(10 am. – promoted by ek hornbeck)
During the debate, Senator Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat and a member of the Intelligence Committee, said that the executive branch had come up with a secret legal theory about what it could collect under a provision of the Patriot Act that did not seem to dovetail with a plain reading of the text. “I want to deliver a warning this afternoon: When the American people find out how their government has secretly interpreted the Patriot Act, they will be stunned and they will be angry,” Mr. Wyden said. He invoked the public’s reaction to the illegal domestic spying that came to light in the mid-1970s, the Iran-contra affair, and the Bush administration’s program of surveillance without warrants.
Another member of the Intelligence Committee, Senator Mark Udall, Democrat of Colorado, backed Mr. Wyden’s account, saying, “Americans would be alarmed if they knew how this law is being carried out.”
The Obama administration declined to explain what the senators were talking about. Dean Boyd, a Justice Department spokesman, said that Congressional oversight committees and a special panel of national security judges – known as the FISA Court – were aware of how the executive branch was interpreting and using surveillance laws.
“These authorities are also subject to extensive oversight from the FISA Court, from Congress, from the executive branch,” Mr. Boyd said.
Mr. Wyden has long denounced the idea of “secret law” – classified memorandums and rulings about the meaning of surveillance law developed by executive branch officials and the FISA Court. He and Mr. Udall had proposed requiring the Justice Department to make public its official interpretation of what the Patriot Act means. The chairwoman of the Intelligence Committee, Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California, agreed to hold a hearing on their concerns next month.
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