PATRIOT Act Reauthorization: The Fear Mongering and Disinformation Campaign Begins

GOP Majority Leader Memo Is Opening Salvo

Yesterday, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy sent his conference members a memo about the likely legislative schedule for the balance of April and early May. This is the operative paragraph about the looming PATRIOT Act reauthorization fight, which could kick off as early as April 28:

Additionally, as the threat to our homeland from foreign terrorist groups like ISIL and al Qaeda — or from foreign fighter flows to and from Libya, Syria, Iraq, and Yemen — continues to grow, the House may consider reauthorization of key provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act in April. These provisions, which expire at the end of May, are necessary to maintain the U.S. Intelligence Community’s ability to monitor the communications and activities of foreign terrorists who seek to attack the homeland.

Absent from the Leader’s memo was the fact that PATRIOT Act Sec. 215 data has never stopped a single terrorist threat to the United States, as Obama administration officials were forced to admit in the fall of 2013. Also missing from McCarthy’s memo was that fact that the “shoe bomber”, the “underwear bomber”, the Ft. Hood shooter, and the Boston Marathon bombers were not stopped by NSA’s global surveillance dragnet, as typified by Sec. 215. McCarthy’s troops were also spared the reminder that Obama’s review group on intelligence and communications technologies found the program useless. Given those omissions, it’s also not shocking that Mr. McCarthy didn’t want his members focused on DEA’s own decades-long metadata program, which only raises very uncomfortable questions about how many mass surveillance programs are running that we don’t know about.

Finally, the Leader left out that there will be a classified Members-only briefing on PATRIOT Act reauthorization on Tuesday, April 14. The House Intelligence Committee will be the host, and my suggestions for Hill staff are to give your bosses the following questions to pose at that briefing:

— Where is the latest classified Sec. 215 compliance report from the DoJ IG, and when will a declassified version be made public — before or after the PA reauth vote?

— Why hasn’t Congress been provided with similar reports on the period from 2010 to 2014? Will compliance data on that period be available before the PA reauth vote?

— Why does the HPSCI website continue to contain false, inaccurate information on this program…information that was discredited long ago?

— Was the committee leadership aware of the DEA metadata program disclosed by USA Today this week?

— Are other DoJ elements using this or other mass surveillance collection programs against Americans?

— Will the committee support an open rule so that Members can offer amendments to address other needed surveillance reforms, like protecting encryption in American technology products and ending mass surveillance?

The answers to those questions will speak volumes about whether the House leadership has gotten the message from the public that they are done with mass surveillance.