Spending Bill Would Give Administration Direct Control Of Surveillance Spending

We’ve been given six more years of Section 702 collections, thanks to many, many Congressional representatives who just couldn’t find it in their hearts to tell the dear old NSA “No.” An extension was granted to push the “debate” into 2018, but there was no debate to be had. Instead, oversight committees on both sides of the Congressional aisle used this time to push out zero-reform renewal packages that actually made Section 702 worse.

After a brief, two-week consideration of opposing views, things moved ahead as though the program had never been abused by the NSA and had never “inadvertently” swept up US persons’ communications without a warrant. The same politicians who complained about the NSA’s power being in the hands of Donald Trump were the ones who voted for the passage of “reform” bills increasing the agency’s reach and grasp.

Now, Congressional reps are granting the Trump Administration even greater control of US spy powers. The House spending bill contains an alteration to the language covering the Intelligence Community’s use of federal funds. The funding of surveillance programs is already secret. The NSA’s infamous “black budget” makes it impossible for citizens to see how — and how much — money is being spent spying on the world.

But the book isn’t closed to everybody. If the agency or the administration wants to shift funding around, it must first inform Congress. This theoretically gives Congress veto power on spending changes Congress hasn’t pre-approved. The disclosures are, of course, done in secret and there’s no way to know how often Congress blocks spending changes, but at least it’s some form of oversight. That will no longer be the case if the spending bill is approved, as Ryan Grim reports for The Intercept.

The House spending bill released Wednesday would allow President Donald Trump, or people under him, to secretly shift money to fund intelligence programs, a break with 70 years of governing tradition.

Since 1947, section 504 of the National Security Act has mandated that the administration inform Congress if it intends to shift money from one intelligence project to another, if the new project has not been authorized by Congress. That notification can be — and almost always is — done in secret, but it is at least a minimal check on executive power.

The spending bill currently under consideration, known as a continuing resolution, or CR, breaks with that tradition, allowing funds to “be obligated and expended notwithstanding section 504(a)(1) of the National Security Act of 1947.”

This would make the entire “black budget” discretionary, overseen only by the people moving the money around. Congressional control of agency budgets would become a historical artifact, something long-term reps could gaze back at nostalgically as what’s left of Intelligence Community oversight crumbles into nonexistence.

Permalink | Comments | Email This Story