Democratic Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon and Mark Udall of Colorado think you'll be shocked by things they know about the Patriot Act's enforcement that you don't, reports the New York Times:
The senators, who also said that Americans would be "stunned" to know what the government thought the Patriot Act allowed it to do, made their remarks in a letter to Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. after a Justice Department official last month told a judge that disclosing anything about the program "could be expected to cause exceptionally grave damage to the national security of the United States."
The Justice Department has argued that disclosing information about its interpretation of the Patriot Act could alert adversaries to how the government collects certain intelligence. It is seeking the dismissal of two Freedom of Information Act lawsuits — by The New York Times and by the American Civil Liberties Union — related to how the Patriot Act has been interpreted.
The senators wrote that it was appropriate to keep specific operations secret. But, they said, the government in a democracy must act within publicly understood law so that voters "can ratify or reject decisions made on their behalf" — even if that "obligation to be transparent with the public" creates other challenges.
"We would also note that in recent months we have grown increasingly skeptical about the actual value of the 'intelligence collection operation,' " they added. "This has come as a surprise to us, as we were initially inclined to take the executive branch's assertions about the importance of this 'operation' at face value."
The dispute centers on what the government thinks it is allowed to do under Section 215 of the Patriot Act, under which agents may obtain a secret order from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court allowing them to get access to any "tangible things" — like business records — that are deemed "relevant" to a terrorism or espionage investigation.
There appears to be both an ordinary use for Section 215 orders — akin to using a grand jury subpoena to get specific information in a traditional criminal investigation — and a separate, classified intelligence collection activity that also relies upon them….
The letter from Mr. Wyden and Mr. Udall also complained that while the Obama administration told Congress in August 2009 that it would establish "a regular process for reviewing, redacting and releasing significant opinions" of the court, since then "not a single redacted opinion has been released."
Secrets, secrets, secrets about the secrets, and secret programs to protect secrets about the secrets whose existence we know a little bit about–this is your most transparent administration ever.
The senators' full letter.
Reason on Patriot Act Section 215.