Sunday, August 18, 2013

Voters Confront Chris Van Hollen About NSA Mass Surveillance // PLUS: Rep. Dennis Kucinich Slams NSA at DC Film Screening

Privacy Advocates Criticize Chris Van Hollen at Town Hall
Maryland Juice previously reported that more than half of the Free State's Democratic members of the U.S. House voted to continue potentially illegal violations of our Internet and telephone privacy. Democratic Representatives John Delaney, Chris Van Hollen, Dutch Ruppersberger, and Steny Hoyer voted against ending constitutionally questionable surveillance of Americans, while Donna Edwards, John Sarbanes, Elijah Cummings and GOP Rep. Andy Harris voted to end the sketchy practice.

Below we provide a round-up of updates to the snowballing story, including responses from Congressmen John Delaney & Chris Van Hollen.

VOTERS SLAM VAN HOLLEN AND OTHER POLITICIANS OVER NSA SURVEILLANCE - In the wake of startling revelations that the NSA (our top spy agency) has been engaging in mass surveillance of innocent Americans, voters are beginning to confront members of Congress during their August recess Town Hall meetings. Politico reported on the development last week (excerpt below):
POLITICO: Activists with Demand Progress and similar groups raised their surveillance qualms at a town hall held Tuesday by Rep. Jim Langevin (D-R.I.), a member of the House Intelligence Committee. And a small group of protestors appeared to disrupt [Rep. Chris] Van Hollen’s recent August gathering, an event focused on climate change in Silver Spring, Md. The tiny activist cohort carried signs emblazoned, “VAN HOLLEN WRONG ON NSA: Restore the 4th!” The Democratic congressman voted against the so-called Amash amendment because it wasn’t “the most comprehensive and effective” approach, according to a spokeswoman, who added Van Hollen does support “rewriting these laws....”

The foremost congressional supporters of the NSA long have been playing defense on Capitol Hill. At one point, though, agency allies invited the NSA’s leader, Gen. Keith Alexander, to brief lawmakers “in advance of the August district work period,” according to an invite sent to Democrats last month and obtained by POLITICO.

Maryland Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger, the leading Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, hosted his party’s session. He stressed the meeting wasn’t focused on teaching members how to fend off angry voters. The point, Ruppersberger said, was to “get the facts from the source so that there’s not false information.”
OVERSIGHT FAILURE FROM CONGRESS - Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger, whose district includes the NSA's headquarters in Ft. Meade, has abdicated his responsibility to conduct oversight of the agency's surveillance activities, and has instead served as a cheerleader for illegal spying on Americans. The reason why this is a serious problem, is because the NSA's Director of National Intelligence James Clapper has now admitted he perjured himself when asked by Congress about the unconstitutional surveillance. writer David Sirota now reports that a new poll shows a strong majority of Americans want to see Clapper prosecuted for perjury (excerpt below):
SALON.COM: There is no longer any doubt that Director of National Intelligence James Clapper lied to Congress. Likewise, there is no doubt that his lie runs afoul of federal law. And, of course, there is no doubt that in terms of its implications for oversight, constitutional precepts and privacy for millions of Americans, his lies were far more serious than those that have gotten other people prosecuted for perjury. The question now is whether his brazen dishonesty will become a political issue — or whether it will simply disappear into the ether.

As evidenced by President Obama this week attempting to promote Clapper to head an “independent” NSA reform panel, the White House clearly believes it will be the latter. But a set of new polls out today suggests such a calculation may be wrong....

In the Democratic states of California and Hawaii, 54 percent and 58 percent of voters, respectively, want him prosecuted. In middle-of-the-road Iowa, it’s 65 percent. And in Republican Texas and Kentucky, it is 68 percent and 69 percent, respectively. These are particularly striking numbers because the “not sure” numbers are relatively small....
Indeed, outrage over the NSA's surveillance of innocent Americans has become a bipartisan issue, even impacting those who voted correctly to end the questionable snooping. The Huffington Post reported recently that Maryland's Tea Party Congressman Andy Harris was confronted by voters over the issue, even though he voted the right way (excerpt below):
HUFFINGTON POST: A Maryland town hall meeting grew heated Tuesday, when GOP Rep. Andy Harris faced disgruntled constituents angry over partisan politics fraying the country and the perceived lack of Republican action to fix problems.

At a packed gathering in Bel Air, voters voiced their discontent on topics ranging from the Benghazi attack to National Security Agency surveillance to health care reform. Some demanded that Republicans do more to pressure President Barack Obama and Democrats to change the direction of the country....

Harris tried to calm the crowd during the almost-two-hour meeting, emphasizing that he is "very, very worried about what the NSA is doing"....But Harris' constituents had grave concerns.

"When is this government going to come clean with the American people and tell us what this secret law says, how it's being secretly interpreted, how it's being secretly implemented, and what it means [to] every person in this room," one angered resident asked....

DENNIS KUCINICH SLAMS NSA & COMMENTS ON SNOWDEN AT DC FILM SCREENING - Last week, Maryland Juice invited readers to the DC film premiere of "Terms and Conditions May Apply," a new film about privacy and surveillance in the digital era. The screening was attended by numerous national civil liberties advocates, several Montgomery County residents and filmmaker Cullen Hoback. But former presidential candidate and U.S. House member Dennis Kucinich stopped by the premiere and offered his thoughts on the NSA scandal. Kucinich slammed the NSA and called for its dissolution, while stating that there should be ticker-tape parades for NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. Maryland Juice captured his comments in the video below:

VAN HOLLEN & DELANEY (KIND OF) BACKING AWAY FROM SUPPORT FOR NSA SURVEILLANCE - After the outcry over the failure to end the NSA's mass surveillance program, two Maryland supporters of the spy agency, are quietly trying to "reform" the program. Politico reported that this morning Van Hollen claimed that we should fix the snooping program to make it better (excerpt below):
POLITICO: [Rep. Chris Van Hollen] voted against an amendment by Rep. Justin Amash to pull much of the funding for the NSA program, calling it the wrong approach....  The NSA was back in the news last week after recent with a report in The Washington Post that the agency has broken privacy rules “thousands” of times.... The NSA to needs to get “advanced approval” for its queries, Van Hollen said....
Meanwhile, a few weeks ago Rep. John Delaney issued a press release asking for Congress to "examine" the NSA's mass surveillance activities:
JOHN DELANEY: Congressman John K. Delaney (MD-6) has joined 153 Members of Congress on a letter to President Obama regarding the NSA’s collection of bulk metadata. The letter states that, “Congress must examine the various national security collection programs and consider amendments to the law.”...

“My constituents have made it clear that they are troubled by the scope of our intelligence and counter-terrorism programs. I share their concerns. In the Washington region, we also know that we face an elevated risk of terrorism each day. Congress has a critical oversight role to perform and we should continue to examine the constitutional and national security implications of our policies,” said Congressman Delaney. “There was a heated debate last week on the Amash amendment, but that was not the final chapter. It’s important that we get this right: these programs are at the intersection of our security and protected liberties, the stakes are very high.” 
Indeed, Van Hollen and Delaney both signed a flimsy and meaningless letter to President Obama noting that there are "lingering questions" about NSA activities and that Congress should "examine" what's going on. It should be noted, however, that the letter lacks any credibility, given that it calls for no specific policy changes and was also signed by the same Democratic leaders who were whipping the NSA vote against privacy advocates. Indeed, many long-time rubber-stamps for the NSA and Pentagon signed the letter calling for more "examination" of the NSA's assault on the constitution. What have they been doing the last ten years? Apparently not "examining" what the NSA is doing.  #OversightFAIL


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