Dems protest intel funding bill over NSA

The intelligence funding bill the House overwhelmingly passed Friday would make no major reforms to some of the most controversial spying programs, which angered some Democrats.

Rep. John Conyers Jr. (Mich.), the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, voted against the measure because it made no effort to reform the National Security Agency (NSA) and other programs.

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The funding bill “excludes even modest efforts to address cybersecurity, whistleblower protections, increased transparency, and drone warfare,” he said in a statement after voting against the bill. “Because the bill falls far short on each of these matters — and because the members introducing these reforms were not provided even the courtesy of open debate — I did not support this bill.”

“While I recognize the necessity of guarding some of the intelligence community’s clandestine activities, matters that impact the civil liberties and safety of all Americans cannot be conducted in a manner that shuts out Congress and leaves the public in the dark," he added.

Ahead of Friday’s vote, lawmakers looking for reform failed in their bill to have a number of NSA amendments added. Because of the classified nature of the programs, the legislation was marked up behind closed doors. 

Rep. Rush Holt (D-N.J.), for instance, introduced an amendment to better protect whistleblowers in the intelligence community, and he worked with Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) on measures to prevent “backdoor” snooping on software and spying on U.S. citizens under a provision targeting foreigners. Both ended up voting against the funding bill. 

The 345-59 House vote comes one week after the chamber passed a bill aimed at reining in the NSA, the USA Freedom Act. Among other changes, the bill would end the NSA’s bulk collection and storage of people’s phone records, though many civil liberties advocates have said it had been watered down in the days leading up to the vote.