Wyden on CIA, NSA, FISA, electronic surveillance

Kari Chisholm FacebookTwitterWebsite

Last week, Senator Ron Wyden spoke to an audience of about 700 in downtown Portland on the current state of our national surveilliance and national security system.

Over the weekend, I finally found the time to listen to it -- and man, you should listen to his speech. It is both a high-level overview of everything that's going on, as well as a specific rundown of Wyden's concerns about the challenges posed to our civil liberties.

One of the most interesting items is his discussion of why he doesn't just go down to the Senate floor and reveal everything he knows. After all, the Constitution expressly prohibits any prosecution of a Member of Congress for anything they say on the floor.

Here's Wyden's answer:

People sometimes ask me, “Ron, if you knew what was going on, why didn’t you just tell everyone?” This is something I wrestled with over the years. The Constitution says that the executive branch can’t punish members of Congress for engaging in speech and debate, no matter what they say, but the Senate itself has chosen to adopt rules that require members to respect the secrecy of classified information.

As I say, I considered how to proceed and frequently thought about what Senator Morse would have done. I’m honestly not sure, and unfortunately Senator Morse is no longer around to give me his counsel.

In the end I made the judgment that I could do more for the cause of reform by working within the rules and being inside the room for closed-door intelligence debates and in the position to ask hard questions in both closed and open hearings. I can see why some would disagree with that judgment, but I was guided by the belief that in a free society like ours, the truth will always come out as long as people continue to ask the hard questions.

And I hope Senator Morse would have found that to be a reasonable judgment. I like to think that Senator Morse would have seen it that way also.

(Note: The above is from the prepared text, which is very close to the comments as delivered.)

Here's the full speech:



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