Clapper urges House to reject amendment limiting NSA spying

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper issued a statement Wednesday opposing an amendment to curb the National Security Agency’s surveillance activities, the latest push from the Obama administration to sway lawmakers ahead of a crucial vote.

“I join others who caution that acting in haste to defund the FISA Business Records program risks dismantling an important intelligence tool,” Clapper said.

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Clapper cited the opposition from Intelligence Committee leaders in Congress and said that he supported their call for “an open and candid discussion about foreign surveillance authorities and careful consideration of the potential effect of limiting the Intelligence Community’s capabilities under these authorities.”

Clapper’s comments followed a White House statement that was issued Tuesday night in opposition to the proposal, hours after NSA Director Gen. Keith Alexander came to Capitol Hill to answer lawmakers’ questions in a classified, members-only briefing.

The major White House offensive against the measure highlights the concern that the proposal from Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) has raised within the Obama administration.

Congressional leaders from the Intelligence Committees of both chambers have also strongly spoken out against the proposal, and a group of seven House Republican committee chairmen sent a letter of opposition to their colleagues on Tuesday.

Amash has the support of liberal Democrats and libertarian Republicans in his effort to end the NSA’s ability to collect massive phone records. His amendment would prevent the agency from using the Patriot Act to collect telephone data from those who aren’t under investigation.

Amash’s amendment is expected to get a vote Wednesday as an amendment to the Defense appropriations bill. 

The NSA measure was one of several controversial amendments that House Republican leaders allowed to receive votes to the Defense bill, along with measures restricting military aid or action in Egypt and Syria without congressional approval.

GOP leaders allowed the votes in a compromise after Amash and a group of libertarian Republicans threatened to join with Democrats to defeat the rule to the Defense bill on the House floor.