Washington – Rep. Jim Himes was the only House member from Connecticut on Thursday to vote for a bill that would allow the National Security Agency to intercept without warrants calls or emails from suspected foreign terrorists outside the United States.
Many Democrats, and GOP libertarians, wanted to curb the NSA’s authority, because in tracking foreign targets’ emails and phone calls to U.S. citizens, information about Americans also is collected.
Intelligence agencies are required to “scrub” any information collected about Americans, but senior government officials can ask spy agencies to unmask the names of Americans or U.S. organizations.
The warrantless wiretap bill, approved 256-164, was opposed by a majority of Democrats, including Reps. John Larson, D-1st District; Joe Courtney, D-2nd District; Rosa DeLauro, D-3rd District; and Elizabeth Esty, D-5th District.
It would extend Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act through 2023 with a few minor changes.
Himes press secretary Patrick Malone said he tried to amend the bill but those “improvements” were “refused by the Rules Committee.”
“Because of his seat on the (House) Intelligence Committee, he has a very informed perspective on how important the 702 program is to protecting Americans, however, so voted for the final bill that had some improvements, rather than potentially let it lapse and leave us exposed or continue on with the status quo,” Malone said.
Himes tried to amend the bill with provisions that would prevent the NSA from collecting information on Americans under section 702 for criminal reasons, unless it obtained an order from a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court that there is “reasonable, articulable suspicion” that the communications contain evidence of a crime is “permitted under statutory use requirements.”
President Donald Trump stunned supporters of the bill by tweeting on Thursday, “House votes on controversial FISA ACT today. This is the act that may have been used, with the help of the discredited and phony Dossier, to so badly surveil and abuse the Trump Campaign by the previous administration and others?”
Democrats cited Trump’s tweet in insisting a vote on the bill be scrapped.
But then the president then seemed to reverse course in another tweet.
“With that being said, I have personally directed the fix to the unmasking process since taking office and today’s vote is about foreign surveillance of foreign bad guys on foreign land. We need it! Get smart!” the president tweeted.
The Senate voted 69 to 26 Thursday afternoon to start debating the bill.