Caleb Brown: This is the Cato daily podcast for Monday, December 15, 2014. I’m Caleb Brown. Next year will present a new opportunity to reform the breathtaking surveillance the federal government conducts every day. Kentucky U.S. Representative Thomas Massie, the keynote speaker at the Cato Institute’s conference on surveillance last week, discussed the legislative lay of the land for surveillance reform in the next Congress.
Thomas Massie: Well, there are a lot of experts in the room today on this legislation, and our efforts, and what the government has been doing. What I want to share with you is the battle we are fighting in Congress and to give you a peek behind the curtain of what we go through when we try to reform some of the unconstitutional spying that has gone on in this country. And I will defer to the crowd on some of the, and particularly Julian, who is an expert, on some of these, the finer points of these issues, and then I also need to give credit to Zoe Lofgren and Rush Holt, who were the cosponsors of this amendment. They actually probably did more work on this amendment than I did, but we felt like a Republican had to introduce it, and I was the only Republican that was willing to introduce this bill, this amendment, that we had all worked on. So what I want to do is just give you an overview, really of three different legislative efforts. That would be the Amash Amendment to the DOD Appropriations Bill in 2013, the Freedom Act in the House - I won’t get into the Senate version of it, but what happened in the House, and then the Massie-Lofgren Amendment in the House. But first let me give you a little bit of my background and tell you sort of where I am ideologically. In 1993, when I was finishing my thesis at MIT, I looked up at the television and saw something happening in Waco, Texas, that disturbed me. And what I saw was there was a group of people that was easy to vilify. The left did not like them because they were clinging to guns and religion, and the right did not like them because they weren’t clinging to religion that they recognized and the individual was probably a polygamist at the, at Waco. But that didn’t justify what I saw. What I saw were tanks running over children’s Go Karts and dozens of people dying in a fire. And I decided there’s something wrong here with the left-right paradigm, there’s something wrong with civil liberties in this country, and that’s when, looking back, I decided that I was a civil libertarian. Another point I want to make that in Republican primaries across the country, the districts have been so gerrymandered that most of them are either red or blue and it ends up being a race to the right or a race to the left in a lot of these congressional districts. And in my case it’s a Republican district and there were seven candidates in a primary and everybody was trying to be more conservative than everybody else. But fortunately, thanks to the efforts of some of you in this room to inform my constituents, and thanks to the efforts of Rand Paul, who had just finished two years earlier running in Kentucky, people in Kentucky were in tune with the fact that our civil liberties have been violated by the Patriot Act and other pieces of legislation. So I campaigned on that instead of trying to be more to the right than the next person, and it was obviously, it worked, and I’m here - extremely frustrated some days at what happens, like last night when the Massie-Lofgren Amendment was, it was stripped behind closed doors, from the appropriations bills. It was actually amendment to the DOD Appropriations Bill and it was stripped from the omnibus part and parcel there was nothing left of it and that was very frustrating to see and, of course, the omnibus passed without that legislation on it, but I’ll get into that in a little bit. Let me describe my colleagues and myself as well - I’ll include myself in this. When I came to Congress, I’m an engineer, I thought if you had all of the facts on your side you could win the day and that your case would be a closed case. Open and shut. But what I discovered is that we’re all - we’re not voting algorithms, we’re soft mammals that go there and press buttons and we possess fully all of the faults that the general population possesses, no additional intelligence to speak of, and a greater degree of hubris. By virtue of winning the election some people think they’ve got a chip that instructs them on how to know everything better than their congressman. In fact, when I first got to Congress, one congressman told me that he was advised by an elder congressman when he got there, that I always vote the way my constituents would have me vote. Unless, of course, I know something about this legislation that they don’t, which is always the case. And they use that mentality to their advantage in Congress. And I say they - I mean the leadership which generally opposes any reform to the intelligence community’s activities - they use this on congressmen and, for instance, I’ll start with some pre-Snowden legislation, the CISPA. The Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act, which was - we were actually working on that in the House. It had just been debated in the house. It had just passed when the Snowden revelations came out. So it was actually helpful, the timing of those revelations and disclosures in that we could point back and say, see, this is what we were talking about could happen if CISPA passes. But when they did CISPA it was interesting. We had classified briefings. You know, they bring the generals in and the computer experts from the CIA and the NSA and they, I remember one comical briefing where there was a computer geek, and I have a lot of nerd pride so I can call people geeks, but he was sitting there and he was doing a demonstration of how the Russians could hack into your computer. Well, he was running two programs on the computer at the same time, so he’s actually hacking into the computer he was typing on, and that was interesting to him but I don’t think it made sense to any other of the congressmen. You know, to him he was running two different threads on his computer and so this was a novel thing he was doing, and he was typing in, like, hexadecimal numbers into a C prompt. You know, he’s down at the root level but he could see what was going on in the Windows, and his program crashed. His simulator crashed, and he was like, oh, darn it, and the general is, like, standing there, like, oh, shaking his head. And I’m thinking nobody realizes your program crashed in this room. You could just fake this whole thing. But anyways, they convinced everybody in that room that now they knew something nobody else knew and they were qualified to vote on CISPA and vote for CISPA, even though their constituents would not have them vote for CISPA. Then we had the Snowden revelations, I’ll call them, and then Congressman Amash, who is really the leader. He is the person that people go to in the House when they want to know what the legislation really does, because he has an excellent staff and he, himself, just pours through these bills. So he introduced an amendment to the DOD Appropriations Bill to try to stop the bulk collection of all your metadata. Because, actually, as Justin Amash points out, the metadata is probably more dangerous than the actual content, when they can realize how you are interacting socially and who you are interacting with. And so he sought to reign that in. And, but - and so that’s the first of the three bills I’m going to discuss but let me tell you why this was an amendment to an appropriations bill. The leadership and all the chairmen of the committees of respective jurisdiction do not want to reform the intelligence community’s activities. They just don’t want to do it. And in the House of Representatives, because of the committee structure and the leadership structure, they have so much power. We can introduce all the wonderful bills we want. We are up to H.R., like, 5600, in this Congress. So there’s been 5,600 bills introduced. But the leadership and the chairman decide which bills come to the floor. So, you know, those of us, like Justin Amash, and I, and Zoe Lofgren, that are trying to get legislation to the floor, we have to look for opportunities. And they’re few and far between. In fact, it reminds me, as an engineer, it reminds me of like that first invention where they tried to do movies and this thing rotated - it was called a daedalum or zoetrope - but it had little slits in it, you’ve probably seen one of these in a museum, and you look and a slit goes by and you can see a picture on the other side of the drum as its spinning. And that’s, occasionally photons pass through that drum, and that’s the way I look at our legislative opportunities, is occasionally there is a slit in the drum that goes by and you can get a few photons in there, and that, one of those opportunities is in the form of a limitation amendment to an appropriations bill. Congress has the power of the purse and the sort of democratic thing that the leadership has agreed to do merely to keep their leadership, because there would be a revolt if they didn’t, is to allow us to, anybody in the House - it’s one of the rare democratic aspects of the House, anybody in the House can offer any amendment they want. You can write it down in your handwriting and submit it to the clerk on any appropriations bill. But it’s very constrained because there are all these rules around it. You can’t legislate, you can’t affect existing code, all you can do is limit how the money is spent. And so that was how Justin Amash’s Amendment was drafted. And it’s very hard to achieve what we want to achieve. It would be better if we could sit down and write a bill that changes the U.S. code, but that’s not what these limitation amendments do. And, boy, he caught the attention of the world. He caught the attention of the leadership. He had the world bearing down on him for his efforts - no good deed goes unpunished - for his efforts one of our colleagues called him, in the media, Al-Qaeda’s best friend. And, of course, that got used against him in a campaign in a primary and so this is what you run up against when you try to introduce legislation. That bill failed by only seven votes. But it was heroic that we got within seven votes, because let me tell you who voted no. Nancy Pelosi and Steny Hoyer voted no, that’s the Minority Leader and the Minority Whip. John Boehner, who is the Speaker, and rarely ever votes on legislation, decided to vote on this piece of legislation, he voted no. The - Eric Cantor voted no, and the Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy voted no. So the entire leadership voted against it, all of the committee chairmen that had any jurisdiction over this voted against it, and yet we almost got half of the House of Representatives to go against all of the leadership on both parties and all of the committee chairmen and ranking members. So, and now that gets us to an interesting point. These folks who voted against that bill, it was like watching them put their hands into a wood chipper, because I knew they were voting against the will of their constituents, and they went home and did town halls, the ones that will still do town halls. And I watch town halls, other congressman’s town halls on YouTube for the same reason most people watch NASCAR - for the wrecks, to watch the pileups. And if you try to convince your constituents you’re pro-liberty and you’re not and you’ve got a voting record that shows you’re not, you’re going to have a wreck. And these folks that were on the wrong side of this vote, the ones who are still brave enough to do town halls, they went through the wood chipper back home. And this presented an opportunity. They came back and said, my gosh, we’ve got to do something. And so, let me see how much time I have here - they came back and said we’ve got to do something. So we had the Freedom Act, and they said what do we do? And so, Justin Amash was the leader in this and a lot of us worked on this and we got Jim Sensenbrenner, who was the original - actually this was his bill - but he was the original author of the Patriot Act and he feels like he was, you know, more or less misled when he passed the Patriot Act. They told him they wouldn’t do things with it which they actually went and did, so he wanted to right that wrong, and so he introduced the Freedom Act, and a lot of us had good input into that. It started out as a great bill, and everybody wanted to do something because they were getting beat up back home. So we got like 151 cosponsors on this thing, which is tremendous. And it had great reforms in there. Close backdoor loopholes, stop the bulk collection of metadata without tying the hands of the intelligence community to stop, or to intercept terrorist communications. It didn’t tie their hands at all. And so it was a great bill and this gets me to another point, where another one of those slits in the drum where it goes by and you have an opportunity, a great bill on its own is not going to make it to the floor of the House. Another opportunity to get your legislation on the floor is to attach it to something that must pass. And so the Patriot Act is going to - provisions of it will expire, because it’s not permanent, some of it is temporary. Provisions of it will expire. So this was attached reluctantly it was attached to the reauthorization of those Patriot Act provisions that were going to expire. But here’s what happened. So, the bill goes into committee and it got eviscerated. It was gutted. And then, to add insult to injury, after it came out of committee - and some of us were still saying is it worth passing, is it not worth passing? We were torn. Is it better to take a little bit now and reauthorize the Patriot Act and get more later, as long as we’re moving in the right direction? And so we sort of waited on the sidelines. We didn’t condemn it yet. But then it went - when it came out of committee, they took it to six different intelligence organizations in this government and it got rewritten again. And then they brought it to the floor of the House and there was no opportunity to offer amendments to it. In fact, at this point, it had been gutted so much and distorted so much that 75 of the original 151 cosponsors wouldn’t even vote for the bill. So you know it’s changed a lot if a cosponsor won’t vote for the bill. Now, the primary sponsor of bills, what I’ve noticed is they get this zeal for the deal. And they want to see their bill pass. And they will tolerate more playing or tinkering with their bill than any of the other cosponsors. So since Sensenbrenner stuck with it. But to show you how bad it was, all of the people that voted against the Amash Amendment, the Chair of the Intelligence Committee, the chair of Judiciary, the Majority Leader, the Minority Leader - they all voted for the Freedom Act, even though they - the modified Freedom Act - even though they weren’t cosponsors. And it passed the House and then recently there was some activity in the Senate and somebody else will have to talk about that because I didn’t track exactly the changes that happened to it in the Senate, although the vote was close over there, I’m not sure if I would or would not have voted for the Senate bill. It was a tough call. So that gets us to my bill, or amendment, which was an amendment to the DOD Appropriations Bill in 2014. Now, we’re a full year after the Snowden revelation and nothing has been done. And to describe the sort of mountain that you face when you try to reform the NSA or any of the intelligence activities from Congress, I need to tell you a story, or a joke, if you will, that comes from the 80s, so it’s a little bit dated, but it still applies. Do you remember in the 80s when you bought computers? There was no internet, you didn’t go on Dell’s website and buy a computer. You went into, like, the IBM store, and they were, you know, they were on pedestals. And you would go check out the PCXT. This has got an 8088 processor, it’s got 512k of RAM, and they would, you know, the salesman would tell you all the wonderful things this computer could do for your business. So at the time there was a joke that said what’s the difference between a car salesman and a computer salesman? Does anybody know the difference? Well, the car salesman knows when he’s lying to you. The computer salesman doesn’t actually know when he’s lying to you. Well let me tell you, we have no shortage of car salesmen or computer salesmen on the whip team in Congress. Those are the ones responsible for describing to you what the bill does, what it actually does, and whether you should vote for it or not. And some of them will lie to you because they know they are lying to you and some of them, probably the majority of them, don’t even know what’s in the bill. They just know it’s their job to get you to vote for or against it. And so I wanted to read to you the advisement from my - the Majority Whip on the Massie-Lofgren Amendment. This was an email that was sent to every congressional office by the whip, the Majority Whip, that says whip - legislative director alert. DOD Approps Massie Amendment FYI. Dear colleague - and this is sent on behalf of the House Committee on Judiciary, Permanent Select Community on Intelligence, and House Appropriation Subcommittee on Defense. Dear colleagues, Islamic radical terrorists are on the march in Iraq and the leader of ISIL has publicly threatened to attack America. Syria has become a vortex of jihadists from across the globe and the Director of National Intelligence and the Secretary of Homeland Security have warned of the growing threat these jihadists pose to our own homeland. State control has collapsed in Libya and rival gangs of radical terrorists have established safe havens that rival those in Afghanistan prior to 2001. Meanwhile, in Afghanistan and Pakistan the Taliban, Haqqani Network, and Al-Qaeda continue to fight. Moreover, the administration has released the Taliban five from Guantanamo, emboldening the terrorists. The terrorist danger is grave and growing. The terrorist threat is not contained overseas. The U.S. homeland remains a prime aspiration and target. This amendment would create a blind spot for the intelligence community, tracking the terrorists with direct communications to U.S. homeland. Last month the House overwhelming passed H.R.3361, the U.S.A. Freedom Act, which expressly prohibits the government from using communications to or from person who appears to be located in the United States, except where the communication relates to unlawful foreign target or to protect against immediate threat to human life. A similar amendment to the one offered tonight was defeated after a full debate after the House Judiciary Committee. The House voted, on an overwhelming bipartisan basis, to provide the intelligence community with the tools it needs to keep Americans safe while restoring public confidence that the appropriate safeguards are in place. Now is not the time to stop intercepting communications of known terrorists. Now is not the time to blind our intelligence community to the threat. Vote no on this amendment. And so that’s the letter that my leadership sent to every member of Congress about this. Now, most - that went to their legislative team. That’s the ones responsible for reading the bill and informing their congressman of what’s in the bill. Now, congressmen don’t have time read all that, so they get one sentence when they show up at the floor of the House. And here’s the sentence that the whip put out - there’s, you know, like ten bills, ten amendments. They walk in, they’ve got to vote on ten amendments, it’s like speed round, two minutes per amendment. So, they’re got one sentence here. Massie, Republican Kentucky Amendment, prohibits funds from being used to fully exploit lawfully collected foreign intelligence information collected under Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. So basically prohibits us from catching terrorists. All our amendment did is require them to have probable cause and a search warrant. That’s all it did. They could do everything they were previously doing. And then, that’s the main part of the amendment. There was a second part of the amendment which would prohibit the government, the U.S. government, from forcing our companies to put backdoors, security backdoors, in their products. Whether it’s encryption technology that you trust, it would keep - you know, the government, presumably, can keep - can make companies brain damage their products so that it’s easier for the government to get to your data, and they can do that in hardware and software. So our bill also would prevent the government from forcing companies to do that. So, in spite of this whip effort to keep everybody off of this bill, it passed 293 to 123. Now, I think the reason it passed with such a large margin is that people are becoming more and more informed about this and congressmen go back home and they get tore up over this. And they - it’s like an electric fence. And the cow has put its nose to it too many times, and they don’t want any part of that fence anymore. So I will concede they probably didn’t read my bill, a lot of them that voted for it. But they voted for it because these are intuitive creatures and intuitively they felt like this was the right thing to do. And I appreciate that. That and, you know, Amash was a cosponsor, Sensenbrenner was a cosponsor. We had a lot of good cosponsors on the Republican side and on the Democrat side. Rush Holt had really worked on that provision to keep the government from forcing companies to put the backdoors in their products. So that passed, that was an amendment, a limitation amendment to the DOD Appropriations Bill, which, by all rights, should have been in this omnibus that passed last night. But it got stripped behind closed doors and never showed up in the final bill, which is very unfortunate. I will have some good news for you at some point in this speech, I guess. Let’s see - so, that brings us, I guess, to where we are right now, which is: What are we going to do in the next Congress? Let me tell you the good news. So, inside of Congress we have all these caucuses. There’s like the Aviation Caucus, the Tea Party Caucus, the Diabetes Caucus, the Ready Mix Caucus for concrete. Like, there’s a caucus for everything. And your constituents are always calling you up, why aren’t you on this caucus, don’t you care about my issue? And I want to tell them, well, these caucuses never meet. They don’t do anything. But I don’t tell them that. I’ll just do what they want me to do. And, but there is one caucus that meets twice a month throughout the year when we are in Congress, and that’s the Liberty Caucus. And this was started by Congressman Ron Paul and then Justin Amash took up the mantle, and it’s an invitation-only caucus. You can’t join it to burnish your credentials, because this is a problem with the caucuses - that’s what most people are doing. They are joining the Tea Party Caucus because they want to appeal to their Tea Party community, or, you know, other various conferences and caucuses. This is invitation only. And we have about 36 people that are invited and we regularly have 24 that show up to this and this is every other week while we are in session. And it’s our opportunity to inform at least 24 members and to debate what should be in the legislation or what should be in the amendments. And it’s a great group for us and the good news is - and we invite Democrats too, it’s not just a Republican thing, depending on the situation. Like on CISPA we invited democrats to those meetings. It’s a great thing but it’s going to get better because these primaries that happen that nobody pays attention to, everybody is watching Senate primaries and Senate races, nobody pays attention to the House races. And I think we picked up a lot of civil libertarians, or at least people who are informed on civil liberties, in this last election. And so I’m excited. We are probably going to grow that caucus by about ten people, at least, on the Republican side. And I’m not sure - I haven’t met with the Democrat freshmen yet - and I think we are going to gain members there. And if you look at how these votes break down, whether it’s the Amash Amendment, the Massie-Lofgren Amendment, or cosponsors to the real Freedom Act, it doesn’t break down Republican or Democrat. It’s, you know, there’s an aisle in the middle of Congress - left and right side of the aisle. It does not break down that way. It more often breaks down on how long have you been in Congress? How recently did you get there? And the ones who arrived more recently tend to be more in tune with this issue and more representative of the will of the people. The other bit of good news is that CISPA stalled in the - its support for it - I’m sure there were a lot of people that voted for it in the House that after the Snowden revelations came out, wished they hadn’t voted for CISPA, but it did stall in the Senate and I think it’s going to be hard to get that thing moving again, hopefully, because of all of the new information that we have. And then, finally, the Patriot Act is going to expire. That’s good news, because what it means - or, provisions of it. What it means is there is an opportunity. One of those slits that pass by where you can get a few photons in. There’s an opportunity to get some reform there because they desperately want to reauthorize the Patriot Act, and so that’s the good news. Those are the opportunities.
Caleb Brown: Thomas Massie is a Republican U.S. Representative from Kentucky. You can watch the full Surveillance Conference held last week at the Cato Institute at our website, CATO.org.