Edward Snowden is not just dividing the Democratic Party between progressives and the president. Over the weekend, a public skirmish broke out between Republicans over the government’s mass collection of the communications records of U.S. citizens.
On Saturday, seven former Bush era intelligence officials and a Republican member of the House Intelligence Committee blasted the Republican National Committee (RNC) in a group letter for passing a resolution that called for the blanket repeal of what it considered “blanket surveillance” of Americans. The resolution has also been criticized Rep. Peter King, the Republican from New York who has been an outspoken defender of the NSA and is a former chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee.
The fight over the resolution—however symbolic--shows how the libertarian wing of the party is exercising more influence over key party institutions. Until now Republicans who have opposed the national security state have not persuaded the Republican party’s leadership in Congress to go along with them. In some cases lawmakers like Sen. Rand Paul, the firebrand libertarian from Kentucky, have made common cause with liberal senators like Ron Wyden, a progressive from Oregon who tried for years to get the U.S. government to acknowledge its secret interpretation of the Patriot Act that allowed the NSA to collect the phone records from U.S. telecom providers.
Raffi Williams, a deputy press secretary for the RNC, told the Daily Beast that the resolution passed Friday by voice vote as party of eleven resolutions voted on at the party’s meeting this week.
On Friday Time.com first reported on the “Resolution to Renounce the National Security Agency’s Surveillance Program.”
It called on Republicans to endorse amendments to the Patriot Act and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act “to make it clear that blanket surveillance of the Internet activity, phone records and correspondence — electronic, physical, and otherwise — of any person residing in the U.S. is prohibited by law and that violations can be reviewed in adversarial proceedings before a public court.”
That was enough to ruffle the feathers of Rep. Mike Pompeo, a Republican from Kansas who serves on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence as well as Michael Hayden, former NSA Director and CIA director; Michael Mukasey, the former Attorney General; Michael Chertoff, the former Secretary of Homeland Security; and four other senior national security officials, all of whom served under President George W. Bush.
Their letter says: “The Republican National Committee plays a vital role in political campaigns, but it has relatively little expertise in national security.” In particular the letter takes issue with the resolution’s claim that the NSA’s PRISM program “monitors searching habits of virtually every American on the internet.”
“In fact, there is no program that monitors the searches of all Americans,” the letter says. “And what has become known as the PRISM program is not aimed at collecting the communications of Americans. It is targeted at the international communications of foreign persons located outside the United States and is precisely the type of foreign-targeted surveillance that Congress approved in 2008 and 2012 when it enacted and reauthorized amendments to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.”