National Security Agency (NSA) Director Gen. Keith B. Alexander, seated with, from left: Deputy Attorney General James Cole; Deputy NSA Director Chris Inglis; and Robert Litt, general counsel to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence; listens as they testify on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, June 18, 2013, before the House Intelligence Committee hearing regarding NSA surveillance. Credit: AP
The National Security Agency reportedly called for a "top secret" meeting with members of the U.S. House on Tuesday to argue against a House amendment that would challenge the spy agency's power for the first time, according to an invitation circulated in Congress and obtained by the Huffington Post.
The House amendment, written by Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.), would seek to reign in the NSA's sweeping power to collect massive amounts of American citizens' communications data. The amendment is co-sponsored by Democratic Rep. John Conyers. A vote on the amendment is scheduled to take place sometime this week.
The invitation, to what HuffPost classifies as a "late-minute" and "emergency" briefing, reads:
"In advance of anticipated action on amendments to the DoD Appropriations bill, Ranking Member C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger of the House Intelligence Committee invites your Member to attend a question and answer session with General Keith B. Alexander of the National Security Agency."
Those who attend the Tuesday meeting are prohibited from talking about what they learned during the session.
"The briefing will be held at the Top Secret/SCI level and will be strictly Members-Only," the invitation adds.
The Huffington Post has more details on the House amendment:
The Amash amendment would put the House on record when it comes to NSA snooping. The measure, which would be attached to the Pentagon's spending bill, "ends authority for the blanket collection of records under the Patriot Act" and "bars the NSA and other agencies from using Section 215 of the Patriot Act to collect records, including telephone call records, that pertain to persons who are not subject to an investigation under Section 215."
The section of the Patriot Act that Amash is targeting was the subject of the first piece in The Guardian about NSA leaker Edward Snowden's revelations. A secret intelligence court has interpreted the law to allow the NSA to collect hundreds of millions of records on every American phone call under the theory that such records might be useful in future terrorism investigations. The intelligence community has claimed that the law is useful in thwarting potential terrorist incidents.
But Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee with access to classified details about the program, said there is no evidence that the data collection had been directly responsible for stopping any single plot. Civil libertarians, meanwhile, are aghast at the NSA's broad interpretation of the law, and even the bill's author said he was surprised at how it is being used.
Because House ruled the amendment in order on Monday, the vote is expected to occur sometime this week.
This will be Congress' first time addressing the NSA's massive domestic surveillance efforts revealed by Snowden. The amendment could potentially gain support from both Republicans and Democrats.