OVERNIGHT DEFENSE: Senate panel passes NSA bill

The Topline: The Senate Intelligence Committee on Thursday approved a bill that would largely protect the National Security Agency’s program to collect records on all U.S. phone calls.

The legislation, which passed the committee in a classified markup 11-4, would allow the NSA to continue the phone data collection program, so long as it was used for counterterrorism purposes.

The bill will tee up a showdown with the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is planning to soon take up a bill that would end the phone collection program.

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Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinF-35 fighter jets may fall behind adversaries, House committee warns Warren, Daines introduce bill honoring 13 killed in Kabul attack Democrat rips Justice for not appearing at US gymnastics hearing MORE (D-Calif.) told reporters after the markup that the bill did include some new prohibitions on the use of the NSA’s bulk phone data collection program.

“We’ve tried to also make a matter of law that there is a prohibited use for these numbers for anything other than counterterrorism purposes,” she said.

“We’ve tried very hard to put together a bipartisan bill that improves transparency, improves privacy, has more public reporting, has more checks and we’ve done it to the best we can. And we’ve got a good solid two-thirds vote of the committee.”

Feinstein’s bill did not satisfy critics of the NSA’s surveillance programs.

Sen. Mark UdallMark Emery UdallKennedy apologizes for calling Haaland a 'whack job' OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Haaland courts moderates during tense confirmation hearing | GOP's Westerman looks to take on Democrats on climate change | White House urges passage of House public lands package Udalls: Haaland criticism motivated 'by something other than her record' MORE (D-Colo.), who voted against the legislation, said in a statement that Feinstein's bill "does not go far enough to address the NSA's overreaching domestic surveillance programs."

He said the committee rejected an amendment he offered to toughen the privacy protections.

"The NSA's ongoing, invasive surveillance of Americans' private information does not respect our constitutional values and needs fundamental reform — not incidental changes," Udall said.

The phone data program, which the NSA says is authorized under Section 215 of the Patriot Act, allows the agency to collect data such as phone numbers, call times and call durations on all U.S. calls. The agency says it does not collect the contents of any conversations under the program.

The existence of the phone data collection has been one of the most controversial revelations from the leaks by Edward Snowden.

The NSA continues to face scrutiny over its spying programs, including the latest report that said the agency was tapping overseas communication links that connect Google and Yahoo serves.

The NSA has denied the report. Feinstein said Thursday that she has asked Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, who briefed the committee Thursday, to provide a written explanation of what was incorrect.

Terrorism tops White House agenda with Iraq: The violent expansion of al Qaeda in Iraq and the serious security challenges it has created will top the agenda for Friday's meeting between President Obama and Iraqi President Nouri al-Maliki at the White House. 

The meeting caps off al-Maliki's weeklong visit to Washington, designed to increase political, military and economic cooperation between the White House and Baghdad. 

On Thursday, al-Maliki made a public pitch for more aid from the U.S. and the international community to help Iraq battle al Qaeda.

Al-Maliki said Thursday that al Qaeda “found a second chance” in Iraq after it was initially defeated, thanks in part to the instability created by the conflict in Syria.

In a speech at the U.S. Institute of Peace, he warned that al Qaeda’s resurgence in Iraq could have far-reaching implications. “Al Qaeda is a dirty wind that wants to spread worldwide,” al-Maliki said.

The White House said Wednesday the teaming of al Qaeda's Iraqi cell and affiliated Islamic militant groups in Syria into the new Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) has developed into a "transnational threat" that could expand beyond the Mideast and possibly reach the United States. 

That growing presence "that has accelerated in the past six to eight months" has been accompanied by waves of bombings and attacks that threaten to throw Iraq into a full-blown civil war.

Al-Maliki said Thursday that U.S. military aid was important for his country’s fight against al Qaeda, saying that his country needed weapons specifically for counterterrorism, in addition to Abrams tanks and F-16s.

Congress is skeptical about giving more aid to Iraq, saying that al-Maliki’s “mismanagement of Iraqi politics is contributing to the recent surge of violence.”

Gillibrand blocks Navy nominee: Sen. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandHochul tells Facebook to 'clean up the act' on abortion misinformation after Texas law Democratic senators request probe into Amazon's treatment of pregnant employees The FBI comes up empty-handed in its search for a Jan. 6 plot MORE (D-N.Y.) placed a hold Thursday on President Obama’s nominee to be undersecretary of the Navy, Jo Ann Rooney, over Rooney’s comments about prosecuting military sexual assault cases.

Gillibrand placed the hold shortly after Rooney’s nomination cleared the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday.

Gillibrand had criticized Rooney for her testimony at her confirmation hearing earlier this month, where Rooney argued against Gillibrand’s proposal to take the decision to prosecute sexual assault cases away from military commanders, when Rooney said: “I believe the impact would be decisions based on evidence, rather than the interest in preserving good order and discipline.”

In a statement Thursday, Gillibrand said that statements like Rooney’s “further erode” the trust that justice can be served in the military system.

“Jo Ann Rooney’s testimony should send chills down the spine of any member of the armed services seeking justice,” Gillibrand said.

At the hearing, Rooney said that she did not mean to suggest a commander would ignore evidence, but said that a commander has additional issues to consider within his or her command.

Israel airstrikes target Syrian base: Israeli fighter jets launched an airstrike against military targets in western Syria, to reportedly intercept a delivery of Russian missiles heading into the country. 

The target, a base in Latakia, was a missile and weapons storage facility for the Syrian military, according to recent reports. 

Concerns over whether the missiles being housed at the western Syrian site would be handed over to members of the Iranian terror group fighting in the country prompted Israel to take action. 

U.S. Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford said Thursday that Moscow's continued weapons shipments to the Assad regime is hindering international efforts to end the three-year civil war in the country. 

“The Russians would help everyone get to the negotiating table faster if they would stop these deliveries," Ford said. 

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in May vowed to block any new sales to Assad's forces, but also promised to deliver on previous sales to the regime.

"Russia already sold them [weapons] a long time ago. It has signed the contracts and is completing deliveries, in line with the agreed contracts," including previously agreed to deliveries of S-300 long-range, surface-to-air missile systems, Lavrov said at the time. 

Washington has also begun directly supplying weapons and equipment to the rebels. 

The weapon supplies, consisting mostly of small arms, ammunition and anti-tank weapons, are being coordinated by the CIA and limited to vetted portions of Syria's rebels. 

President Obama approved the weapons program back in July, giving the agency the green light to begin arming Syrian rebels from clandestine bases in Turkey and Jordan, according to reports at the time. 

 

In Case You Missed It: 

—Gillibrand blocks Navy nominee 

—Intel agencies revamp clearance process 

—Syrian death toll tops 120,000

—US drone strikes kill three in Pakistan

—Syrian chemical disarmament done, says inspectors 

 

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