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Senators Ron Wyden, Dianne Feinstein, and Pat Roberts in an Intelligence Committee meeting.
Thursday's close House vote on ending funding for the NSA's dragnet surveillance program has reverberated in Congress, and now lawmakers in charge of the intelligence committees are figuring out how to respond.
The narrow defeat in the House on Wednesday of an amendment that sought to end the National Security Agency’s blanket collection of phone logs appeared to have an immediate impact on Capitol Hill. Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, the Democratic chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said committee leaders met “all afternoon” on Wednesday as the House deliberated to try and find accommodations to mounting misgivings about the program after disclosures by Edward J. Snowden, a former N.S.A. contractor.
Senator Mark Udall, a Colorado Democrat on the Intelligence Committee and a longtime critic of the surveillance programs, said he was in discussions on Thursday on a way forward.
But leaders of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees also said they would go only so far to allay concerns about the scope of the surveillance.
“It’s pretty obvious that we’ve got some uneasy folks, and this program has worked too well: it’s not an invasion of privacy, it’s supervised by the court, it complies with all constitutional requirements,” said Senator Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, the panel’s ranking Republican. “We just need to make it as transparent as we can without interrupting the program, and that will set folks’ minds at ease.”
Many of Sen. Chambliss's colleagues would disagree with that assessment. Sens. Udall and Ron Wyden (D-OR), both members of the Intelligence committee and both having been in classified briefings about the program, say that they have seen no evidence that the NSA program "has actually provided any uniquely valuable intelligence" and from their knowledge of the program, all of information used in the examples provided by the administration and their committee leaders was available from other collection methods, not requiring the vacuuming up of virtually every American's phone call data.
Transparency is a place to start, but with a secret court, accountable to no one, making secret interpretations of the law, and a Congress that is supposed to be doing oversight hamstrung by having to keep whatever they learn secret, well, Chambliss and Feinstein have a hell of a lot more work ahead of them than they apparently think.