Republican unveils new bill to stall NSA reforms

Tom Cotton, Iran, Gitmo, Guantanamo
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Republican Sen. Tom CottonTom CottonSenators to Obama: Make 'timely' call on Afghan troops levels Dems to GOP: Cancel Memorial Day break GOP senator: Reid's 'ramblings' are 'bitter, vulgar, incoherent' MORE (Ark.) on Wednesday introduced new legislation to stall or preempt reforms to U.S. intelligence agencies, days after the National Security Agency (NSA) ended a controversial program.

Cotton had unsuccessfully attempted to block that NSA reform from going into effect last weekend but appears committed to stalling other changes following last month’s deadly terrorist attack in Paris by adherents of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

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“No matter what President Obama may think, it’s clear ISIS is not contained and that these gaps must be addressed before they attack us again,” Cotton said in a statement announcing his new bill, called the Liberty Through Strength Act II.

“The Liberty Through Strength Act II ensures our intelligence community has the tools they need keep us safe.”

The original Liberty Through Strength Act, introduced a week before the Thanksgiving break, would have delayed the deadline for the NSA to end its bulk collection of millions of Americans’ phone records, among other changes. On Sunday, the spy agency switched to a new system in which it receives a narrow set of records from individual phone companies after obtaining a court order.

The NSA reforms were ordered by Congress this summer, ahead of a deadline for renewing portions of the Patriot Act.  

Cotton’s earlier bill gained the support of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), GOP presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and nine other Republicans.

His new legislation would have the government hold on to the phone records already collected under that program for officials to search through for five years. It would also make permanent two other provisions that the NSA reform bill extended through 2019, which related to “lone wolf” suspects and those who move through multiple devices.

“On Sunday our constitutional, legal, and proven NSA collection architecture shifted to an untested, less effective system in the dead of the night,” Cotton said in his statement. “This shift came at a time when our enemies are emboldened and we face an elevated national security threat. Worse, President Obama has decided that he will press delete on the metadata records we currently have, making it impossible to identify terrorist connections among these data that would reveal ISIS and al Qaeda sleeper cells."

Cotton’s bill would also ensure the FBI’s ability to obtain “electronic communications transactional records” and would make permanent a portion of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act that allows the NSA to collect vast amounts of information about Americans’ and foreigners’ behavior on the Internet, which is otherwise set to expire at the end of 2017. The legal provision has become a target for civil libertarians who felt emboldened by the initial NSA reforms.