HPSCI’s “Statue of Liberty” Play On PATRIOT Act Reauthorization

Did the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI) engage in the document-based form of the old football deception play? That’s the allegation coming from Michigan Rep. Justin Amash:

Justin Amash, the Michigan Republican whose effort to defund theNSA‘s mass phone-records collection exposed deep congressional discomfort with domestic spying, said the House intelligence committee never allowed legislators outside the panel to see a 2011 document that described the surveillance in vague terms.

The document, a classified summary of the bulk phone records collection effort justified under Section 215 of the Patriot Act, was declassified by the Obama administration in late July.

The Justice Department and intelligence agencies prepared it for Congress before a 2011 vote to reauthorize the Patriot Act, and left it for the intelligence committees in Congress to make the document available to their colleagues.

“It is not acceptable for the intelligence committee, or any other committee, to withhold critically important information pertaining to a program prior to the vote,” Amash told the Guardian.

So for the record, here’s the chronology of events:

  • 2/2/2011: Department of Justice shares the Sec. 215 PATRIOT Act bulk collection description document with HPSCI, which sits on it rather than flagging it for the attention of all House members. I should note that each and every year the annual Intelligence Authorization bill is up for consideration, both the Chairman and the Ranking Member make it a point to encourage Members to come to HVC-304 in the Capitol Visitor Center (where HPSCI is located) to review the Classified Annex to the bill.
  •  2/8/2011: FISA Sunsets Extension Act (PATRIOT Act) (HR 514) is on the House floor for consideration under “suspension of the rules” (an expedited process for legislation deemed “non-controversial” but requiring a 2/3s affirmative vote to pass.  Failed by the Yeas and Nays: 277 – 148 (Roll no. 26).
  • 2/14/2011: After taking a few days to regroup and getting a “closed rule” to prevent floor debate, HPSCI prevails in getting the House to pass HR 514 by recorded vote of 275 – 144 (Roll no. 36).

This episode is not simply relevant because of the PATRIOT Act vote. In late 2012, the House passed the reauthorization of the FISA Amendments Act, HR 5949 (which contains the now-infamous Sec. 702 “reverse targeting/three hop” provision) by a vote of 301 – 118 (Roll no. 569). So if Amash is correct (and he appears to be at this hour), then HPSCI was “hiding the ball” on key information on PATRIOT Act-related provisions just days before crucial votes. I would bet good money that a similar document was prepared by DoJ and NSA for HPSCI in the run up to the reauthorization vote on the FISA Amendments Act in December 2012.

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