National Security

Sen. Cotton pushes to delay NSA reforms in wake of Paris attack

Tom Cotton, Iran, Gitmo, Guantanamo
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Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) is seeking to halt a looming expiration of controversial National Security Agency (NSA) surveillance, saying the Paris terror attacks last Friday prove the value of the spy agency’s data collection.

On Tuesday, Cotton is introducing legislation to delay this month’s deadline to end the NSA’s bulk collection of Americans’ phone records.

{mosads}The effort is unlikely to be successful, given the support for NSA reform on both sides of the aisle as well as in the White House.

Yet the legislation underscores the unease that many defense hawks have with the country’s efforts to rein in intelligence powers in the two years since government whistleblower Edward Snowden’s leaks, and points to a new stage of the looming battle between privacy advocates and security proponents.

“If we take anything from the Paris attacks, it should be that vigilance and safety go hand-in-hand,” Cotton said in a statement. “Now is not the time to sacrifice our national security for political talking points.

“We should allow the intelligence community to do their job and provide them with the tools they need to keep us safe.”

His new bill, called the Liberty Through Strength Act, will do just that, he insisted.

The legislation would delay the NSA’s planned deadline to end its bulk phone collection for more than a year. It would also make permanent two other portions of the post-9/11 Patriot Act, which provides authority for targeting “lone wolves” as well as roving surveillance of multiple unidentified devices used by the same target.

The NSA program, which was revealed by Snowden, collects bulk records about millions of Americans’ phone calls. The metadata picked up by the NSA includes information about the numbers dialed in a phone call, the time that the call occurred and how long it lasted — but not the content of people’s conversations.

Despite the opposition of Cotton and others, Congress passed NSA reform legislation this summer, calling for the program to end Nov. 29 and replacing it with a more targeted system requiring the NSA to obtain a narrower set of records from private phone companies.

The bill “takes us from a constitutional, legal, and proven NSA collection architecture to an untested, hypothetical one that will be less effective,” Cotton said.

His new legislation would delay the NSA’s transition until Jan. 31, 2017.

After Friday’s attacks, some national security hawks have been quick to point the finger at reforms by tech companies and lawmakers in the wake of Snowden’s leaks.

Though the NSA program is still in existence and only targets Americans, critics such as former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) have singled it out for restoration. 

Others have feared the rise of encrypted communications allowed the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria to plan out the attack on Paris without being seen.  

On Monday, CIA Director John Brennan said that the Paris attacks should be a “wake-up call.”

“In the past several years, because of a number of unauthorized disclosures and a lot of handwringing over the government’s role in the effort to try to uncover these terrorists, there have been some policy and legal and other actions that make our ability — collectively, internationally — to find these terrorists much more challenging,” Brennan said.

– This story was updated at 3:49 p.m.

Tags Mass surveillance National Security Agency Tom Cotton USA Freedom Act
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