Private briefing with NSA officials draws paltry turnout from the Senate

Private briefing with NSA officials draws paltry turnout from the Senate

US politicians have drawn themselves into discussions about PRISM and claims that the country spied on its own citizens, yet less than half of the Senate attended a dedicated briefing with NSA director James Clapper and other senior officials, it has been revealed.

The Hill reports that a private briefing on Thursday afternoon with the Senate Intelligence Committee, featuring Clapper, NSA head Keith Alexander and others, was attended by just 47 of the 100 Senators.

The publication claims that the large number of no-shows was down to many Senators taking the chance to head back to their home states early for the upcoming Father’s Day weekend, rather than hear the organization’s side of the story and grill its top execs with questions.

The identity of those who did/didn’t attend has not been released, but the sheer number of empty seats was said to have “exasperated” committee chair Dianne Feinstein, who commented:

It’s hard to get this story out. Even now we have this big briefing — we’ve got Alexander, we’ve got the FBI, we’ve got the Justice Department, we have the FISA Court there, we have Clapper there — and people are leaving.

A number of politicians have criticized Clapper, the NSA and others in the week that followed the leaking of the PRISM program by former NSA staffer Edward Snowden and the Guardian and Washington Post newspapers.

President Obama is alleged to have had full oversight of the program and reversed his stance on wiretapping (see this 2006 debate with Joe Biden on surveillance, for example), but it remains unclear which law-makers — if any — were knowledgeable of the processes being undertaken.

Irrespective of the severity of the issue — which has remained a global talking point for the past week — you would expect members of the Senate to attend en masse for an opportunity to learn more and ask questions of their own. Particularly given Clapper previously told Congress that the NSA was “not wittingly” collecting data from US citizens; a statement that appears at odds with numerous reports and anonymous sources.

Our PRISM coverage is here

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