. Keith Alexander is a big deal, by the way. I’m hearing he’s one of the most powerful unelected people in government. Keep your eye on his name.

I understand there’s also a fake-NSA-reform counter-amendment offered by Rep. Rich Nugent (FL-11), a Republican, that looks like reform but isn’t — the goal being to give ground cover to members who want to look like something they’re not. Watch the vote on the Nugent amendment as well if you watch the session on CSPAN. The game and the trickery are afoot and Nugent amendment voters are tricksters.

UPDATE: For a nice story on how this Amash-Conyers amendment got to the floor over Boehner’s resistance, and also why Obama calls it just the “Amash amendment,” read this about the maneuver called the Amendment Hack by David Sirota at Salon. It’s fascinating.

What to do

If you want to make a difference, lobby your member. House member phone numbers are at the link. Please use it. And if there’s an extra phone call in your future, you might check out the names in this list. They’re lobby-able as well. So far we’re on the upswing and the tide is with us. Might as well use it.

Me, I’m scoring this vote, and I’ll publish the list of heroes and villains as soon as I have it.

You, please do lobby. I’ll tell you why tomorrow, but for now, just know it’s not useless to act. You won’t always win, but please, do act. Rush Holt’s bill repealing the Patriot Act is also coming; you can join those who are causing a scene, and feel very good about it at the same time. After all, the NSA already knows what you think about them, so there’s nothing to lose, is there.

And thanks!

GP

To follow or send links: @Gaius_Publius


Gaius Publius is a professional writer living on the West Coast of the United States. Click here for more. Follow him on Twitter @Gaius_Publius and Facebook.

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  • Butch1

    The NSA had to have a closed meeting with Congress. I guess they didn’t want the rest of us to listen in on them cutting backroom deals with the Congress in front of us.

  • nicho

    Even a stopped clock is right twice a day. Even wacky old Ron Paul has a couple of good ideas rolling around in that noggin amidst all the craziness.

  • http://www.rebeccamorn.com/mind BeccaM

    Meanwhile, the Obama Administration opposes any attempt to rein in the NSA in terms that, according to one dKos diarist, destroys the very notion of irony.

    Tweet from Jennifer Epstein: “WH opposes Amash amendment on NSA. “This blunt approach is not the product of an informed, open, or deliberative process.””

    http://www.dailykos.com/story/2013/07/23/1226056/-The-White-House-Has-Killed-Irony

    ‘This blunt approach…’ You mean, like hoovering up virtually all of the data traffic from everyone, and assuring us you’re just gonna store it “in case” there’s a secretly asserted justification to access it?

    ‘An informed process’ As in the way perjured testimony was given to Congress, and everything from the Patriot (sic) Act passage onward was stampeded through using hyperbole and phony assertions?

    ‘An open process’ Like the way the law is now being interpreted secretly, implemented secretly, and enforced secretly, and anybody who attempts to let us all know what’s being done by our government is prosecuted. Even the journalists who report this information. With a double-dose of irony-killing obliviousness when the president himself says he welcomes this discussion…but the guy who gave the rest of us the information that makes the debate possible is, contrary to the Constitutional definition of such, accused of treason.

    ‘A deliberative process’ Oh yeah, deliberated behind closed doors by Administration officials and a rubber-stamp FISA court which is answerable to nobody, and for some reason always coming down on the side of sacrificing a little more (or a lot more) essential liberty for the dubiously asserted need for temporary security.

    We are right now no more prone to a terrorist attack than we were for the first two centuries of America’s existence as a country. Pearl Harbor didn’t change that. Oklahoma City didn’t change that. September 11, 2001 didn’t change that.

    What changed was our leaders stopped telling us to be brave and not to be afraid. They began telling us to be afraid, all the time, and to trust them to do whatever they said was necessary — and not to object, ask questions, or demand to know what’s being done in our name. Not even when the policies and actions run contrary to the law or counter to every ideal upon which this country was founded.

  • PhillyGuard

    To understand public opinion on the security-vs-liberty debate, you must first understand why the human brain is wired to wildly miscalculate on this issue.
    “This is Your Brain on Terrorism” http://libertymcg.com/2013/07/23/this-is-your-brain-on-terrorism/

  • HolyMoly

    And yes, I know that the “Amash Amendment” doesn’t go far enough. But at least it addresses, albeit minimally, an issue that needs to be addressed. It looks like we might have to reclaim our rights incrementally, chipping away at the powers that be, until they finally cave. Any small victory is one step closer to where we should be.

  • HolyMoly

    Just sent an e-mail to my representative. I might have been a bit less diplomatic than I should have been, but I’m afraid the issues surrounding the Surveillance State stir up pretty strong emotions. “Please, oh, pretty please, do something that at least minimally puts us on the track towards restoring our rights, if you find it in your heart to do so” just isn’t cutting it for me anymore.

    Long story short, I reminded my representative that the NSA is not chartered to operate in the U.S. against U.S. citizens in the first place. From the NSA charter: “The COMINT mission of the National Security Agency (NSA) shall be to provide an effective, unified organization and control of the communications intelligence activities of the United States conducted AGAINST FOREIGN GOVERNMENTS, to provide for integrated operational policies and procedures pertaining thereto.”

    I made sure he knew that I was aware of the Nugent amendment, that its non-reform reforms are intended to provide window dressing to cover for those who are afraid to take a stand in favor of Americans and the Constitution.

    And I asked for a response. I asked for no waffling, no “I’m looking into this very difficult subject” (since it should be pretty straightforward), but simply an “I’m for it” or “I’m against it.” And “my ballot eagerly awaits your response.”

    A little over the top, maybe? I’m just more than a little bit emotional when the future of my country is at stake.

  • GaiusPublius

    Thanks, jomicur. First, it’s a start. Read what the amendment forbids. It has some teeth, even if the Pentagon ignores it.

    But the second benefit is that it puts congressmen and women on the record. They hate that, because it could get them kicked out of office (and out of the “Oh, it’s you; come right in” club in DC). Amash is going rogue and we should help him. We should also help him make everyone of the critters who won’t stand with the people, very uncomfortable and very noticed.

    That was the beauty of the Grayson-Takano letter, BTW. The faux-progressives, like Schakowsky, hated it, because it called them out.

    So thanks for calling, and please, keep making those calls. The uncomfortable reactions you get tell you that you’ve scored a hit. They’re hoping you’re not noticing. Tell them you are.

    GP

  • guest1

    But But Amash is a teabagger! He couldn’t possibly have a good idea, go back to bashing him like before. /snark

  • jomicur

    I have dutifully called my congressman (and gotten a weirdly waffling response). But I’m not sure what difference this amendment could possibly make, even in the unlikely event it passes. Our secret/hidden government, as opposed to the public “show” government, does what it wants to whether the American people or the American congress like it or not. If this amendment passes and if Obama doesn’t veto it (don’t go bettin’ the farm, pa) they’ll simply set up another secret court to give them more secret authorization, and the surveillance will continue anyway. And we won’t learn about for years, until another brave whistleblower like Ed Snowden decides to follow his conscience. Iran/Contra, perpetrated by Obama’s hero Reagan, was only the first lesson we got about the REAL American government and the way it operates.

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