House Leadership Blocks Key Intelligence Reforms

The House GOP leadership’s hostility to reforming the U.S. Intelligence Community is on full display this week. The House Rules Committee (which is controlled by House Speaker John Boehner) blocked several key reform amendments to the annual Intelligence Authorization bill from even reaching the House floor for consideration.

Furious over an op-ed by Privacy and Civil Liberties Board chairman David Medine that called for an independent review of the executive branch’s “assassination-by-drone” policy, House Intelligence Committee chairman Devin Nunes (R-CA) included language in the annual Intelligence Authorization bill banning the PCLOB from examining the “covert” drone program. A bipartisan amendment (led by Rep. Jim Himes of Connecticut) that would have struck that language was barred from consideration.

Last week, the House passed a bipartisan amendment to the annual Defense Department spending bill baring the federal government from using taxpayer dollars to search the stored communications of Americans collected by NSA. That same amendment would also prevent the federal government from mandating that American tech companies build encryption-defeating “back doors” into their products. The authors of that amendment, Democrat Zoe Lofgren of California and Republican Thomas Massie of Kentucky, wanted to make those provisions permanent, but their amendment was also blocked.

An amendment by Florida Democrat Alan Grayson would’ve banned the federal government from undermining encryption standards promulgated by the National Institutes of Standards and Technology, which has been under fire for its relationship with NSA. That amendment was also disallowed.

Republican Justin Amash offered an amendment to strike language in last year’s Intelligence Authorization bill that permits “the acquisition, retention and dissemination” nonpublic telephone or electronic communications of United States persons without the consent of the person or proper legal process. It was also ruled out of order.

And of course, the bill continues to bar the processing and release of prisoners at Guantanamo who have long been cleared for departure and repatriation.

So just as it has for years, the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence is taking zero action to deal with clear violations of Americans’ Fourth Amendment rights revealed by Edward Snowden, as well as long-standing “war on terror” policies that are clearly harming, not helping, defeat the likes of ISIS.

However, the bill expands the U.S. Intelligence Community by creating a new bureaucracy: the National Cyber Threat Intelligence Integration Center. How the NCTIIC’s operations will be reconciled with the already existing U.S. Cyber Command is not at all clear. And Cyber Command will continue to dwarf NCTIIC in both personnel (3000+ vs. 50) and budget—which means Cyber Command (and thus NSA) will continue to be the driving force behind U.S. cybersecurity policies. One former senior DHS official resigned because of the implications of NSA’s dominance in cybersecurity issues, concerns that persist but that the committee has ignored.

All of the expertise of the military and intelligence community in cyber defense has clearly not translated into better cyber “hygiene” by other federal departments and agencies, as we’ve seen with the recent, massive hack into the Office of Personnel Management’s database. Yesterday, I got my own “You may have been hacked” letter from OPM, as did my wife (we are both former CIA analysts). It brought back memories of the last time my family got such a letter, in the wake of a hack of Department of Energy systems which involved more than just DoE employees.

That self-proclaimed “small government, fiscal conservatives” continue place faith in a nearly-porous federal IT infrastructure is just one more example of how badly Washington is broken.