How Ron Wyden nearly became an NSA leaker

August 15, 2013

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.)  (Harry Hamburg/AP)

One of the intelligence community's most outspoken critics says he considered talking about the National Security Agency's bulk surveillance program on the Senate floor.

In an interview with Rolling Stone, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) said he felt pressure from others to disclose the classified information in a way that would have protected him from prosecution. Under the Speech or Debate Clause of the U.S. Constitution, lawmakers receive immunity from lawsuits or trials for acts committed during the process of legislating. If Wyden had spoken out about the NSA, his comments would have become part of the Congressional Record:

There are very significant limits [on what you can and cannot say], and they are very cumbersome and unwieldy. If you want to play a watchdog role, you try to work within the rules. This is a sensitive subject. A lot of people have just said to me, "Well, you feel so strongly about [these issues] – when you knew this, why didn't you just go to the floor of the United States Senate and just, you know, read it all [into the record]?" And, of course, anybody who does this kind of work thinks a lot about that. You think about it all the time. I can see why plenty of people would criticize me – progressives and others. I can understand why plenty of people who have views similar to mine would say they would have done it differently.

Wyden has spent years dropping hints that Americans were being spied upon. But despite his outrage, he appears to have chosen to color within the lines.

Brian Fung covers technology for The Washington Post.
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Timothy B. Lee | August 15, 2013