- - Thursday, July 25, 2013

The National Security Agency has been lying to Congress and the public. For years, employees at the spy agency have sworn they absolutely, positively never engage in domestic snooping. Thanks to the revelations of fugitive former spook Edward J. Snowden, we know these assurances were lies. Nothing the secretive agency says can be trusted.

Lies are a dangerous in a democracy. James Madison warned that leaving the citizens of a popular government in the dark “is but a prologue to a farce or a tragedy.” The House on Wednesday voted against doing anything about the domestic surveillance program.

An amendment introduced by Rep. Justin Amash, Michigan Republican, would have cut off all funding for the dragnet collection of personal phone calls, GPS location history and related “metadata” from Americans not suspected of any misdeeds. The measure would have erased the overly broad interpretation of Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which has enabled the domestic electronic dragnet. Snooping on foreign nationals, which the spy agency claims is the sole purpose of the program, would not have been affected.

Reluctant House leaders consented to schedule a vote on Mr. Amash’s amendment only after setting up a “cover” amendment that allowed members to vote in favor of what appeared to be a protection from spy agency abuse but does nothing to stop abuse of Section 215. It is so entirely toothless that it sailed through with a 409-12 vote, offending nobody and nothing but good faith.

A mere 30 minutes were set aside to debate the most sweeping Fourth Amendment question in memory. The House leadership only wants the issue to go away. The surveillance state prefers to work in the dark, not because it’s afraid terrorists will learn the United States is listening — al Qaeda is already aware of that — but because it fears an outraged public will take away its playthings, the tools of the trade that entrusts secretive agencies with power no government in history has ever before had.

A strange coalition of spooks, veterans of the George W. Bush White House, Republican and Democratic committee chairmen and the Obama administration emerged from the shadows to prevent the defunding of the domestic spying. Nothing creates “bipartisanship” quite like undermining the Constitution.

White House press secretary Jay Carney called the Amash amendment a “blunt approach” that is not “the product of an informed, open or deliberative process.” That’s precisely the problem. There can be nothing informed, open or deliberative about the program when the only person to have spoken openly about it is Edward Snowden.

Wednesday’s 205 to 217 vote on the Amash amendment did put the National Security Agency on notice that it, too, is being watched and that its program can go away if seven congressmen change their minds. Conservative Tea Party Republicans and liberal ACLU Democrats will continue to search for opportunities to impose limits on this unconstitutional surveillance. The spy agencies will need to demonstrate some restraint and respect for the truth lest their money be taken away. That’s progress, of a sort.

Voters can check the record to see whether their representative empowers Big Brother to “protect” us or enables the citizens to set limits on what their government can do. If voters keep these results in mind in 2014, this farce and tragedy of a surveillance program may have a happy ending yet.

The Washington Times