Sen. Bob Corker is dismayed today to find the surveillance state he voted to support and expand is alive and well.
The Guardian broke the news last night — confirming the long-held suspicions of national security observers and people holding cardboard signs on street corners — that the National Security Agency has been collecting the telephone records of millions of Americans. Specifically, the report revealed a secret court order requiring Verizon to hand over information on all telephone calls in its system, in the U.S. and in other countries, on an "ongoing, daily basis."
Bob Corker has questions. In a letter to President Barack Obama this morning, Corker, who is the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he said that the NSA's activity "raises extremely serious concerns."
The full text of his letter:
Dear Mr. President:
According to an article first published in a British newspaper and supported by what purports to be an actual highly classified court order signed by a federal judge serving on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, the Federal Bureau of Investigation has requested and obtained, on behalf of the National Security Agency, access to the phone records of every American citizen and others on the Verizon network over a three month period.
On its face, if true, the collection of this massive amount of detailed information about the communications of American citizens raises extremely serious concerns about why such a broad collection is necessary and how this information is used.
The Administration must therefore immediately come to Congress and to the American people to explain whether this story is accurate, what is being collected, what it is used for, and how the privacy and civil liberties of Americans are protected. Specifically, the Administration should explain exactly why this information is necessary to protect national security, what investigations this information is used for, how this information is stored, who has access to it and under what conditions, and whether and what restrictions apply to the government’s use of this information once it is accessed.
Please provide me a briefing on this matter, whether classified or otherwise, by no later than Monday, June 10, 2013.
Imagine giving your teenager the keys to a car, with a full tank of gas, then finding out sometime later — to your shock and amazement — that the kid had been driving it around. There. You're Bob Corker, a U.S. senator who is either terrible at his job or a disingenuous grandstander. But I repeat myself.
The Obama administration's domestic surveillance program is operating within a framework that Corker has approved every chance he's gotten.
Corker voted for the Protect America Act of 2007, under George W. Bush, which expanded the government's authority to listen in on Americans' phone calls and snoop on their emails without a warrant. In 2008, he voted to extend the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, with amendments broadening the government's wiretapping powers and a provision granting legal immunity to telecommunications companies that cooperated with the Bush administration's warrantless wiretapping program. Three years later, Corker voted to re-authorize the Patriot Act, approving, among other things, the continuation of roving wiretaps and the "business records" provision which allows a secret court to issue orders granting the federal government access to "any tangible things" in connection with national security investigations. (The latter is the provision cited by the newly revealed order for Verizon's call records.) And then in December of last year, Corker voted to extend FISA yet again, while voting to defeat amendments aimed at creating more transparency and oversight.
After all that, Corker is demanding an explanation about the Obama administration's secret surveillance activity. Frankly we'd like one ourselves. From the president. And from Bob Corker.
You can't blame Corker too much for not recognizing blatant hypocrisy when it comes out of his own mouth. No one else in Washington, D.C., seems to either.
UPDATE: Corker's office emails the following statement:
Senator Corker’s request for further explanation regarding such a sweeping collection of Americans’ phone records is entirely consistent with congressional oversight requirements under the Patriot Act to ensure that the administration is using the authority granted by Congress in an appropriate way, balancing national security with the privacy and civil liberties of innocent Americans.