Even in matters of national security, Congress appears to be a desperate operation.
The National Security Agency (NSA) spies on people who are engaged in terrorism. The organization and its systems try to filter through the world of electronic communications, and otherwise, to profile and identify possible suspects. In the process, they throw an electronic lasso around communities of individuals and then systematically zero in when and if they collect sufficient evidence to do so.
Spying on foreign enemies is one challenge. Spying on American citizens who are or may be aligned with foreign enemies is another.
Here is the problem, governments of all kinds, even those acting on behalf of the people, may become overzealous and overreaching when it comes to levying suspicion upon citizens. The process of looking for trouble can itself be troublesome.
Following the 9/11 breach of national security by al Qaeda terrorists who attacked the United States by hijacking passenger jets and crashing them into the nation’s tallest buildings and into the Pentagon killing thousands of Americans, government had a knee jerk reaction. America panicked as well it should have. We citizens and our government were shocked into realizing our vulnerabilities if not understanding the complex reasons why we had become targets of terrorists.
Congress and the President realized that the bureaucracy was not well designed and that the rules of engagement were inappropriate for addressing this new asymmetrical threat.
For one thing, the FBI, CIA and other disparate organizations didn’t share information. The instruments for collecting information from electronic devices was insufficient. The process of profiling terrorists was deficient and ill-defined. The nation scrambled to address the threat.
Still, government was reacting in a panic mode. It wasn’t thinking and acting as rationally and as systematically as possible in applying the best management approaches. In part it is because there is a gap in skill, knowledge, and experience between the people that we elect and their qualifications and what is needed to manage a complex government enterprise.
Be that as it may, the Patriot Act was produced to enable government to spy more freely and to sweep large swaths of data from which to perform analysis. This happened just as information technologists were getting a good handle on metadata, that is data that describes data. Our electronic filtering technology was getting pretty good, but the laws had to be changed to permit its application.
The possibility for unintended overreach was present, but in the hands of professionals with integrity, abuse shouldn’t happen. But, then again, there politicians in charge lest we forget McCarthy and Nixon.
Oh yes, the story here, the buried lead, is that Congress puts everything off until the last minute and scrambles desperately to fix and amend complex laws that deserved more deliberate crafting well in advance of deadlines. Congress is behind the proverbial 8 ball because it doesn’t manage its work properly. They need more lead time.
“NSA reformers zero in on the magic number
By Julian Hattem – 05/30/15 06:06 AM EDT
Critics of the National Security Agency (NSA) are increasingly confident that they will pick up a trio of votes they need to get their reform bill across the finish line, following an after-midnight voting series a week ago that forced the Senate into overtime.
When lawmakers meet on Sunday evening, they will have just hours to save expiring parts of the Patriot Act that many have said are crucial to defending national security.
That prospect may force a handful of Republicans to switch their votes and support the USA Freedom Act, if it’s the only way to preserve the three parts of the counterterrorism law.
“Hopefully they will be able to come back after eight or nine days of clearing their heads and put the best interest of our citizens, and our country, and our security first,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest said on Friday. The White House has been a strong supporter of the USA Freedom Act and has been ratcheting up the rhetoric in recent days to get the Senate to pass it.
Passage appears more likely after a backup plan from Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to extend current law for two months failed horribly last week, winning the support of just 45 lawmakers. McConnell — who staunchly opposes the USA Freedom Act — ended up voting against his own two-month extension in order to reserve the right to bring it back up for a vote this weekend.
“I think enough members were kind of shocked by how few votes they got on clean reauthorization,” said Josh Withrow, the legislative affairs manager at FreedomWorks, which wants to see the bill made stronger. “I could definitely see a scenario where a few of the people who were against the bill previously voting for it.””