Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) is back at it: mixing up his facts, flaunting his ignorance and threatening to bring down the NSA program. He proclaims, “This is what happens when you have secret laws, no meaningful oversight, and people in charge who think the Constitution wasn’t written for them.” Thunk.
The Patriot Act was a duly published statute and both the FISA courts and congressional overseers knew full well what the NSA was doing. As for the “people in charge,” that would be Congress, the FISA courts, the entire intelligence community and the White House, which considering the minute regulations governing this program are hardly running through the Constitutional landscape with torches burning.
But Amash, like Sens. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) and Mike Lee (R-Utah), never miss an opportunity to confuse the issue. This leaves leaders in the House and Senate and outside voices to clarify what is really going on and to urge caution in throwing away a tool in the fight against terrorism.
I am heartened to see that my friends over at Lawfare blog reach the same conclusion that I have on the latest revelations: There isn’t much “there” there. Benjamin Wittes of the Brookings Institution argues that “what this document shows is that among the billions and billions of communications the NSA interacts with every year, it has certain low rate of technical errors, many of them unavoidable, which it dutifully records and counts. As we used to say in grade school, big whoop.” Precisely.
A large percentage of the errors were “roamers,” non-Americans who by chance come into the U.S. Wittes cites the inspector general’s report: “Roamer incidents are largely unpreventable, even with good target awareness and traffic review, since target travel activities are often unannounced and not easily predicted” (emphasis added).
A former Bush official makes another critical point. He tells me that “those foreign national cell phones traveling to the US are exactly the ones that we want to follow. Those are more likely to be used by people who our intelligence agencies should be interested in.”
None of this will slow down Amash, Paul, Cruz and Lee. They’ve decided this is good politics, the facts be damned. Of the whole bunch, Cruz, a former state attorney general who has argued before the Supreme Court, should know better. But for these men, it’s not about the facts or the Constitution. It is about self-promotion (just like the lame threat to shut down the government, which even Paul has realized is silly), not an uncommon phenomenon when it comes to pols. However, to engage in such politicization at the expense of national security is lower than low. Their colleagues should not follow the anti-terror fighting crew over the cliff.