Last night the U.S. House of Representatives narrowly voted down an amendment to the defense spending bill that would have shut down NSA’s vast surveillance program, while the man who incited the furor, former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, was denied an opportunity to leave the Moscow airport where he has been holed up for a month.
Snowden thought yesterday that he was on the verge of being granted permission by the Russian government to leave the airport. His Russian lawyer, Anatoly Kucherena, handed him documents that were expected to include a pass to leave the airport’s transit area. But it turns out that Snowden, who is wanted by the United States on espionage charges, didn’t have permission after all.
According to Reuters, Kucherena said he hoped Snowden’s status would be resolved soon.”I must say he is of course anxious about it and I hope that this situation will be resolved in the nearest future,” Kucherena said. “This is the first time Russia is facing such a situation, and this issue of course requires time for the immigration workers.”
In Washington, the House passed a $598.3 billion defense spending bill by a vote of 315 to 109, but the amendment to challenge the National Security Agency’s collection of millions of Americans’ phone records was narrowly voted down 217 to 205. This was considered Congress’ first opportunity to give its opinion on the widespread NSA surveillance revealed by Snowden. “This is the moment,” Michelle Richardson, a surveillance lobbyist for the ACLU, told the Guardian.
The Obama administration portrayed the amendment, introduced by Republican Rep. Justin Amash (R-Michigan), as a reckless attempt to infringe upon long-standing secret surveillance activity they consider vital for national security.
The fight in Congress was a rare political battle that divided not only along party lines, but also between civil libertarians vs. security hawks—who exist in both parties. For instance, longtime Obama supporter and liberal, John Conyers of Michigan who is the top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, supported the Amash amendment. In total, 94 Republicans and 111 Democrats voted for the amendment, while 134 Republicans and 83 Democrats voted against it.
“Have 12 years gone by and our memories faded so badly that we forgot what happened on Sept. 11?” Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., chairman of the Intelligence Committee said while pleading with his colleagues to back the program during House debate. Amash said his aim was to end the indiscriminate collection of Americans’ phone records. After the vote, a frustrated Amash told reporters: “Ask the American people if the House did the right thing.”