The Keystone XL pipeline wasn’t the only piece of legislation that was killed on Tuesday. Make no mistake, it’ll unfortunately be back after the new Congress is sworn in next year, but for now it’s been blocked. The other item on Tuesday’s agenda was the USA Freedom Act, a bill designed to reform the National Security Agency. Naturally, it was successfully filibustered by all but four Republicans and one Democrat. The cloture vote failed, 58 to 42, with Sens. Ted Cruz (R-TX), Mike Lee (R-UT), Dean Heller (R-NV) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) voting in support of the legislation.
Among other things, the bill would’ve ended bulk collection of electronic metadata by NSA, mandating that telecoms retain that information to be accessible by NSA with a warrant. It would’ve also appointed a citizen advocate on the FISA Court to argue in support of privacy and civil liberties. The entire story is an exercise in how utterly clueless the supporters of Ed Snowden really are, this time squandering the only real chance at NSA reform they’ll likely see in a while.
Regardless, one of the senators who voted to filibuster the legislation was Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), the hero of Snowden disciples everywhere. The bill would’ve only needed Rand Paul and one other senator for cloture. But nope.
To be fair, Paul said he voted to filibuster because the law didn’t go far enough. In hindsight, it makes perfect sense because it suits his well-known duplicity on a wide variety of issues. When he’s kissing the asses of civil liberties people, he can roll out the “it didn’t go far enough” excuse. But when he’s kissing the asses of conservative primary voters in New Hampshire or South Carolina, he can say he’s all for beefing up our national security in the face of threats like ISIS, so he voted against it. A flip-flopper needs to flip-flop. Rand Paul is a slick used-car salesman who’s always on the lookout for opportunistic material with which to trick voters into buying his clown-sized jalopy.
What makes his filibuster vote additionally suspicious is the obvious fact that it’ll have even less of a chance starting in January when the GOP majority takes over. Consequently, an even weaker bill will emerge or nothing at all will be done. We have to ask ourselves (and Snowden supporters especially), at what other time did they expect a vote and what other tougher bill did they expect to get? In other words, rather than voting for moderate NSA reform, Rand Paul helped to kill perhaps the only NSA reform bill that will emerge until 2017 at the earliest.
So, where is Rand Paul’s true allegiance on this matter? With Rand Paul, of course. Whatever helps Rand Paul pretend he’s the pal of whichever group he’s courting, even if he’s courting sides that are totally at odds with the other.
Meanwhile, Glenn Greenwald and Snowden’s other media flacks are applauding Rand Paul as well as the demise of the USA Freedom Act — totally fished-in by the Rand Paul excuse that the bill didn’t go far enough. Greenwald wrote that the bill was “water[ed] down,” while noting that the ACLU and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, for which Greenwald is a board member, withdrew support from the bill:
The “USA Freedom Act”—the proponents of which were heralding as “NSA reform” despite its suffocatingly narrow scope—died in the august U.S. Senate last night when it attracted only 58 of the 60 votes needed to close debate and move on to an up-or-down vote. […]
To begin with, it sought to change only one small sliver of NSA mass surveillance (domestic bulk collection of phone records under section 215 of the Patriot Act) while leaving completely unchanged the primary means of NSA mass surveillance, which takes place under section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act, based on the lovely and quintessentially American theory that all that matters are the privacy rights of Americans (and not the 95 percent of the planet called “non-Americans”).
Guess what? Turning down a “small sliver” means you get nothing. If you hold your breath for a perfect bill, you’re going to suffocate.
This buffoonish yet pious clique of ideological purists don’t get it. They appear to be incapable of grasping basic political realities, and they don’t seem to realize, or maybe they just don’t care, that they won’t get another chance at this for a long, long time. Even if the Democrats take back the Senate in 2016, there will likely be a pro-NSA president elected at the same time (a Republican or likely Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton) who might veto the bill.
Rather than praising Rand Paul for his principles, the Snowden disciples ought to be scolding him (they’re really good at scolding) for turning his back on their mission. But it’s not the first time he’s betrayed their support. After tricking them to “Stand With Rand” during his filibuster of Predator Drones — a PR stunt — Paul went on to suggest that liquor store thieves who are American citizens could be hit with a drone strike inside the United States. Suckers.
Now that everyone knows what Ed Snowden wanted them to know, now what? NSA reform was supposed to be the next step in all of this madness, but one of their alleged allies in Congress adopted their own trademark perfectionist all-or-nothing posture, leaving them, for the foreseeable future empty-handed. Then again, they’ll still have the issue now, which is perhaps all they really wanted in the first place. Pierre Omidyar paid big money for it.