Dianne Feinstein and the Fate Of NSA Reform

There are many bills moving to constrain the NSA's domestic datamining and surveillance programs, but the senior Senator from California is in control.

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Senator Dianne Feinstein talks to reporters on Capitol Hill, Sept. 17, 2013 in Washington.

The U.S. government may be closed down, but when it comes to reforming the National Security Agency’s domestic surveillance and data-mining programs, Congress has been busy.

In coming weeks members of the House and Senate will put out multiple bills seeking to constrain the NSA. There will be bills to outlaw the NSA’s bulk collection and data-mining of American’s telephone and internet records. There will be bills to reform the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court, which allows the NSA and law enforcement to spy on Americans. There will be bills to establish third-party oversight of NSA programs that collect data from American citizens.

(MORE: The Surveillance Society)

For all that activity, though, only one member of Congress really matters in the fight: Sen. Dianne Feinstein, chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, and a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. And those who want dramatic changes aren’t particularly excited about it.

Feinstein is a centrist on national security matters, and she is seen by key staffers in both chambers as the determining factor in how many Democrats vote. “She’s the heavy hitter here,” says one Senate aide involved in the effort to constrain the NSA.

Feinstein made her presence felt this week when she came to the Senate Judiciary Hearing chaired by Senate Patrick Leahy of Vermont, a long-time opponent of parts of section 215 of the Patriot Act. Last summer, NSA contractor Edward Snowden revealed that section 215 has been used by the NSA to authorize the creation and maintenance of massive databases of Americans’ call and internet records. Leahy is preparing to unveil legislation soon that would stop the NSA’s program and limit the agency in other ways. Feinstein, arriving at Leahy’s hearing and asking for the floor even before the ranking Republican had a chance to speak, made it clear she was having none of it.

Feinstein said that 9/11 might have been prevented if the U.S. had had the bulk metadata collection program in the summer of 2001 when then-CIA chief George Tenet knew there was an imminent terrorist threat, but didn’t know how to uncover it. “I believe that if this were to happen again, with this program and other programs working in combination, we have an opportunity to pick that up. Absent these kinds of technological programs we do not have the opportunity to pick that up.” And in case it wasn’t clear where she stood on the continuation of the program of bulk collection of American’s metadata, she said, “I will do everything I can to prevent this program from being canceled out.”

Even though Leahy is likely to have the support of libertarian GOP Senator Mike Lee of Utah and House Judiciary Chair James Sensenbrenner, other Democratic Senators on the Judiciary committee are expected to follow Feinstein’s lead, including Rhode Island’s liberal Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, who is hawkish on national security and intelligence matters.

Leahy’s bill isn’t the only one Feinstein’s likely to derail. Senators Ron Wyden of Oregon and Mark Udall of Colorado, longtime opponents of the 215 bulk collection of Americans’ metadata, have a bill in the intelligence committee that would also ban the program.

Others seeking to constrain the NSA may have better luck collaborating with Feinstein rather than opposing her. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut is expected to propose introducing an adversarial element to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court, which currently only hears from government lawyers seeking permission to collect on Americans. Intelligence officials have said they might not be opposed to such an advocate.

Feinstein has spoken with Blumenthal about the proposal, but has not publicly committed to supporting his approach. “The idea of introducing another party or having another voice is something [Feinstein's] looked at and [she] believes there’s a way to accommodate that goal, but there are some limitations on how far that should go,” says one Senate intelligence committee aide.

Feinstein has her own bill that she is preparing with Senator Saxby Chambliss, the ranking Republican on the Senate intelligence committee. Their bill, Feinstein said at a committee hearing last month, would:

Limit access to the Section 215 phone metadata records, expressly prohibit collection of the content of phone calls, and codify the requirement that analysts must have a recent articulable suspicion that a phone number is associated with terrorism in order to even query the database.

In addition, we’re looking at reducing the length of time that records can be held and queried. We will also add a requirement that every time NSA determines that there is a reasonable articulable suspicion that a phone number is associated with terrorism, that determination will be sent promptly to the FISA Court so that it can be reviewed.

We will also require additional transparency by requiring annual reports on the number of phone numbers determined to have met that reasonable articulable suspicion standard, the number of queries conducted each year, the number of time such queries result in FBI investigative leads each year and the number of probable-cause warrants or FISA Court orders obtained because of intelligence gathered from these queries each year.

Those who oppose the 215 program say this is “window dressing.” But some of those opponents are also clear-eyed about who’s in control on Capitol Hill when it comes to NSA reform. “Everyone’s got a bill [but] most of them have zero chance of moving forward,” says the Senate aide involved in the debate. “At the end of the day, we’ll see primarily Feinstein.”

MORE: The Surveillance Society

21 comments
EdwardDouglas
EdwardDouglas

Dianne Feinstein is one of the most ant-American, scum of the earth people in this country! Saying you are going to protect the United States (thereby protect liberty and freedom), by warrant less email,phone, instant message tapping is like saying you are going to protect freedom of speech by silencing those against freedom of speech.Contact your senators and ask them to get this woman out of committee ASAP. She is a threat to the values this country was founded on (not to mention the 4th amendment).

dwightneller
dwightneller

“I will do everything I can to prevent this program from being canceled out.” -- Dianne Feinstein

Hopefully she will be removed from office soon for violating her oaths of office repeatedly and lying to the public about these grave matters of Constitution. These programs didn't prevent or help in the Boston bombing, so why would they have helped during 9/11? She is lining her pockets with tax payer dollars (Richard C Blum) while funneling world wide intelligence from foreign and domestic surveillance programs free of charge or rule straight to Mossad in Israel. 


PrettyEnRouge
PrettyEnRouge

I hope the ACLU, tech companies, or some other organization brings this up to the Supreme Court (not the Congressionally-created, secret FISA court, which is inherently biased) to rule on the constitutionality of the Patriot Act in allowing this kind of pervasive spying by the NSA.  I am often annoyed to hear politicians or political pundits claim this is "legal" when the Patriot Act raises serious constitutional issues that has not been reviewed by the highest court of the land.  On the other hand, the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) has been ruled constitutional but the GOP constantly blurts the opposite.  This goes to show that our politicians defy reality to claim a law is unconstitutional when it is and constitutional when it is not.  They are in a universe of their own.  At this point, our last hope in defending our privacy and civil liberties is the Supreme Court.

jlgottfred
jlgottfred

If Senator Feinstein has her way there will be no reform of our intelligence agencies.  I wrote her a letter expressing my belief these rogue NSA domestic spying programs were unconstitutional by violating the 1st and 4th Amendments, there was no responsible oversight, and that they were unnecessarily intrusive into the lives of innocent American citizens, only to receive a reply that the programs were legal and to more or less to expect more of the same.  

What frosted me most was her patronizing closing line, "Again, please know that although we may not agree on this subject, your correspondence is important to me and I value your contribution to the ongoing debate about U.S. national security programs."

Yea, right. Ms. Feinstein. With you the debate will be muted, there will be no meaningful reform and supervision, and the NSA will continue to fill that big new data center in Utah with information that is of questionable value finding terrorists.   Which side is she on and who does she work for anyway, her constituents or the NSA?  ...I rue the day I voted for her.


Hoover
Hoover

Who is blackmailing who? Feinstein?

abbadabba
abbadabba

Hey, TIME, nothing malformed about my content, so why not just say, "...Tire tracks up and down your back...We can see you've had your fun...?"  I'm done.

abbadabba
abbadabba

John, the Major Folder.  Sometimes it's a good thing to be a failure of a king.  Magna Carta.  Can't say that G-Gpa didn't leave me anything.  And I'm not standing by while some colluding traitor tries to take it away from US.  Who died and made Feisntein absolutist QUEEN?  I'd LOVE to sic Eleanor on her arse.

abbadabba
abbadabba

Blanket Merchant, I think I've covered everything.  Oh, the Merchant's seed got me a hook up to Robert E. Lee, too.  So I resent this intrusion on behalf of the North and South.

abbadabba
abbadabba

You know who was the "Centrist" protecting CIA while the Church Committee was hacking at it?  Rumsfeld.  He stopped that progress and installed George Bush Sr, for CIA chief, Mr. Zapata Oil.

How the tables do turn.  Feinstein is the Dem equivalent of Donald Rumsfeld.  How DARE she exploit democratic loyalty to defile democracy!! 

If the Senate votes for this atrocity upon Liberty, then, "Beam me up, Patrick Henry."  Even Spock's a spook.

Keep the health insurance.  Who wants to live a longer CHEAPENED life?

abbadabba
abbadabba

NSA said a few days ago they give FBI data on Americans.  Correct me if I'm wrong, but they should not be collecting ANY data on Americans.  Since when did the US lose it's exceptional qualities and become a sad replica of it's former self?  

Wake up, Van Winkles.  We're British, again.

abbadabba
abbadabba

I found Feinsten's statements at a previous hearing VERY enlightening.  As a lawyer standing up for NSA's capture and storage of our business data claimed it was SAFER to let government keep our records so that a divorce attorney could not get at them, Feinstein suggested if we preferred corporations maintained them, we'd have to PAY for it.

So, is NSA telling me if I just hook up to their Matrix at birth, they will cover for my deceptions?  I just need to decide who I fear more?  My spouse or NSA?  

Get in line behind my spouse's lawyer, NSA!!

The internet is free.  The cosmic joke of the century.  A judge has just told google they have not established an agreement with customers to mine their data for advertisers, much less NSA.  If Feinstein prevails, that case is null and void, just as she hopes it will be.

She sure puts a cheap price on our Liberty.  Where's the auction block, Feinstein?  I wish to protest.

abbadabba
abbadabba

See, Carroll, they don't care, either.  A free conscience seems to terrify the media as much as the government.

abbadabba
abbadabba

Did anyone notice google is now using NSA's theme to try to get us to tap that "3 people unfriended you" con game?  Now it says "2 people are spying on you."  Come on Google, it's always been YOU!

abbadabba
abbadabba

If Feinstein is CENTRIST, who are the reactionaries?  

Is ANYONE else asking for more erosions of our Liberty than she?  Show me who's more supportive of NSA than she is, TIME.  And how about a little sociogram of her family's ties that bind it to this industry.  Start with SAIC.  The 2013 equivalent of AIC.  AIC got the bids to dig canals for Russia from Baku to Petrograd in 1921.  How'd ya like them apples, BP?   Unc the Skunk handed Lenin a million dollar check for winning the Russian Monopoly Game and them came home crowing about what great democrats the Bolsheviki would make in the NYTs.  Always the joker, that NY Federal Reserve Class B yanker.

abbadabba
abbadabba

Hey, Destor, I too found TiME's claim Feinstein is an NSA Centrist an artful lie.  She's their most avid defender considering she's in the same kettle with them.  She deserves, with Rogers, to face expulsion hearings.  I am willing to listen to her defense of her unlawful actions, and I won't even whip out unwarranted sigint on her arse.

Tommy Lamont , TIME's publisher during the last hard times, used to cover for folks like her.  Why do we think fascists were so prominently covered?  Lamont was THE JP Morgan partner who knew if those fasci defaulted on their Dawes, Young and Pony Show debts, the bank would be bereft of their global influence.  But claiming Il Duce's murder of a half million Ethiopeans with mustard gas was just the equivalent of American Westward Expansion is pushing the exceptional joke a bit too far.  Swing in hell, Tommy.

destor23
destor23

I get that the public is pretty divided here but Feinstein is defending the status quo.  Not sure how you characterize that as a "centrist" position.  It isn't centrist, it is pro-surveillance.  Not even sure how you define "centrist" in this context.  You either thing the programs should be preserved, expanded or curtailed.  There is no center.

Another odd bit of language is that you're framing this entirely as a "national security" issue, without reference to civil liberties.

abbadabba
abbadabba

Considering that NSA has built the largest hard drive in human history in Utah to store the SWARM intel of every hooked up human on earth, I'd say Fitz had the right idea.  I can't imagine how one smashes a hard drive that large, but maybe Halliburton's got an idea?  The US Army blew up the Skunk's "diamond," an analogy by Fitz  on global monopolies, and I think Utah is due for a good droning.  The locals don't even like those invasive spooks.  No work for locals, just the cold shoulder and little interaction.  That's how some Mormon town used to welcome gentiles.  Way to run a old program, NSA.

abbadabba
abbadabba

Tommy, Unc the Skunk, SSMom.  

If Skunk died before SSMom was born, must I include a live connection?  Stick "Aunt Peggy" in between the Skunk and SSMom.  She was NOT SSMom's aunt, but "cousin" just doesn't cut if for those who think their worth is linked to the familial past.  I just love blasting it rhetorically like Fitzgerald did with "The Diamond as Big as the Ritz."  The "family" loved to say that book was based on the Skunk.  He and the Gugg's proprietary porphyry process made dirt into copper just in time for WWI. The Skunk was up to his eyebrows in Tea Pot Dome, too, so I got my major scandal code patterns running, NSA.  

Data is the New Oil.  Pass it on.

abbadabba
abbadabba

Hey, TIME, how's Tommy hanging?  Lamont.  We got connections.  Don't make me whip out a sociogram on you! 

I just wanted to say there's a great essay by a novelist who's had the opportunity to view GCHQ's NSA files.  He is glad to see that service is more involved in their mandate, but changed his mind about mining our data and storing it forever.  He says the reason folks in the UK aren't livid about this is because it's to vague, and an example of abuse is necessary to spark their smoldering suspicions.

Well, one of the reasons they aren't up in arms is because in the UK, they cannot publicly comment on persons or evidence pertaining to an investigation or upcoming tiral to spare the suspects any bias that it might generate.  

OURS is the more PERFECT union.  We MAY discuss such items UNLESS gagged by a judge or by a monstrous security state attempting to silence our dissent.

SO, I ask...Why did David Cameron's email come out of Rebekah Brooks' Blackberry without any content?  This was attested to in court in November of 2011 and the Leveson Inquiry and is outlined in the first six pages of Brooks' testimony.  She is facing trial this month.

In 2011, NO ONE could tell the court how that imaging failure happend, but since Snowden's revelations, I've got two good guesses.  Either the Blackberry's compression technology, which GCHQ celebrated cracking with champagne, has been reverse employed, OR that's the Tempora metadata copy of his full content email.  I read two weeks ago that a person was arrested in the UK for altering the performance of a computer, but not much more due to the UK's laws.  Typically, the press hired former police to do their dirty work but this would have to have been someone with exceptional skills aquired working for the government. 

Also, that devise was in the UK police custody as the press was revealing they had done NOTHING to investigate the 4000 victims of NewsUK's cell phone hacking over five years.  So, I see motive both within the press AND the police force to tamper with both evidence and spy technology to cover their arses.

abbadabba
abbadabba

Feinstein is attempting to rewrite the Constitution so as to prevent herself facing an expulsion hearing for violating more American's civil rights than Nixon could have ever dreamed of violating.  And, like he, she continues to lie about it.

"Reasonable, articulable suspicion" is NOT in the Constitution.  If you want to violate our civil rights, you must have probable cause.  Hell, even Chrome's spell check says "articulable" isn't a word, and if that unfounded suspicion is only articulated in secret, then we are NOT an exceptional nation, ANYMORE!  This is an atrocity.

She is also intending to prevent legal cases moving against Google concerning their unauthorized collection of our personal data and street mapping our wireless computers.  She intends to do this by codifyng NSA weak standards to protect them and her own hide.  I imagine that's her biggest concern, losing access to data she and NSA hope to collect and store on us for eternity.  I don't buy her one year guarantee for all the tea in China.

She, Rogers and Obama should face expulsion and impeachment hearings.  Instead, she continues to rule Congress like NSA's lap dog.  She's out to silence independent investigations and revelations by American Citizens, too.  Probably because she's more vulnerable to discovery of criminality than we are.  But I'm guessing, just as NSA does when they pick from a dropdown list to justify violating our human and civil rights.


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