The failure of the U.S. Senate last weekend to deal with expiring provisions of the anti-terrorism Patriot Act has led the Obama Administration to begin work to end a controversial National Security Agency surveillance program dealing with the bulk collection of phone records.
“We have long said that we would not continue the program if the statutory authority expired on June 1 and we have begun the wind down process, including by not filing an application for reauthorization,” a senior intelligence official told me on Memorial Day.
The move came after gridlock in the Senate early on Saturday morning, as Senators could not muster 60 votes to either approve a House-passed reform of terrorism surveillance laws or an alternative pushed by GOP leaders in the Senate.
Unable to act, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell tried to get a short-term extension of current surveillance laws past June 1, but that was objected to repeatedly by Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY).
The main target of Paul and other critics has been Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which has been used by U.S. Intelligence for the bulk collection of records – but there are two other provisions of the anti-terror law that also expire June 1:
+ A provision on roving wiretaps that extended the authority to use roving wiretaps in criminal cases for terrorism and counterintelligence as well;
+ The “lone wolf” provision, which authorizes the gathering of intelligence on individuals who are not linked to any terrorist group under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
While the FBI Director and other top U.S. officials have argued for the preservation of their investigative powers under Section 215, some like constitutional lawyer Bruce Fein aren’t swayed.
But there are lawmakers in both parties who say the gridlock is unacceptable, and that there must be a push in coming days to ensure these provisions of the Patriot Act don’t expire.
“What are we doing?” Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) asked with an incredulous tone after 1 a.m. on Saturday. “We can’t even pass a law.”
But the “parliamentary quagmire” – in the words of Mikulski – may not change in coming days, one reason why the Intelligence Community is moving to end the NSA bulk collection program by June 1.
Nothing is expected to happen this week in the Congress, as both the House and Senate are out on break; the Senate will return on Sunday evening – May 31 – to see if Congress can address the matter, just hours before those provisions expire.
The House won’t return to work until the next day, June 1.
And so, U.S. Intelligence is ready to end this NSA program that was revealed by Edward Snowden, who fled the country after his giant leak about NSA surveillance.