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Congressman requests subpoena of NSA’s White House, IRS phone logs (house.gov)
472 points by tectonic on June 14, 2013 | hide | past | web | favorite | 155 comments

This is structurally brilliant. All of those complaining about hypocrisy or partisanship are missing the point.

Ignore the specific issue. The critical question this raises is this: if, as the administration says, the NSA needs all this data to find terrorists, who gets to say what it's used for or not? Ignore the entire privacy argument. If the executive branch is keeping records on all of this stuff, is it also claiming unique and sole access to it?

Because if they are, anybody with a brain can see the problem. In fact, the partisanship of the Congressman spells it out in clear relief. Just picture that guy as the next president. If you give that much power to the executive and they alone make the decision how to use it, then by definition such information will be used for political purposes. Who gets to decide what is so evil that requires this special, and extra-constitutional, treatment? Everybody doesn't want terrorists, but how about supporting congressional investigations? Helping wrongly-accused people get out of jail? Divorce proceedings? Civil cases?

Are we going to have a system of law and order where certain evidence is presented or not solely depending on the decisions of the executive branch?

What this shows is that this NSA data thing just isn't bad, it's bad on multiple levels. It completely breaks the way our constitutional government is supposed to operate. Even if somehow the political weasels in DC get away with keeping the lid on it, the criminal and Congressional cases alone are going to cause a nightmare. Can you imagine how Congress is going to act if some pet cause of theirs could have been supported by evidence NSA refused to release? How criminal defendants are going to react if, years later, they learn that the government was holding exculpatory information?

And it's just going to go on, and on, until they finally open it all up. Then there'll be a hell-storm.

ADD: And I'm willing to bet 20 bucks that part of the data NSA is collecting is the location tracking information from our cellphones. (accurate to within 50 meters). Can you imagine the number of places in the rest of government operations where such information would be useful?

> location tracking information from our cellphones.

Here's what a smart congressperson would ask: "Director Clapper, on April 15th, 2009, there were large protests around the country. Did your agency request cellular meta data covering that day?"

It's likely obfiscated by the telco as I understand it, but imagine that freakout.

We could pull our batteries out in 2003, but we don't have that feature anymore.

Your phone doesn't emit any signals at all when turned off. If it did, people from the FAA to every geek with a spectrum analyzer at work would be screaming bloody murder.

Can the phone be made to receive while "powered off" -- even sporadically?

They wouldn't want to tip their hand re:transmission capabilities. They'd probably only activate the capability on-demand, and only for high-value targets (ie. by sending a special packet to be received by the "powered off" handset). It's sorta like turning your phone into a listening "bug" while powered on... you wouldn't want to constantly stream data and tip your hand -- you'd only activate the capability when there is a strong likelihood of a valuable conversation occurring.

No, not undetectably. Someone would notice, trust me.

Nah, we'd have seen statistically more plane crashes. /s

How many people actually turn off their mobile? I don't think I've turned mine off in a year.

The FBI has been known to hack phones such that the microphone is turned on and transmitting when the phone is on but not in use.

It probably wouldn't take noticeable power to run voice-activated microphone audio compression and storage. Then the recorded audio could be transmitted later when the battery was back in.

Any attempt to do stuff like that will still require a clock signal somewhere. That clock will be noticed. An attempt to do it in the analog domain with no synchronous logic would be even more apparent to anyone who studies the internals of the phone.

In short, no, it ain't gonna happen. It would show up on Bunnie Huang's blog one day and there would be blood in the streets the next.

I'm looking at my phone and the power button is conspicuously not a toggle switch. You press the same button to turn it off as to turn it on. That means the phone has to have some logic enabled (even when it's "off") to distinguish whether closing the circuit on that button is supposed to turn the device on or turn it off (or wake up the screen or lock the device etc.)

Is it so hard to imagine part of that logic including the mobile phone equivalent of wake-on-lan?

Is it so hard to imagine part of that logic including the mobile phone equivalent of wake-on-lan?

Yes. You don't have to power up the cellular transceiver to poll a power button. That's usually handled by a dedicated power-management chip with few/no other capabilities (and an internal clock in the kHz range at most, I'd expect.)

Also you don't need to poll a power button - it's perfectly possible to build a momentary switch which would connect a circuit long enough to turn on a FET to the battery, which could then be monitored by digital logic to use the same connection to power off.

> Any attempt to do stuff like that will still require a clock signal somewhere. That clock will be noticed.

I wouldn't expect to get away with it on all phones all the time. But certain phones targeted by surveillance malware? Sure.

Note that powered-off phones still have real time clocks running, for things like keeping time.

> An attempt to do it in the analog domain with no synchronous logic would be even more apparent to anyone who studies the internals of the phone.

I agree, there's little chance of an analog tape recorder being in the phone.

> In short, no, it ain't gonna happen. It would show up on Bunnie Huang's blog one day

Go ask Bunnie if he thinks a well-funded attacker could implement it, having access to the baseband design docs. Then ask him how long it could be used in the wild against unsophisticated targets before it ended up on his blog.

> and there would be blood in the streets the next.

This surveillance malware is being found on phones and in some places there is, in fact, literal blood in the streets.



I wouldn't expect to get away with it on all phones all the time. But certain phones targeted by surveillance malware? Sure.

Malware can't run when the power management logic has shut down the SoC and baseband hardware.

There are many processors and subsystems in modern cellphones. Malware could continue to run on some of them while the rest are sleeping.

How many people actually measure the battery life of their phone when they believe it's off?

You must have not heard of the "roving bug".


"The FBI can access cell phones and modify them remotely without ever having to physically handle them," James Atkinson, a counterintelligence security consultant, told ABC News.

Absurd. Total fiction.

You don't believe in OTA firmware updates?

Not when the phone's powered down, I don't.

They issue the update while the phone is powered on. They can then change the behavior of the "shut down" element in the UI to black out the screen and refuse calls but continue to transmit GPS or audio on the radios.

That sounds an awful lot like the GM OnStar eavesdropping case.

>We could pull our batteries out in 2003, but we don't have that feature anymore.

Many of us still do. Some of us still greatly prefer phones with a removable battery--I wouldn't buy a phone without one. Goodbye HTC, hello Samsung.

Good news for people with phones without removable battery: get a Faraday cage case for times when you want it to appear dead.

>>Are we going to have a system of law and order where certain evidence is presented or not solely depending on the decisions of the executive branch?

No, in the absence of a FISA order the information cannot be released. This isn't a legel dilemma at the moment(ethically certainly). There are almost certainly implied constitutional protections on the use of the data.

The only interesting exception would be if someone decided to waive their protections and petitioned the courts to grant access to their phone records. The courts may allow this as no constitutional rights would be violated and no else would have an interest in preventing this(except the Government possibly).

Bingo. If our government went to war over supposed weapons of mass destruction, how can we trust them with weapons of mass surveillance?

prediction: the collection won't stop, NSA will simply become an even better funded service bureau to provide evidence and information "for official use only", for random court cases etc...thus paving it's way for this kind of collection to become broadly socially acceptable

This works both ways. The people in power are being tracked, too, and if not, then it's another scandal.

Many of the comments here are complaining about the partisanship of this request. I think such complaints are shortsighted.

Yes, it's annoying that the representative is trying to make the administration look bad and further his own party. But political embarrassment and partisan show victories are exactly what motivates politicians to do things. These partisan actions are the kind of actions the Obama administration will notice.

Or he could remain neutral and abstract and introduce a hastily written bill that purports to solve the problem, like Rand Paul. And nothing will happen.

The partisan political system responds to partisan political incentives. To see many interesting examples, try studying the period leading up to the American Civil War.

There are a lot of idealists here. They know that's how the system works. They're not complaining because they think this partisanship will be ineffective, they're complaining because it's depressing and inhibits meaningful social progress.

Even though in this particular instance the partisanship is aligned with (y)our goals, it's rather frustrating to know that this guy doesn't actually give a shit about the matter like we do, he just wants to score points in this BS game.

"...it's rather frustrating to know that this guy doesn't actually give a shit about the matter like we do, he just wants to score points in this BS game."

Wait. How do you know that? Isn't it possible and actually likely that he gives a shit AND wants to score political points? After all, what good is supporting a cause if you don't use it to score political points?

Well, I live in his district, and while that doesn't give me a perfect insight into his motivations, I would be pretty surprised if has undergone a conversion from hardcore conservative to civil-liberties advocate. Opportunistic partisan point-scoring would be a lot more consistent with past behavior: antagonizing "liberals" (always pronounced in a sneering way) is probably one of his top-3 political positions, along with supporting guns and opposing immigration. I would, however, welcome it if this is signalling that he's going to take a more cautious line on police powers going forward, and drop some of his more over-the-top proposals for how to fight illegal immigration.

Here's a taste of his usual style: https://twitter.com/SteveWorks4You

There go some more IQ points. This is a shining example of why I don't use Twitter.

Isn't it possible and actually likely that he gives a shit AND wants to score political points?

Possible? Absolutely. Likely? That's impossible to know without knowing him and his motivations, and I would not call it a reasonable assumption given the generally self-serving state of US politicians (most others as well, but in this case they're the most relevant).

Metaphorically speaking, it sounds like you're convicting the guy without even giving him a trial. The political system is by-and-large a big bowl of FUBAR, but I'd rather see a politician give the other side a dose of their own medicine when something as clandestine as this Datagate (Yes I used the -gate postfix, sue me) scandal happens. Especially given one critical notion very few people seem to be talking about: Why are phone records made by the citizenry deemed worthy of being 'classified' unless the government has some sort of interest other than fighting terrorism that would prevent them from disclosing on their own what they do on our behalf or even the results? If this is so critical to fighting terrorism, show me what you've thwarted.

Oh wait, that's classified too.

Seeing the trend/problem here? I'm absolutely fine with what this Congressman did.

Let me introduce some circularity: if he personally cared about the issue, then it might be self-serving of him to request the subpoena.

But why would he give a shit? Perhaps he's one of the Americans (a rather interesting one, to boot) with something to hide.

The point is that many people don't have the political clout to use the Whitehouse/NSA's own arguments against them. This guy does - who cares what he's using it for if it achieves what each of you would dearly love to do yourself.

... the enemy of your enemy ...

I agree. Its really short-sighted to dismiss it as partisan. The partisanship can be considered a lever to get his own party on-board with this. He seems to be intentionally and graphically demonstrating the risks of this sort of surveillance.

It's not short-sighted at all. The man is an extremist. It only takes a little bit of investigation to see that. He is not interested in the issue at hand. He only cares as far as he can use it to make his enemies look bad.

Honestly, I cannot believe the number of comments I am seeing here that ignore this fact, as though anyone who agrees with the notion that the NSA programs are bad should be trusted.

As _delirium pointed out, just look at the Twitter feed:


It's pretty obvious where this guy stands. Here's one of my favorites:

"House told us to secure windows because of flash floods. On the third floor. On a Hill. Same government claims it can predict climate change"

We don't need people like this chiming in on this issue.

How is your favorite example even relevant? I'm not seeing the connection.

Here are some articles covering one of the most controversial bombs he has thrown during his career, accusing the government of conspiring to kill the followers of David Koresh in Waco, Texas on account of their gun ownership. I couldn't find the original article in question, which appeared in Guns and Ammo magazine.



It only takes a little bit of research to see that the man is an extremist with a very consistent record of partisan-centered politics.

Sorry, I probably should have explained a bit.

My point was that he's willing to hold an irrational view for the sake of his politics.

I don't think people like that have anything important to say about issues like the NSA programs.

So prosecutorial/investigator overreach is ok, as long as it's not against hackers, got it.

The NSA looking at your phone logs is a huge illegal fishing expedition but fishing expeditions are ok when done to trump up charges to impeach the president. Got it.

You seem to be missing the blatantly obvious fact that the president himself authorized this program, and as such, is one of the only people who deserves to be snooped on under it (in contrast to a member of the public who was kept in the dark about it).

It's not as if the president is an uninterested party. He very much supports the NSA, is in a position of power on the matter and if he's got nothing to hide then he has nothing to worry about, right?

No, I don't think the request is a brilliant idea, and I hope the investigation doesn't ask for the records of anyone's private phone numbers without some more justification. My point was that instead of dismissing it as partisan nonsense, we should see it as a skillful tactic that might accomplish something.

Yes, transparency for the government, privacy for the individual.

I'm fully in support of phone call data between government offices and high-level government officials being available for review by Congress.

He should also request a subpoena for all of the associated metadata, which probably includes location tracking information. That way, we know if any of the involved parties met in secret. The what-do-they-have-to-hide argument is nonsense, but I have no sympathy; the government has brought this on itself.

Also, I wonder how long it will be until we see the first civil case that tries to subpoena this information. Say, a nasty divorce where one of the parties is trying to prove cheating. Or industrial espionage.

And think of all the criminal cases this would be useful for - price fixing schemes, anti-trust cases, and on and on.

The uses for a massive store of location information boggle the mind.

I don't understand the logic here. It won't be interesting at all. Someone will try to subpoena the info, they will be denied, end of story. The NSA will never give this data away ever, I bet they would destroy it, or pretend to destroy it, before giving it away.

The logic is complex but useful to understand. Stockman is making a point. His point is that arbitrarily collecting this data is bad. He is perhaps guessing that there will be phone calls between the IRS and the Whitehouse, even if the President didn't know anything about it the staff would be chatting. That linkage, as ephemeral as it is, will make them look bad, it will take time to defend it will cost them votes. It would be better if this capability didn't exist at all.

So the logic is that while the program is 'secret' to only part of the Government then that part can use it to carry out their agenda unchecked, but when the whole government can use it, well it becomes more of a liability than an asset. Part of the beauty of the system we've set up is that it allows the government to fight with itself and keep itself (more) honest. Stockman is working that angle.

So in the ideal case, the Obama administration will realize just how dangerous this system is when it can be used to smear/threaten/harass non-criminals [1]. And they will come up with some rationale for shutting it down.

[1] "Gee, isn't the electronic subscriber number [ESN] of your Chief of Staff repeatedly going over to that place where we just busted a prostitution ring? Were they part of that investigation?" kinds of things.

Actually, he knows it'll be rejected and he then gets to say "Well, they obviously have something to hide!" The whole IRS non-scandal will get a little more daylight.

Yeah they will shut it down and then reopen it under a different name, problem solved.

That's a brilliant analysis, but it assumes the "Obama administration" is actually calling the shots.

Domestic spying didn't start with Obama and he's not up for re-election. How likely is it that he will suddenly have an epiphany and take on the massively entrenched surveillance-industrial complex? (That he relies upon to protect him and his family the rest of his life).

HN wont let me reply to a comment below this one, but to address it:

Yes, the NSA will deny the request. And with any luck, we can have push this into a case in front of Supreme Court before the end of next year.

Hit the "link" link, then you can reply.

HN adds progressively longer delays to replying to comments deeper in threads (to slow discussions down and (hopefully) prevent some arguments)

And those delays can be bypassed by clicking the 'link' link, and then replying. ;-)

Huh... live and learn

Through out these arguments during past week, the one thing that bothered me most was that some people supported NSA spying saying they have nothing to hide. I seriously don't understand how they can say that. I wonder if this can be attributed to lack of understanding about data mining considering that most of these comments are on non-tech websites.

That's mostly ignorance, and as you said a lack of understanding. The people that really understand know that this is the tried and true statement for any invasion of privacy. Wire tapping has been around for quite a while now, and it would be safe to assume most mobsters are not on the phone discussing business right now.

I hate how something as interesting as this is ruined by partisanship and egocentric control-freakism. Why is this Congressman pushing the blame on Obama solely? He is part of the problem, and it's this "us vs. them" attitude in government that never lets us have any progress at all. Instead of trying to advance his party or career, he should have used this opportunity to illustrate how NSA and IRS should both be surveyed equally if the spying is justified.

But, no. He's just being a Grade-A politician, trying to claw at the Democratic party and trying to make an example out of them. I have lost respect for what he is trying to accomplish, if not because it's shameful and disgusting.

Before anyone accuses me of left-right bias, I support third-party efforts and am independent.

Politics is not about reasonable arguments. It is about building momentum for a cause.

Both, the harassment of political opponents by the IRS as well as the NSA spy policies were run under President Obama's leadership.

He is as personally responsible for these things - just as much as is President Bush was for the Iraq war. Both are extremely resistant to admit any wrong doings except for some half hearted apologies without any consequences.

I am all for bashing partisanship when it is based on making mountains out of molehills (in my view the Benghazi story was one of these). But the IRS and NRA cases demonstrate that the United States under the presidency of Obama is using intimidation tactics and intensive surveillance mechanisms that are up-to-par with paranoid third world dictatorships.

His line of If he [President Obama] has nothing to hide he has nothing to be afraid of. is exactly hitting home on the hypocrisy of the Obama administration that once campaigned on transparency and accountability.

IRS scandal wasn't a scandal. The only evidence the WH was involved are partial transcript (cherry-picked) vague quotes from junior staffers (literally: "told by a supervisor that "Washington, D.C., wanted some cases."), while the true source of the audits has been identified as decidedly not-Obama: http://news.yahoo.com/conservative-republican-irs-staffer-ta.... All of this is completely ignoring the completely legitimate reasons for auditing these clearly political groups in the wake of Citizens United.

Just like how Fast & Furious was in no way a scandal, but a symptom of Arizona's lack of gun laws. Law enforcement was unable to arrest or even restrict people linked to cartels as they purchased weapons- the best they could do was keep track of serial numbers. There was no gun running, but that didn't stop Republicans from fabricating another 'scandal:' http://www.thenation.com/blog/168673/facts-get-way-gops-fast...

Even this article should clue you in to Issa's obvious political theater for his base.

Obama sucks at fighting misinformation, but he is certainly not a dictator.

But don't you see that this "oh, it was some low level employee - how could he know" strategy is getting abused over and over again. Sure, it gives those who want to see innocence the ability to believe in some hypothetical "plausible deniability".

If you go down this line of argument with Obama you need to do it equally with Bush: than there was nothing wrong of invading Iraq, because some low level CIA employee foreign intelligence services/some nutty informants were confirming the WMDs.

If your intention is to let somebody at the top look good and they are smart enough to have others keep them out of the loop of controversial issues, you can always attach the wrongdoings to some low level figure.

But it is in the end like saying the Walmart CEO has absolutely no responsibility of having bad numbers this year, because well, he is not the guy is selling the milk bottles in all the stores.

No, it's not the same. If the old narrative is that the administration itself was involved in the bad actions, but facts emerge that the administration wasn't involved at all- then yes, the executive should look better. It has been one of the conservative talking points that if obama didn't know, then he is an incompetent leader. This is also false and bad faith argument- the low level employee didn't think he was breaking the rules with his queries, and his direct manager stopped the activity when she found out. This is so far removed from the white house they don't deserve to be in the same sentence. Plausible deniability still connotes a connection when there isn't one- the IRS's involvement in campaign financing has always been awkward and needs reform.

Hopefully, these facts should inspire you to question the anti-obama narrative rather than come up with your own. In changing the subject and making an argument like above without addressing the new information, it looks like you're figuring out how you can protect your beliefs from criticism without actually having to address those criticisms.

Please understand this is meta and isn't a criticism of you personally- but it's important for a working democracy that conservatives learn to "understand a complex topic, weigh competing values and considerations against one another, and eventually get behind" the facts. http://delong.typepad.com/sdj/2013/06/in-which-i-feel-sorry-...

I sometimes get accused by my Fox news addicted family of being "arrogant" when I go meta. But it's frustrating when "obviously fraudulent arguments get made; get knocked down; and soon pop up again, as if the original discussion never happened. This makes a gentlemanly issue-centered discussion essentially impossible.

If someone says the sky is green, you prove that it’s actually blue, and the next day he comes back once again insisting that the sky is green, and this happens repeatedly, you eventually have to acknowledge that mannerly debate about the color of the sky just isn’t enough; you have to go meta, and talk about the fact that this guy and his friends just aren’t in the business of honest discussion.

Inevitably, there are some people trying to turn the conversation meta in a different direction, and make it all about civility. But bad-faith arguments don’t deserve a civil response, and if the attempt to be civil gets in the way of exposing the bad faith, civility itself becomes part of the problem." http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/06/06/bad-faith-and-ci...

This makes a gentlemanly issue-centered discussion essentially impossible.

Exactly! Just look at your argument:

the low level employee didn't think he was breaking the rules with his queries, and his direct manager stopped the activity when she found out

You are trying to frame the harassment of hundreds of groups, and this over years, as the acts of some rogue low level employee. And something that was fixed as soon as the supervisor noticed it.

If someone is trying to spin a story here it is you my friend - independent of how "meta" and "inspiring" you feel your arguments are. I'll leave the rest as it is. It seems pointless to argue the case when you consider everything This makes a gentlemanly issue-centered discussion essentially impossible.

Exactly! Just look at your argument:

the low level employee didn't think he was breaking the rules with his queries, and his direct manager stopped the activity when she found out

You are trying to frame the harassment of hundreds of groups, and this over years, as the acts of some rogue low level employee. And something that was fixed as soon as the supervisor noticed it.

If someone is trying to spin a story here it is you my friend - independent of how "meta" and "inspiring" you feel your arguments are.

I'll leave the rest as it is because implying a "bad faith" argument can be claimed for any irresponsible actions of a public official - except for, maybe Nixon. For any other high level action there is always a chain of minions involved whom you can ultimately frame as "gone rogue". Ideally, as you did in the case, trying to make it a failue of the "system" therefore even avoiding any personal responsibility what so ever.

The only evidence the WH was involved

High level officials stonewalling and taking the fifth don't give me a lot of confidence that we've discovered from where the effort was directed. A Special Prosecutor is really needed.

Obama sucks at fighting misinformation, but he is certainly not a dictator

Yes, the countless times that he told us that "if Congress doesn't act, I will." The number of issues like immigration where DHS is extra-counting at-the-border stops as deportations and then explicitly not enforcing the immigration laws. The NSA and AP issues stepping all over basic rights.

Good thing he doesn't have the complete power of a dictator.

Lois Lerner taking the 5th is another conservative bad-faith argument. She submitted written responses to inquiry prior to her taking the 5th, proclaimed her innocence in no uncertain terms, and then even after invoking the privilege against self-incrimination nonetheless gave testimony as to her previous answers that were part of the hearing record and which covered the very issues the committee was considering. http://legalinsurrection.com/2013/05/house-irs-hearings-live...

Her innocence has never been questioned. But conservative media play the clip on loop, acting like she didn't testify to presumably hide information (and she still testified!)

"If Congress doesn't act, I will" is another bad faith argument. I implore you to watch the clip from where that quote originated: http://www.politico.com/multimedia/video/2013/02/state-of-th...

Just read the quote and tell me how it can be construed as executive overreach: "I urge this Congress to pursue a bipartisan, market-based solution to climate change, like the one John McCain and Joe Lieberman worked on together a few years ago. But if Congress won’t act soon to protect future generations, I will. I will direct my Cabinet to come up with executive actions we can take, now and in the future, to reduce pollution, prepare our communities for the consequences of climate change, and speed the transition to more sustainable sources of energy."


Please understand why rational people don't respond to conservative talking points: http://cboye.wordpress.com/2010/01/27/bad-faith-arguments/

I implore you to watch the clip

What do you mean "the clip"? He's said it over and over and over while playing a game of "catch me if you can" where he goes beyond the authority that he is supposed to have. He is supposed to enforce DOMA. He is supposed to enforce on-the-books immigration laws. He was not supposed to unilaterally declare congress out of session to make recess appointments. He does this crap every opportunity he gets and the media just navel gazes.

You really ought to update your understanding of (and support for) the 5th and help yourself cherish it greatly. It has very few parallels in human history.

When someone invokes the 5th, it is as a pleasant reminder that you still are subject to a judicial system that places the burden of proof on the government to prove an innocent defendant guilty. That is how the framers intended it to be--a decisive and enduring departure from bygone days where you were at danger of being forced to incriminate yourself by variously questionable (and sometimes horrific) means.

Citizens invoking the 5th has become in recent decades a vilified action, and this is very dangerous. The reasoning behind a person's invocation of their right against self-incrimination does not matter, and ought not be up to anyone else to judge the merits of. We even instituted Miranda rights to further cement this protection in legal proceedings and the public mind.

I despise the grandstanding and partisanship of American politics. However, when an public official (high-ranking or not; it doesn't matter) invokes the 5th, I take this to mean that the specific question and the implications of answering it, in the particular setting/context in which it is asked causes a person to have reasonable cause and/or justification to "apprehend danger from a direct answer" (Hoffman v. United States). In Grunewald v. United States, the Court held that "one of the Fifth Amendment's basic functions is to protect innocent persons who might otherwise be ensnared by ambiguous circumstances."

In a justice system that holds every person is innocent until proven guilty, that means every person--be they high-ranking official, lowly clerical assistant, or anyone in between.

Universe forbid you ever find yourself accused of a crime, but you will likely find yourself very appreciative of having a constitutional right that affords you the privilege of refusing to testify against yourself in moments you fear direct answers may place you in a dangerous legal position.

Justice requires evidence, not a measurement of your confidence. Let us support uncovering the necessary evidence to understand what has occurred in any given situation, and refrain from prognosticating guilt before then. If we don't, or if we continue to allow the public support of the 5th Amendment to erode further, we may not like the kind of justice we have decades from now.

The IRS scandal is a scandal. The only question is whether or not the White House is involved or just the IRS.

Hopefully we'll find out for sure now.

I know what you're saying, but ever since this started, I immediately thought of Nixon and Watergate. This scandal deserves to be as big as Watergate, so then we should see everything, and all docs related to this should be declassified.

Enough of this "we should know everything about you, but you can't know anything about us - so trust us".

Watergate was unambiguously targeting rival political parties. That's why it was such a big deal.

Nothing that's come to light so far is on that type of level. No matter how strongly you think the government is overstepping its bounds, it's at least possible for reasonable people to think they were justified.

Watergate was about a group of powerful political elites targeting a rival group of powerful political elites. The present IRS scandal is about powerful political elites targeting nearly powerless regular citizens who were trying to organize, and in many cases prevented, or very significantly delayed, from doing so. So yeah, the IRS scandal is worse than Watergate.

1. The IRS thing is completely separate from the NSA stuff, and the comment I responded to was discussing the NSA.

2. The IRS stuff is also way more complicated than it seems. They're supposed to target political organizations, because they don't qualify for the tax-exempt status. And there was really only one large political movement forming new organizations in that time frame. I haven't seen any actual ( as opposed to speculative) connection to the "political elites" yet. Everything I've read points to institutional laziness rather than a politically instigated targeting.

Now, I'm not saying these things shouldn't be investigated! But claiming that they should currently be as big a scandal as Watergate doesn't sit right with me. It diminishes just how fucked up Watergate was.

"They're supposed to target political organizations, because they don't qualify for the tax-exempt status."

This is untrue given that the former Obama campaign organization converted (and was approved) to change to a 501(c)4 and has the mission of advocating his 2nd term agenda.

This was political targeting just like what FDR did many years ago. Who actually approved it is the question.

By "political" I really meant "involved in elections". (Which the organization you mention no longer is.)

Sorry, sloppy language on my part.

The "nearly powerless regular citizens" in question are, for the most part, political groups looking to use a tax loophole to gather and funnel institutional money to their causes. Not only weren't they "in many cases prevented" -- they were all approved, and able to proceed with their political activities flouting the letter and intent of a law designed to encourage "social welfare".

[Edit: clarity]

Opposition parties are essential for clawing at the scandals of the other side. You can't count on them for "truth," but that doesn't make them useless.

This subpoena has nothing to do with PRISM; it's really more of an effort to link the White House to the IRS targetting of conservative groups (which was apparently just an agent running amok).

Ultimately, though, there's the classic adage about the president: "The buck stops here." If Obama was aware of PRISM (which I have to believe he did), then he also had the choice of stopping it. The same is true of the IRS scandal. Even if he did not (unlike Nixon) direct the programs, knowing about them and not stopping them (again, if true; I really don't know) is tantamount to running them.

This is congress. They could repeal the patriot act and be done with it and start passing laws to limit the NSA's power. Oh right, instead the GOP will pin this on the president for short-term gain while we all suffer from long-term loss.

Why is this Congressman pushing the blame on Obama solely?

He's a republican, and Obama set himself up for this by defending the NSA.

You might as well dispense with the latter half of that sentence.

The problem with secret executive orders, secret courts, secret decisions, secret rulings, secret spying, secret actions taken as the result of the spying -- is that the public, and elected officials, don't know what the hell is going on. A closed society is one where paranoia is both frequent and justified. Dictators spy on their opponents, execute them, and quickly imagine new enemies. Eventually no one trusts anyone.

I would suggest that the best way to understand what is going on is to imagine that, but rather than a single individual as dictator, instead a large group of individuals suffering from fear & paranoia.

When we think that the NSA is spying on terrorists, then we assume that the NSA is using judgement and discretion, focusing on a narrow vertical of individuals. That is certainly what I believed in the past. When it is disclosed that it goes far beyond terrorists, collects deep meta data on the entire US population while logging all electronic communication on a group of a million or so, our imaginations run wild -- and justifiably so.

"I have come to the conclusion that politics are too serious a matter to be left to the politicians."

- Charles de Gaulle

Welcome to politics. I've been burned several times having a political conversation where it appears I'm in agreement with the other guy, only to realize later that the other guy only "agrees" with me because what I'm saying happens to make his side look good.

Sometimes I wish we had a king back. It would be more honest and less corrupt.

Didn't Obama have this big us vs them attitude during 2008?

change you can believe in.

> I hate how something as interesting as this is ruined by partisanship ...

There's a good chance the NSA leak is a gambit by Hillary Clinton's faction to attack the administration.

You know, like the IRS leak.

Anyway, they are all just responding to incentives. American culture has degenerated into soviet-style communism, which means central committees frittering away resources on intelligence catfights and insane megaprojects. The American people are getting the government they deserve, and they're getting it good and hard.

To "bring it home," so to speak, he should request all NSA data on phone calls to and from Congressmen. Nothing makes politicians more angry than applying their rules for everyone else to themselves.

I think you meant it as snark, but I think is brilliant. We know that congress has ongoing insider trading issues with the companies they regulate - lets get some transparency! If they have nothing to hide, they have nothing to fear.

Yeah, but that necessarily pits him against other Congressfolks. Stockman VERSUS EVERYBODY!!!!

The move as-he-played-it is smarter, right? He's inviting other Congressfolks to join him in making political hay by trolling the executive branch. He's saying to Issa "someone should be embarrassed about this.... would you like to be embarrasser or embarrassee?"

Does anyone know if the opening paragraph thanking Issa is sincere or snark? I don't know what Issa's record/politics have been.

Using their rhetoric, if they have nothing to hide they don't have to be worried.

Haven't seen such a check-mate in government affair in a long time.

Unfortunately NSA does not have to answer to anyone, including congressman requests. Its their data, per se, and they are not compelled to share with anyone. Sure they will have to set aside large chunk for upcoming lawsuits (that will be paid from your taxes anyways), but other than that ist not a big deal.

NSA stands beyond anyone's power to subpoena. Think Eric Holter being requested to investigate... Eric Holter. Good luck with that.

Not exactly, the NSA has to come to Congress to get their budget appropriations approved. No budget, no money. It provides a useful check against them.

Yeah, the NSA's budget is at exactly zero risk from this entire story, or this little sideshow in particular.

If you think otherwise, you're kidding yourself.

This is sort of like saying we at zero risk of having Chinese nuclear missiles sent our way. It's true and it misses the point :-). Congress isn't going to cut the NSAs budget off, but they can. So they have some negotiating leverage with regard to the NSA's behavior. They have used that leverage in the past to achieve concessions from intelligence agencies on their activities and how they disclose their activities. The last bright-light scandal of this magnitude was the 'Iran-Contra' affair. It's useful to see how the CIA and Congress interacted prior to that scandal and after that scandal.

> So they have some negotiating leverage with regard to the NSA's behavior. They have used that leverage in the past to achieve concessions from intelligence agencies on their activities and how they disclose their activities.

Except that congress wrote and passed the laws that enable these programs. Many congresscritters, in leadership positions in both parties, have expressed support for the surveillance and varying degrees of condemnation for Snowden. I'd be surprised if they don't actually have a good idea of what's going on at the NSA.

You will see, perhaps, some grandstanding and/or honest pleas from a few people on this. And then it'll be like nothing happened when push comes to shove. There'll be no meaningful attempt to get greater disclosure, and it'll quietly die down in public consciousness, because this kind of shit nearly always does. And the NSA will get their budget, because intelligence and defense basically always do.

> NSA does not have to answer to anyone, including congressman requests

Do you mean officially or de facto? I was under the impression that no one was above congressional subpoena.

Congressman: <hard question>

NSA rep: "That's a matter of national security, I can't answer you."

> I was under the impression that no one was above congressional subpoena.


[..] members of the executive branch to resist certain subpoenas and other interventions by the legislative and judicial branches of government.

It's a Catch-22.

If he gets the data, he will use the long and numerous phone conversations between the IRS and the White House to infer the administration is guilty. However, it proves nothing.

If he doesn't get the data, he will argue it is because the President personally ordered the crimes and is hiding it.

He won't get the data. The NSA won't want their databases and valuable time used to perform discovery in every lawsuit from now until eternity. He will exploit the NSA's "Need to Know" policy simply to make Obama look nefarious.

However, it proves nothing.

That would be for others to judge.

He won't get the data.

He doesn't want the data. He wants to make a point about the importance of privacy. He wants to appear as if he is standing up for his constituents in the face of overreaching NSA surveillance since obviously Obama is not.

I would say a subpoena from the Congress of the United States should be more difficult to brush off than one from a regular court case. But why should the information not be available to the courts, really? Why should people not have access to information that can be used to defend themselves? Doesn't this open up a big legal loophole for defendants to argue that NSA data proves their innocence, but since the government won't make it available, their charges must be dismissed?

That's the brilliance of this request -- it highlights how the government's asymmetric access to information can be used against it: "Since you know everything, you must be able to prove my case for me... Oh, you won't? Then you're obviously persecuting me."

With absolute knowledge comes absolute power, but with absolute power for some comes absolute victimhood and therefore sympathy for the rest.

Even if now it is only NSA and a few multinationals that have mass surveillance data, in the future the number of entities collecting an trading privacy data will increase 1000 fold.

Then we'll get into a stalemate - we all know about everyone. Nobody will be able to use such information if they are not completely clean AND their family/associates too. Otherwise, they are blackmail targets too.

Whatever information you generate: speech, messages, GPS logs, social network (with whom you communicate, by any means) it will be intercepted. The only way to maintain privacy will be to keep things into your head.

First time in a long while that I wholeheartedly support the Republicans.

Audacity of this action made me laugh.

Agree. The irony of the "nothing to hide, nothing to fear" statement being turned around on the government was delicious.

It's been on its head since day one, really. The NSA is coming after Snowden for violating their privacy.

Regardless of the aim of his request it does server a public good. It shows that this type of data, once collected, will never be limited to a specific usage. It's too tempting a thing and humans are too weak to resist the siren call.

Given that the NSA is not a troop of Boy Scouts telling scary stories around a camp fire, I'd be somewhat surprised if they're monitoring the White House's communications in an attempt to be able to say "the terrorist's call is coming from inside the White House".

That's the problem with logging everything. Unless they deliberately filter out all the data coming from the White House, they have it, even though having it is only useful for their political opponents.

Devil's advocate: This is a feature, not a bug, and it's working as intended. If the NSA wants to be able to track and review evidence of or relating to the most potentially-harmful events that could affect the US, the most influential people in the country -- the snakes and weasels that run it -- are in the best position to cause or enable harm by betraying confidence, so their communications are the most vital to monitor.

If you read the recent Wired article on Keith Alexander, the NSA director, he has made it clear he wants the NSA monitoring and storing everything to monitor "cyberthreats". So it figures they'd be monitoring the White House as well if that's their justification.

I'd bet all this data has been/is used in granting people security clearances and discovering where leaks are coming from.

This is basically exactly the reason why this kind of warrantless spying should be illegal. Politicians can use their position to go on fishing expeditions and publicly persecute whoever they wish with flimsy reasoning.

Nixon shouldn't have had to turn over his tapes?

Let me guess, you feel that situation was somehow different. For reasons other than each president's political affiliation?

Nixon was the President, whose particular office recorded phone calls because a previous President made it standard practice. For him alone.

The White House and the IRS are large organizations with many employees, none of whom have 'tapes' of their calls, except POTUS.

There was no warrant required to make those tapes. POTUS is a special case. This guy wants every record of every communication by every staffer of both the White House and the IRS. This is going much much farther, and for seemingly no reason whatsoever. The Senator is basically suggesting the interns were part of a conspiracy, so we should find out what they had to hide.

If, for example, one person at either the White House or IRS was a closeted homosexual, and unwarranted recordings proving that are made public, the person's life could be ruined. All because some douchebag Senator wanted an unnecessarily broad fishing expedition for political reasons.

But yes, Nixon should have had to turn over the tapes, because there was already clear evidence he had something to hide. That's why we're supposed to issue warrants - if there is due cause.

"all records of every phone call made from all public and private telephones of all IRS personnel to all public and private telephones of all White House personnel."

It's not every single phone call, only the ones from the IRS to the White House.

'...for seemingly no reason whatsoever'

Perhaps you missed it. The IRS specifically targeted groups likely to oppose DNC policies.

Difference being that Nixon ordered the tape recorders be installed. He was not compelled by anyone to record his conversations and they were recorded with his permission.

I guess I don't understand how this is different. Are you taking the position that the NSA gathers data without Obama's permission?

Nixon chose to wiretap the White House so he's fair game. Obama wiretaps the entire country and he's not?

I made no reference to Obama, I was speaking to the point that people whose communications would be included in this subpoena are not in the same position that Nixon was in when he knowingly and approvingly recorded his communications.

Logs of all communication on the private lines of the IRS and White House employees could expose some very embarrassing or otherwise "culturally sensitive" activities that have absolutely nothing to do with the intent of this subpoena. To repeat the point made by peterwwillis: "Politicians can use their position to go on fishing expeditions and publicly persecute whoever they wish with flimsy reasoning."

‘If Obama has nothing to hide he has nothing to fear,’ says Stockman

That is a soundbite I would love to hear repeated ad nauseum. Replacing Obama with every politician, CEO, and 3-letter agency head.

If anyone shouldn't have a right to privacy, it would be public officials.

Oy vey, a bunch of trolls trolling trolls.

I wish that politics hadn't turned into this sort of nonsense; this makes a very sensible concern into a tool of politics.

I would argue that, for now, this is an "enemy of my enemy...." situation.

Then repeal the fucking Patriot act. This is partisan garbage from the GOP trying to pin everything on Obama.

Congress could end all this stuff right now if they choose to. Obviously, they are choosing political grandstanding and loudmouth politics.

> Then repeal the fucking Patriot act.

Uh... if I could, I would?

I know it is partisan garbage. It is partisan garbage from people I hate, targeting people I hate. I hope they both mortally injure each other. When my enemies fight, you will have to excuse me for finding the silver lining. I have no faith in the GOP, and do not expect them to attempt to repeal the Patriot Act. Expecting that is not being realistic.

It is a damned shame, then, that we have no friends in Congress.

Aye, the best we can hope is that they all turn cannibal and consume each other.

This maybe sound cynical, but I am impressed they actually found a Republican who hasn't been in politics for like 15+ years to run with this charade.

So no one can blame him for all those years of supporting the patriot act and the likes.

Well played.

Everything the government does is, by definition, political. You can't wish away the politics an on-going mass surveillance program; you can only avoid initiating the program in the first place.

It's been like this since the days of Rome. This isn't a criticism, quite the contrary; I'm saying this sort of grandstanding is Classical.

And now, we start using call logs to investigate non-terrorist crimes? Politics aside, this is what everyone's actually worried about.

If there were some magical guarantee from the good fairy of civil liberties that broad surveillance could only ever be used to stop terrorism, it would be far, far less troublesome.

The problem is using surveillance for any crime one wants to investigate.

The point is as long as the data is there it can be abused. A law saying that it cannot be accessed except in terrorism related cases is effectively meaningless because it could still be accessed illegally in secret, or the law could change in the future.

Good not only should the IRS phone records and their contents be released, but the phone records of all of Congress and their contents should be released, especially vis-a-vis congress and lobbyists and/or special interest groups. Starting with the Congressman making the request, all his communications should be opened up to the public for public scrutiny.

This is called transparency and I like it, further the whereabouts via GPS tracking of all of Congress should be released cross referenced with the GPS location of all known special interest groups and lobbyists. Of course I want mine kept private, because I am a private citizen, not a public official.

We have a political system in which the only way to win is to destroy your opposition, discredit them, shame them, find hidden dirt and upstage them in media clips. The ignorant voting masses are manipulated daily by our partisan media (all sides) and they mindlessly vote across party lines as they are told.

If any of you were living in this political jungle you would have to resort to the same tactics in order to get anywhere and climb the ladders. You would engage in the kinds of analytics and optimizations that would lead you to quickly conclude that the issues don't matter as much as showing the ignorant masses --who's support you need-- how righteous you are against the other side, no matter which side of the isle you inhabit.

That is the problem with the devolution of our political system. It's not about issues. It's not about rational consideration of mutually beneficial ideas. It's not about long term planning. It's not about fiscally sound policy. It's not about stopping to fuck with the rest of the world to focus on our internal needs. No, it's about the next six months, year, two or four years and the elections we have to win for the party. It's bullshit and it is exactly what is sinking this great nation.

Regrettably, this mess has also created a positive feedback loop that, with every passing moment, makes the problem worst. This is what scares me about where we have been, where we are and where we are going. I am far from a political strategist, but I don't see this self-correcting until we suffer a truly catastrophic set of failures that cause people to wake up to the realities of what we have created.

It's like the three hundred pound overweight man who can't stop eating until he gets to 600 pounds and then has a revelation. How do you get from 300 to 600 pounds and not realize you are killing yourself? How do you keep making the same flawed decisions? One pizza slice at a time. One lie at a time. One excuse at a time. Looking the other way a million little times. Ignoring the need for the "fiscal balance" of food intake, exercise and caloric needs. Talking about fixing it and not really doing anything about it. Put another way: Death by a thousand cuts.

As a country we are probably well past the analogy of a 600 pound man who is dangerously overweight. We are on our way to 1200 pounds. The problem is the feedback loop. Nothing can stop it until the machine breaks. Or so it seems.

He wants to clear any doubt that this information is being used for political purposes by using it for political purposes.

Its too bad that it was requested by someone with so little name recognition that "Congressman requests" is a better headline than "Rep. Stockman(R) requests"

I wonder if we can ask for something similar in Europe. I live in Belgium and the government is snooping. Not on a similar scale. But it does happen without a warrant. It's all legal because the changed the constitution. I'm not sure what can be done about it. It might be against the EU constitution. I don't really know where to start. But I do want to stop it.

As much as I hate these types of partisanship maneuvers, but this one may have a positive consequence. Bringing up the reality and dangers of widespread eavesdropping.

Now can we subpoena conversation between the VP, Cheney's office regarding the Valerie Plame or other fabrication about the Iraq war. Oh wait, I forgot. Democrats left their spine in a 70s time capsule.

Game on.

I'm confused: couldn't this information be requested directly from the phone companies?

The actual letter requests the "records of every phone call". That should include the conversations, not just the logs.

Of course this is grandstanding (but I support). The House Government Reform and Oversight Committee will simply ignore the request.

Would have been nice if both a Democrat and Republican could have requested this as statesmen. I am not sure there are any left. I love this though. A group of R's and D's would be even better.

Has anyone seen the movie The Net? I can't help but keep being reminded that this is what's going on and it's only a matter of time before it starts becoming obvious to the public.

Just what this debate needs, useless grandstanding.

I'm torn. On one hand, this is delicious irony. On the other hand, the Republicans have used any pretence to tell us that the President is a terrorist, Muslim, non-American, bad guy of any sort. There is no way to satisfy this request without it becoming another hyperbolic, red-faced accusation-fest.

I heard a Republican say "there have been so many scandals directed at the President, and he's managed to dodge all of them. He can't be innocent of all of them!" It shocked me because it was an argument for "guilty until proven innocent." My response was "there have been so many accusations, all baseless, that you have to start wondering about the truthfulness of those making the accusations. Isn't it time we just started ignoring all of these so-called scandals?"

I'm at that point now. I can't take the NSA thing seriously because I've heard the boy cry "wolf!" too many times.

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