Dem Senator disputes Obama's statement that Congress was briefed on NSA surveillance
In his statement defending the NSA telephone surveillance program, President Obama said that every member of Congress had been briefed.
That statement was challenged by one Democratic Senator who said he had to get special permission in order to view the details because he wasn't on the intelligence committee.
Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) on Friday disputed a claim President Obama made at a press conference only moments earlier, when the president said that every member of Congress had been briefed on the National Security Agency's (NSA) domestic phone surveillance program.
Merkley said only select members of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees had been briefed on the program, and that he was only aware of it because he obtained "special permission" to review the pertinent documents after hearing about it second-hand.
"I knew about the program because I specifically sought it out," Merkley said on MSNBC. "It's not something that's briefed outside the Intelligence Committee. I had to get special permission to find out about the program. It raised concerns for me. ... When I saw what was being done, I felt it was so out of sync with the plain language of the law and that it merited full public examination, and that's why I called for the declassification."
At a press conference on Friday, Obama said that every member of Congress had been briefed on the phone monitoring program. The president argued that the policy, which was implemented in 2007, struck the "right balance" between privacy and national security, and that it had been helpful in thwarting terrorist attacks.
Obama also noted that federal judges had to sign off on the data gathering requests, which did not encompass the content of phone calls, but only the phone numbers.
But Merkley on Friday blasted the administration's handling of the program, saying it had ignored requests from Congress to explain the NSA's domestic surveillance actions, and that it was implementing the program in a way that did not follow the "standard of the law."
Merkley argued that "plain language of the law" said that the NSA should only be allowed to collect phone data that related to an open investigation, but that the agency was using a "broad vacuum" to sweep up data from ordinary Americans.
Obama also gave one of his famous false choices when he said we couldn't have "100% security and 100% privacy." That's a crock. No one that I've heard is arguing for 100% privacy - or security for that matter. All but the most rabid civil liberty absolutists recognize there are trade offs involved.
The questions that hangs over this debate is how much liberty and privacy we are sacrificing with these programs and is any program of this kind worth the intel it gathers?
We are assured by the intelligence professionals that these programs are vital to keeping us safe. But the way these programs have been reported, it seems to me that they are drawn far too broadly, and not enough effort is made to prevent the records of Americans from being abused.
Senator Merkley would probably agree with that statement.