A day after the White House urged Congress to pass a bill extending a warrantless surveillance program, President Trump took to Twitter to attack it.
On Thursday, the House of Representatives will vote on whether to extend the Section 702 program of the FISA Amendments Act, which permits American spies to collect and store, without the bother of a warrant, the digital communications—including data stored by companies like Google, Facebook, and Apple, among other internet data—and telephone conversations of foreign targets, even when those targets are communicating with US citizens.
Extending the program is overwhelming viewed as necessary to the national defense, though a bipartisan coalition of US lawmakers are attempted to enshrine new privacy protections under the law through a reform bill known as the USA RIGHTS Act, which aims to protect Americans from invasive, warrantless government surveillance.
In a statement yesterday, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders urged Congress to vote against the privacy amendments, which the administration claims would “re-establish the walls between intelligence and law enforcement that our country knocked down following the attacks of 9/11 in order to increase information sharing and improve our national security.”
Aside from the fact that the White House statement is factually inaccurate—the amendment does not prevent intelligence sharing—it is absolutely clear where the Trump administration stands: Section 702 must be renewed.
Unfortunately, President Trump didn’t seem to get the memo.
In a tweet Thursday morning, Trump wrote: “This is the act that may have been used, with the help of the discredited and phony Dossier, to so badly surveil and abuse the Trump Campaign by the previous administration and others?” (Likely told he made a big fucking mistake, Trump later attempted to walk back his tweet with another conflicting tweet.)
Americans have learned over the past year that Trump isn’t too savvy when it comes to national security issues—but one would think, at the very least, that he’d have some sort of list on hand telling him which bills he should refrain from trashing on Twitter.
One. Would. Think.
It is likely that president saw today’s vote as opportunity to continue spreading false propaganda about how his campaign was unlawfully victimized by the previous administration. US spies are known, for instance, to have intercepted calls between his former national security advisor, Michael Flynn—who has pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about those calls—and the former Russian Ambassador, Sergey Kislyak. Trump later accused Susan Rice, a former national security adviser for President Barack Obama, of improperly unmasking the names of US persons “incidentally” collected through the surveillance of foreigners to target the Trump campaign.
It’s not just Trump and his cronies who can get caught up in Section 702 surveillance: any American who communicates with a foreign government official, particularly one of a hostile nation, is likely to have those conversation recorded by US spies.
As they say in billiards, them’s the breaks.
The lawmakers who’ve set out to make the 702 program less threatening to Americans’ privacy have, meanwhile, faced an onslaught of propaganda themselves originating from the offices of US Congressman and total fuckup Devin Nunes, chair of the House Intelligence Committee. Fliers circulated by the committee’s Republican majority contain patently false information about the USA RIGHTS Act, as seen below:
The flier contends that the USA RIGHTS Act would enable “terrorists” to sue the US government for spying on them; another claims that “foreign spies” would be granted that same opportunity—which is patently false.
Of course, the notion that no one should be able to challenge US surveillance laws in court is an absurd and, frankly, un-American idea. But then again, Devin Nunes is a very absurd individual who is almost as much of a disaster for Section 702 as the president.
Update, 12:00pm: The House has passed a bill reauthorizing the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act for 6 years. (Traditionally, it has required annual reauthorization.)
Sen. Ron Wyden, meanwhile, announced plans to filibuster the bill in the Senate.