WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep. Todd Rokita has kept up a steady drumbeat against the National Security Administration’s collection of phone records since former NSA contractor Edward Snowden blew the whistle.
But Wednesday, Rokita was out of town on personal business as the House narrowly defeated an attempt to do away with the controversial program.
Of Indiana’s nine House representatives, only Andre Carson voted in favor of an amendment, sponsored by Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich., which would have prohibited intelligence agencies from collecting phone records without specific evidence the records were associated with someone already under investigation.
“He likely would have voted for it,” said Rokita’s press secretary, Zach Zagar, Thursday, noting Rokita’s criticism of the NSA program and Rokita’s opposition to the renewal of some provisions of the Patriot Act.
Republican representatives Jackie Walorski and Susan Brooks were among the seven Indiana congressmen and women voting against the Amash amendment.
“While the Amash amendment is well-intentioned, this approach limits reasonable surveillance of suspected agents of foreign terror organizations, jeopardizing national security and endangering our troops and citizens,” Walorski said Thursday in a statement.
Brooks agreed with concerns the Amash amendment would have gone too far.
“It would have severely handicapped, if not completely eliminated, the effectiveness of this intelligence program which I know firsthand has helped thwart terrorist attacks against Americans both at home and abroad,” Brooks said. “I am committed to protecting the privacy of Americans but it is irresponsible to eliminate successful national security programs.”
Brooks said it made more sense to work “on more thoughtful policies,” including tighter restrictions on the issuance of security clearances. In the wake of the Snowden revelations, there has been widespread questioning of why certain contractors, like Snowden, have top secret clearances.
Rokita put out a statement Thursday, explaining that he and his wife had traveled to Orlando, Fla., to attend a seminar on a rare neurological/genetic condition, called Angelman Syndrome, which his 5-year-old son Teddy suffers from.
The statement emphasized Rokita’s votes against the 2012 National Defense reauthorization, the renewal of the Patriot Act, and of his recent co-authoring a bill, with Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., to require the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to release any rulings which touch directly on how the court interprets provisions of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. After Snowden’s revelations, it appears that the surveillance court has interpreted FISA to allow for the collection of “metadata,” such as huge lists of phone numbers.
Most of the House also voted in favor of a weaker amendment, which passed easily Wednesday, sponsored by Rep. Richard Nugent, R-Fla.
Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., told the Bloomberg news agency the Nugent amendment amounted to a political “fig leaf” for those who voted against the Amash amendment, and said the Nugent amendment wouldn’t change anything.
Scott Smith can bereached at 765-454-8569 or at email@example.com.