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First POST: Hearings

BY Nick Judd | Wednesday, June 12 2013

Getting the facts

  • Owning the story: Your First POST editor checked Politico, NYT, The Hill and the Washington Post, and it looks like only The Guardian focused on reporting that checked in with lawmakers after a congressional briefing by the National Security Agency on its surveillance of Americans' phone calls and, separately, of billions of electronic communications around the globe.

    The response, per the Guardian's Dan Roberts (with Spencer Ackerman and Alan Travis on the broader story), is anger and resentment from a Congress that does not believe it was told enough to provide oversight of such wide-reaching surveillance of 21st-century communications:

    After the congressional briefing, Xavier Becerra, leader of the House minority caucus, said there had not been enough oversight of government surveillance programs. "We are now glimpsing the damage," he said, referring to failures to repeal the Patriot Act sooner. "It was an extraordinary measure for an extraordinary time but it shouldn't have been extended."

    Republican Steve King of Iowa promised a "bipartisan response" and Tom McClintock (R-Calif.) delivered this zinger:

    "Going back to the days of British rule we have sought to stop the authorities barging in on people's privacy just in case they found something," he said. "The fourth amendment was passed to make sure that never happened and it is time to make sure it does not ever happen again."

  • Did administration officials lie to Congress? The New York Times also pulled from the aftermath of that briefing in a story that notes bipartisan leadership accepting the NSA's previous statements about surveillance at face value, while rank and file on both sides push for greater disclosure:

    The comments of the Senate leaders showed a coordinated effort to squelch any legislative move to rein in the surveillance programs. Mr. Reid took the unusual step of publicly slapping back at fellow senators — including senior Democrats — who have suggested that most lawmakers have been kept in the dark about the issue.

    “For senators to complain that they didn’t know this was happening, we had many, many meetings that have been both classified and unclassified that members have been invited to,” Mr. Reid said. “They shouldn’t come and say, ‘I wasn’t aware of this,’ because they’ve had every opportunity.”

    (The Guardian reports in its story that lawmakers say prior to the leaks, they were promised more information on NSA surveillance than they received.)

    U.S. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper's "least untruthful" statement in response to a question last year from Sen. Ron Wyden gets "three Pinocchios" from the Washington Post. The Times quotes former NSA and CIA director Michael Hayden as countering, "There’s not another country in the world where that question would have been asked and answered in a public session."

    But NSA general counsel Rajesh De's previous statements to Congress, which also sidestepped the existence of surveillance on American phone calls, is, to the Times, "awkward."

    The subtext here is simple: In open session or not, can intelligence officials stretch or omit the truth when describing their activities to members of Congress? And if they can, then who really has oversight of the intelligence apparatus?

  • Asking permission: Google and Facebook have asked for permission to disclose more related to requests made of them by intelligence officials under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, and a network of activists and Internet companies are pressing Congress to legislate more disclosure, too.

    Twitter and Microsoft have joined in the push for more disclosure.

  • Court challenge: Also in The Guardian: "In a lawsuit filed in New York, the American Civil Liberties Union accused the US government of a process that was 'akin to snatching every American's address book.'" and European officials offer formal warnings to the U.S. over the privacy of European Union citizens.

Around the web

  • In Germany, occupants of flood-stricken regions are turning to one another on social media for relief.

  • Your First POST editor took a close look at OpenCorporates, an online database of information about corporations around the world and the relationships between them.

  • Leslie Harris, president of the Center for Democracy and Technology, will leave before March 2014.

  • Agencies, especially the Department of Defense, are not giving complete and accurate information about the risks of their IT projects, according to a Government Accountability Office audit.

  • Problems with New York City's bike-sharing program: The New York Times reports, "In a city where first impressions can quickly harden into lasting judgments, the setbacks threaten to sully what has been billed as a legacy-making transportation policy of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg — leaving even the scheme’s most vocal proponents alarmed by how the program’s software seems ill prepared to handle public demand."

  • Former U.S. CTO Aneesh Chopra has conceded the field in the Democratic primary to become Virginia's lieutenant governor. In an email to supporters after yesterday's primary, he wrote: "A little while ago, I called Senator Ralph Northam to congratulate him on winning the Democratic nomination for Lieutenant Governor of Virginia. I know he will fight hard to ensure the Democratic ticket wins in a clean sweep this November."