Part 1: Congressman who provides “oversight” of NSA claims to know nothing, operates entirely in secret
Don’t miss Part 2, “Don’t Record Us, We’ll Record You” with audio.
Astonishing meeting at Congressman Mike Thompson’s office in Santa Rosa. Thompson is the only rep here in northern California (aside from obedient party leader Pelosi) who voted against the Amash-Conyers amendment, which says what the Constitution says: that no one should be subjected to intrusive surveillance without a proper warrant. I was there with three other Restore the Fourth activists: two locals (Casey Chartier and me) and two who had driven up from San Francisco, Zaki Manian and Gareth Scott. I barely knew them – brilliant collaborators!
It turns out Mike Thompson is one of a handful of Congressman who was supposed to be providing oversight of the NSA on our behalf for the past 6 years. He is one of just 5 House Intelligence Committee members who knew first hand that Director of National Intelligence James Clapper was lying to the public and Congress when he answered, under oath, that no data was being collected on millions of Americans. Thompson kept this felony perjury secret. (There’s a second handful in the Senate Committee, including Wyden and Udall who’ve been sounding the alarm with gags on for two years, and Senator Feinstein, who has been unplugging the alarm and begging them to shut up.)
Two Thompson staffers, a young man and a woman senior staffer, greeted us as we introduced ourselves. It had taken weeks to set up the meeting, with many of Casey’s efforts disappearing, perhaps into a Congressional spam box. We had many questions for Thompson’s staff. I set my laptop on the table so I could refer to questions and take notes.
Since it was our first meeting I was hoping to break the ice by eliciting something nice about Thompson’s oversight thus far – a success story or two from the staff. A few days earlier, after a report of thousands of NSA breaches of even its vast current authority, Thompson and Pelosi had both rushed out press releases. Thompson’s was worded to suggest he knows absolutely nothing about the programs aside from what he read in the Washington Post last week. “Reports indicate … if accurate, this is outrageous, … all incidents of non-compliance, if substantiated…”
But since he also spoke of “the need for aggressive oversight of the NSA’s intelligence gathering activities” I imagined his staff might have an anecdote or fact to share in that area, however vague, after his 6 years in that oft-vaunted oversight role.
His staff quickly assured us they had never seen any evidence of oversight of the NSA by Thompson. The only staff member with clearance to know anything about his Intelligence or NSA work was in Washington.
Priceless, illuminating – and suddenly I realized I hadn’t turned on my recorder yet. I popped my phone out of my pocket, started up a new Voice Memo with a loud “DING!” and set it on the table beside my laptop.
The long, slow burn from both staff members was equally priceless. They froze, then moved in slow motion, neither daring to look up as Casey and Zaki continued to speak. If only there’d been a video camera on too.
The conversation continued for a bit – until we asked why Thompson had a problem with the Amash-Conyers Amendment. “Because it was either/or, up or down, turn on the lights turn off the lights,” the senior staffer answered.
As I asked, “What would be wrong with requiring a warrant?” she cut me off: “Here is the thing that we’re not going to do in this meeting — we’re not going to get in an argument.” I agreed. But she did not want another word said about warrants, and cut me off again, glaring at the iPhone.
“And I would have preferred it if you had asked if I could be recorded.”
Funny. That’s exactly what hundreds of millions of Americans and about 6 billion foreigners are saying – but about secret recordings of their private, personal conversations.
Several more amazing things happened, almost all recorded, but it’s late and that will have to wait for Part 2. I hope to write up the rest of this exciting meeting later in the week.
North Bay folks: on August 28th at 5PM there will be rally outside Mike Thompson’s office:
Tell Congressman Thompson we reject his support of NSA spying on We the People
Restore the Fourth will be there, and it will be fun. If you’re local, can you make it? If not, please share what’s up with your own Reps and Senators in Congress.