House Intel committee fires back at Amash

Josh Peterson | Tech Editor

The saga over who in Congress knew what about the National Security Agency’s controversial surveillance program continued Monday following an accusation made Sunday evening on Facebook by one of the program’s fiercest critics.

Michigan Republican Rep. Justin Amash accused the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI) of withholding information from the 2010 House freshman class about the NSA’s phone and Internet data collection programs.

Posting to his Facebook account a portion of a February 2011 letter recently declassified by Director National Intelligence James Clapper, Amash said that the committee did not make available a document provided by the DOJ in 2011 describing the programs and the legal justifications.

The letter — signed by former Assistant Attorney General for Legislative Affairs Ronald Weich — was addressed to Michigan Republican Rep. Mike Rogers, House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence Chairman, and Maryland Democratic Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger, Ranking Member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.

In the letter, Weich wrote that the DOJ and the “Intelligence Community jointly prepared the enclosed document that describes these two bulk collection programs, the authorities under which they operate, the restrictions imposed by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, the National Security Agency’s record of compliance, and the importance of these programs to the national security of the United States.”

“We believe that making this document available to all Members of Congress, as we did with a similar document in December 2009, is an effective way to inform the legislative debate about reauthorization of Section 215,” said Weich.

Amash, who began serving in Congress in January 2011, is now saying that he and other members of the 2010 House freshmen class did not receive that information provided by the Justice Department and the Intelligence Community.

“Less than two weeks ago, the Obama administration released previously classified documents regarding ‪#‎NSA‬‘s bulk collection programs and indicated that two of these documents had been made available to all Members of Congress prior to the vote on reauthorization of the Patriot Act,” said Amash.

The controversial law was renewed in March 2011.

“I can now confirm that the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence did NOT, in fact, make the 2011 document available to Representatives in Congress, meaning that the large class of Representatives elected in 2010 did not receive either of the now declassified documents detailing these programs,” said Amash.

When asked by The Daily Caller about Amash’s allegations, however, HPSCI spokesperson Susan Phalen said that the committee “makes it a top priority to inform Members about the intelligence issues on which Members must vote.”

“This process is always conducted consistent with the Committee’s legal obligation to carefully protect the sensitive intelligence sources and methods our intelligence agencies use to do their important work,” Phalen said in a statement.

“Prior to voting on the PATRIOT Act reauthorization and the FAA reauthorization, Chairman Rogers hosted classified briefings to which all Members were invited to have their questions about these authorities answered,” said Phalen.

Members of Congress have Top Secret security clearances, which allows them to see information sensitive pertinent to the nation’s security.

“Additionally, over the past two months, Chairman Rogers has hosted four classified briefings, with officials from the NSA and other agencies, on the Section 215 and Section 702 programs and has invited all Republican Members to attend and receive additional classified briefings on the use of these tools from Committee staff,” said Phalen.

“The Committee has provided many opportunities for Members to have their questions answered by both the HPSCI and the NSA,” she said.

“And Chairman Rogers has encouraged members to attend those classified briefings to better understand how the authorities are used to protect the country,” she said.

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