Former Wyden Staffer Says Obama Smothered Congressional Debate Over NSA Surveillance


Jennifer Hoelzer
Jennifer Hoelzer

Last week, President Obama defended the federal government's far-reaching surveillance of electronic communications even as he promised some tweaks and fixes to the system to make it a tad more palatable to the outraged world at large. In part, his defense included the claim, "what makes us different from other countries is not simply our ability to secure our nation, it's the way we do it—with open debate and democratic process." Our legislative representatives discuss and debate these surveillance polices, don't you know, so that makes it all right. But, as Jennifer Hoelzer (pictured at right), former communications director to Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon), points out, that's a load of crap.

Writing for TechDirt, Hoelzer remarks:

To understand why I find this remark so offensive, I should probably tell you a little about myself. While the most identifying aspect of my resume is probably the six years I spent as U.S. Senator Ron Wyden's communications director and later deputy chief of staff, I started college at the U.S. Naval Academy and spent two years interning for the National Security Council. I had a Top Secret SCI clearance when I was 21 years old and had it not been for an unusual confluence of events nearly 15 years ago—including a chance conversation with a patron of the bar I tended in college—I might be working for the NSA today. I care very deeply about national security. Moreover—and this is what the Obama Administration and other proponents of these programs fail to understand—I was angry at the Administration for its handling of these programs long before I knew what the NSA was doing. That had a lot to do with the other thing you should probably know about me: during my tenure in Wyden's office, I probably spent in upwards of 1,000 hours trying to help my boss raise concerns about programs that he couldn't even tell me about.

With regard to the bit of presidential patriotic smoke-blowing quoted above, Hoelzer comments:

Really, Mr. President? Do you really expect me to believe that you give a damn about open debate and the democratic process? Because it seems to me if your Administration was really committed those things, your Administration wouldn't have blocked every effort to have an open debate on these issues each time the laws that your Administration claims authorizes these programs came up for reauthorization, which—correct me if I am wrong—is when the democratic process recommends as the ideal time for these debates.

For example, in June 2009, six months before Congress would have to vote to reauthorize Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which the Obama Administration claims gives the NSA the authority to collect records on basically every American citizen—whether they have ever or will ever come in contact with a terrorist—Senators Wyden, Feingold and Durbin sent Attorney General Eric Holder a classified letter "requesting the declassification of information which [they] argued was critical for a productive debate on reauthorization of the USA PATRIOT Act."

In November 2009, they sent an unclassified letter reiterating the request, stating:

"The PATRIOT Act was passed in a rush after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Sunsets were attached to the Act's most controversial provisions, to permit better-informed, more deliberative consideration of them at a later time. Now is the time for that deliberative consideration, but informed discussion is not possible when most members of Congress—and nearly all of the American public—lack important information about the issue."
Did President Obama jump at the opportunity to embrace the democratic process and have an open debate then? No. Congress voted the following month to reauthorize the Patriot Act without debate.

Hoelzer's point doesn't free Congress of its responsibility in voting for legislation that was buried in secrecy and pushed through without open discussions of its pros and cons (lots and lots of cons, if you care about a free and open society). But it puts the lie to the assertion that the surveillance programs now receiving an open airing and ever-greater revelations, courtesy of Edward Snowden's whistle-blowing, were subject to deliberation and debate before passage.

Hoelzer details other efforts by her old boss and other members of Congress to receive permission to release the administration's legal rationales for conducting surveillance, seemingly in violation of the Fourth Amendment, and to get access to a "ballpark figure" of the number of Americans spied upon. These also were denied. That lawmakers require presidential approval to do their jobs is shocking in itself, in addition to the obvious falsity of claims that "what makes us different from other countries is not simply our ability to secure our nation, it's the way we do it—with open debate and democratic process."

Hoelzer goes on to point out that not just the administration, but many of its supporters on the surveillance issue, happily bash advocates of privacy and transparency, even as debate is suppressed and those who would release information face prosecution.

Even if the Obama administration doesn't give a damn about transparency, civil liberties and truthfulness in and of themselves, the president's recently plummeting approval ratings may be worthy of official attention.

NEXT: Rep. McClintock Says the US Should Grant Snowden Amnesty

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    1. Stop it with your fake scandal innuendo. Just stop it.

      1. No shit. Enough with the sideshow circus act. This is about national security – serious shit!

        1. It’s not like patriots in the NSA are spying, either. I get so angry when people insinuate their betters aren’t, um, bettering.

          1. Those are some of the most patriotic patriots exhibiting patriotism in this whole country.


  1. Still trying to decide if I’d hit it or not.

    1. I would hit the hell out of it. And being hitable is pretty much required for a woman to work on capital hill. The fat, ugly broads get GS jobs or work in think tanks.

      1. When discussing Hill staffers, this is really the only conversation worth having.

        1. I’d need to see some more pictures. I’m leaning towards no.

          1. I Bing’ed it – I’m hittin’ it all day.

            1. Um, you did WHAT to it?

              1. “Bing” is the new “Google” – duh!

            2. Binging and hitting and whatnot. I just don’t understand today’s sexual euphemisms. Also, what if she secretly has mermaid fish parts down below? Or a penis?

              1. “That’s my girlfriend Ricki, she ain’t supposed to be havin’ no penis!”

              2. Also, what if she secretly has mermaid fish parts down below?

                You quit being such a pussy and jack off all over her egg clutches. Geez. It’s like you people have never had fish sex before.

                1. Umbriel: What the hell is that?

                  Fry: Yeah I’m a little confused too. How do I… y’know… with the tail and all?

                  Umbriel: I’m not your first am I? I mean, I-I lay my eggs and leave and you release your fertilizer.

                  1. You read the same fanfic I did.

                2. Fish sex? What if I purposely miss because I’m not ready to be a father. Can I still say I scored? This instructional video doesn’t address that scenario.

                  1. I love that video.

        2. They don’t have anything else to add.

      2. I would hit the hell out of it.

        Two legs? Check!

        Vagina? Check!

        Human? Check!

        Let’s do this!

        1. What do you have against amputees?

          1. And furries?

            1. Or Vulcans, for that matter?

              Trip/T’Pol rules!

      3. Then you should check out Sallie James who works for Cato. Beautiful.

      4. Would she be making that “snarling kitty” face the whole time?

    2. Her right eye being smaller than her left eye gives her a little bit of a pirate vibe.

      1. Pirate eyes


        They’re watching you

        [clap clap]

        They see your every move….

    3. You’re kidding, right? You are more picky than I am.

      Well, the only reason I wouldn’t is because my wife would claw out my eyes, if I got caught.

      Wyden had himself a little eye candy there.

      1. No, she looks really plain IMO. There’s nothing I can put my finger on that’s specifically unattractive (though that hair isn’t doing anything for her), but I’m past the point in my life where I care enough to fuck “meh” chicks.

        Plus white chicks tend to bore me. I grew up in rural Kentucky. I was only aware of the existence of minorities through TV and movies. When I moved to Dallas, it was like being a kid in a candy store. A candy store that sold all sorts of new and exotic vaginas.

        1. Since when do you like vaginas, JJ? You said my ass was your only love!

        2. Jimbo is really into giant labias, the so-called “overstuffed taco” look.

          1. I thought that was Dunphy…

            1. He can’t keep a woman. Finding one that will accept that she will always be number 2 to a turd-crusted police baton with “Morgan” painted on the side in glitter nail polish is pretty tough.

        3. Well, wiminz from south o the border, are just preferable anyway. Especially if you have to actually be around them ‘after’ sex.

          But, still, that lady is pretty cute.

      1. When aren’t you drunk?

        1. I didn’t know SIV was British.

      2. That’s a look that says bend me over the nightstand and do me from behind.

    4. It looks like something is burning her eyes and she’s trying to smile through it. That’s a good sign.

    5. As long as her personal hygiene is up to snuff, yeah why not.

  2. “Really, Mr. President? Do you really expect me to believe that you give a damn about open debate and the democratic process? Because it seems to me if your Administration was really committed those things, your Administration wouldn’t have blocked every effort to have an open debate on these issues each time the laws that your Administration claims authorizes these programs came up for reauthorization.”

    They may be an endangered species, but I guess there really are some honest liberals still running around in the wild out there, somewhere.

    1. Maybe. The question is are they going to stay home or vote third party as a result. If they still go out and vote Dem, then they are just engaging in navel gazing.

      1. I think they just vote against the Republicans. They’re more likely to vote for the Greens than the Republicans.

        But what honest liberals like this say in the media is more important than how people vote, anyway.

        It’s an ego war. Before we can get any policy battles won, we first have to deflate the ObamaCult.

        1. I don’t expect them to vote Republican. But they could stay home or vote Green. If they don’t do that, then the issue really isn’t that important to them no matter what they say.

      2. The question is are they going to stay home or vote third party

        NO. Cause Rethuglicans, John. No matter how bad Dems might be, Rethuglicans are worse! Always. Because!

        1. I can agree with your characterization about how many of them think, but, to stay honest, if I pointed that out, I’d have to admit that there isn’t any conceivable situation I can think of, right now, in which I would vote for a Democrat–evar!

          Would you vote for a Democrat, Hyperion?

          1. Would you vote for a Democrat, Hyperion?

            It’s possible. If I thought that the Dem was actually better than the Republican, then I might just to get rid of the Republican.

            For instance, if Wyden were to run in AZ or SC against McCain or Graham and I lived in either place, and I thought the only way to get rid of either of them was vote for Wyden, then I would probably do it.

            Sure, he will probably suck on economic issues, but at least he would be a lot better on civil liberties.

  3. Since she says she “started” college at USNA I assume they will run her down for not finishing there.

    All those ring knockers stick together, so I also assume they’ll assign McCain the task of acquiring whatever dirt the academy has on her.

    1. This story is on the Huffpo. So lets take a look at the comments. Some are okay. But a few in, you get this

      if there is anyone who did not know that our largest spy agency was engaged in widespread data and electronic message surveillance they were not reading the papers. this is old hat, and the only thing new is that a convergence of GOP and media frenzy occurred at the same time. The President has been trying to fight a war against a bunch of extremist, neo-fascists with schemes to blow up as many innocent people as possible, and played tough on the surveillance game. I am progressive but hope the do more surveillance against these violent terrorists. All the search techniques were approved by a court that was set up by Congress. OK, if we want to rein it in, and strike a better balance, fine, and that’s exactly what Obama called for. But the man was fighting a war, and just continuing techniques started by Bush and the entire establishment wanted him at the time. Don’t scapegoat Obama. He was trying to do his job, and he did it well.

      1. Go TEAM go!

        1. Just for you Episiarch

          I agree I am an Obama advocate but in this particular case I agree with the main consensus here. He should not have re-upped the Surveillance mandate… Though, there are considerations we as the ignorant of national security may not realize… And if we were to be honest I’d be willing to let every record I have go public if the government and every other citizen and Corporation were made to as well…Especially Corporations!!

          But corporashuns!!!!

          1. there are considerations we as the ignorant of national security may not realize…I’d be willing to let every record I have go public

            OK, so we know who’s dying first when the shit goes down

            Also: we as the ignorant of national security


            1. It is funny they are not bright enough to know about corporate disclosure laws.

            2. How in the hell did you respond to that without suffering from laughter-driven paralyses? When I read this I felt like I was watching that teen USA contestant from S.C. talk about education in the U.S..

        2. And BOOSH!!!

          This is just a guess but, had the president revealed and then ended the NSA data collection program he inherited from the previous president—who clearly only paid “lip service to open government and open debate of issues”—and had we then experienced a spate of terrorist attacks within our own borders, I suspect you and yours would have been on the other side of this issue. I suspect you and yours would have quickly adopted a “weak on national security” narrative and accused the president of “failing to properly protect the American people.” Of course, my other guess is that, if this president received a memorandum similar to the one the previous president received 30 days before 9/11, he would act on its findings and not just ignore it and set it aside. Whatcha’ think?

          The Rethuglicans are making Obama do this!!

          1. The Rethuglicans are making Obama do this!!

            Well, no duh! They make him do everything that he ever did if he draws some criticism for it. If he gets kudos for it, it was totally his idea.

          2. My line with my team blue inclined friends lately is to say that I think Obama is worse than Bush because he said he was going to do things differently, and could have had he wanted to, but didn’t. So his actions are as bad as Bush’s and he lied to everyone about it too. I haven’t actually had much argument back about that.

          3. I think the Rethuglicans that would most certainly call Obama weak on national security in that event are the ones calling Snowden traitor. They’re actually being consistent.

            1. Yes. Those people are defending Obama here.

      2. But the man was fighting a war

        All by hisself! He’s a fucking PATRIOT! Let’s support Him!


        1. He’s like a super hero!

      3. I’ll be damn if that doesn’t hit all the talking points. How knew that boots would be so delicious to so many?


      4. Boooshhh!!!

        The President has been trying to fight a war against a bunch of extremist, neo-fascists

        Fuck, the President and his minions ARE the neo-fascists… well, that’s not quite right, they are actual REAL fascists.

      5. I’m sure this asswipe voted for Bush in 2004 for the same reason, right?

      6. “Leave Obama alone and let him do the job we elected him to do.”

        Fucking asshole ObamaKultNazis.

    2. Why does ANYONE listen to a “FORMER AIDE” of anyone. Most of these people have no idea what they are talking about because they are kept OUT of the loop.

      Another one. I don’t read the HUFFPO much and never the comments. But I take it that “super user” is HUFFPO for “complete retard”?

      1. “ost of these people have no idea what they are talking about because they are kept OUT of the loop.”

        someone wrote that. and believed it. holy shit.

      2. You have to get enough likes and friended at HuffPo, to be a super user.

        So, yeah, in general, that’s the case. Although a few of their ‘super users’ are pretty libertarian like with their comments as of late.

      3. “Super user” seems to be bestowed on the people who state the “proper” opinions in the most obnoxious way.

  4. “Do you really expect me to believe that you give a damn about open debate and the democratic process?”
    Thank you, Ms. Hoelzer.
    So he wasn’t going to “discuss” it, he wasn’t going to tell anyone why he wasn’t going to “discuss” it and he wasn’t even going to admit it existed.

  5. I dunno – I got a little bit of “whatever” over this. If those assholes in Congress weren’t all aboard the Fuck You train, they could easily have ground the Administration to a halt with some questioning and maneuvering.

    So Ima call bullshit that her former boss – and all those other fuckheads – really give a shit about this. They want to whine about it a little bit when it suits their needs. Then they keep reauthorizing and voting for all this shit.

    Fuck ’em all.

    1. That’s what Wyden tried to do…

      …so Clapper lied to his face. While sworn.

      And I bet he laughs about it every day.

      1. I’m questioning the level of “effort” – I don’t buy it.

        FUCK. THEM. ALL.

    2. It’s really easy. Um, okay, this is something we think is really serious, so, um, no funding of anything until you give us everything we’re asking for.


        1. That’s the kind of shit Congress is supposed to do. By the power of thickskull!

      2. But we might have to stop White House tours!

        What would school children think?

        1. They should charge admission for those tours, anyway. And provide rides and stuff, along with concessions.

          1. If you morans had elected me in 2012, Disney would be running the White House Amusement Park already, and we’d be paying down the debt.

            But nooooooo – Almanian has to “wait his turn”, and so here we are.

            Hoist by your own petard, you are!

            1. The press pool could have a pool again, the track could be replaced with a roller coaster, etc.

          2. Now, now, Pro L. These are schoolchildren. If they want a “ride” from a government official, they’ll just have to wait until they are interns.

  6. Greg Sargent on Holder’s drug announcement

    shit, there’s a parade. better get in front of it.

    1. I liked Greg York much better.

      1. You monster. Sargent was clearly better.

        1. Are you insane? I wish Endora were still here to correct you.

          1. Of course, I ONLY take “correction” from Jeannie…

            1. Did they ever do a crossover show? If not, why not?

              1. No – because…there is no good reason.

                1. Derwood and Tony switched for a day because of some sort of spell snafu. Hijinks abound.

  7. Serious question: Just how much staff do individual members of Congress get, anyway?

    1. “I got some ‘staff’ for you, honey…” – Bubba C.

    2. it varies. depends on the member, committee assignments, etc.
      I’d say around 20+ for a senator, not counting those who work for a committee. around 10 for a congressman

      1. Yet they can’t even read the fucking laws they vote on. This is like the biggest scam ever.

        1. “Well, if we hadn’t implemented ERMAHGERD SERKWERSTER!! I’d have enough staffers not only to research and WRITE the legislation, but also to read it for us.

          But we did implmement it, so here we are, with no way to read it….I HOPE YOU’RE HAPPY NOW!”

        2. Wasn’t this a Chris Rock or Eddie Murphy movie… where he played a con artist who realized the biggest con was becoming a Congressman due to the pay and benes, plus he could get all of his friends cushy jobs too.

      2. You said “member”….huh huh, huh huh, huh huh…

        1. “Member” can also mean “penis.”

          1. it’s true, anytime someone says “ranking member,” I just assume that means “biggest penis.”

            1. All penises can be ranked, even the smallest of them.

              Episiarch’s, for example–which is more of an unsubstantiated rumor than a functional sexual organ at this point–is a 1.2 on the Penile Richter Scale, placing its sexual prowess somewhere between a polite cough and startled hummus fart.

              1. It’s a very impressive clitenis. Or is the acceptable term penoris? I can’t keep my cisprivileged culture from polluting my thoughts.

                1. I can’t keep my cisprivileged culture from polluting my thoughts.

                  You must make yourself smooth between the legs and smooth between the ears before you can be free of the construct of gender.

              2. You don’t get it. My penis is HUGE in the 4th dimension. Totally makes up for it, especially when I’m banging chicks from the ethereal plane. You wouldn’t understand!

                1. Ah, stringy penis theory.

                  1. Episiarch’s Penis Considered as a String of Pearls Across the Neck of the World

                2. My penis is HUGE in the 4th dimension.

                  Since time is the 4th dimension, the person with the biggest penis in 4 dimensional space time is the man who is erect the most.

                  Therefore we can conclude that you jerk off a lot.

              3. startled hummus fart

                That doesn’t make any sense at all. But for some reason it’s still funny.

                1. I posit that farts generated by hummus are unique and identifiable across all of human society. Just because The Academy didn’t accept my dissertation doesn’t mean I am wrong. It was all politics, man.

          2. no wai!

          3. Well, what does “congress” mean, anyway? “The act of sexual procreation between a man and a woman; the man’s penis is inserted into the woman’s vagina and excited until orgasm and ejaculation occur.”

            1. Well, what does “congress” mean, anyway?

              All her pubic hairs get together in Philadelphia to vote on a continuing resolution of sexual ombudsmanship.

  8. Congress can’t do anything to stop the Obama admins lawlessness. Even if they get control of the Senate, they can’t do it.

    To do so, they would risk being labeled as racists.

    After Hildebeast gets the Whitehouse in 2016, they will be right back to the same point. Can’t do anything to the first female president, or they will be labeled sexist.

    The stupid party is terrified of these things. They have no ballz to stand up to this non-sense. The Democrats know how to keep the Republicans from stopping their ‘progress’.

    In 2020, the Dems will probably run the first gay POTUS candidate.

    1. “Hildebeast” – YES!

      First a Wookie – next, “Hildebeast”.

      1. It’s a total mystery to me how anyone could like that woman. She’s a truly wretched creature.

    2. Does Hillary announce that she’s a lesbian during the 2016 campaign?

      1. No way, they can’t play the first woman and first gay president at once. They need to drag it out so as to be able to extract as much as they can from using it against their enemies.

      2. I think ProL just might get picked for Hillarys campaign manager.

        Once you’re onboard, you should suggest that she also have a sex change and to say that she’s an Otherkin and really thinks she’s a pink squirrel from the planet Zontar.

        There’s no overcoming that. Rand may as well hang it up.

        1. Rand could up the stakes by shooting Zimmerman or something?

          1. No, no, not by shooting.

          2. Maybe he could just wear a hoodie and rap all of his speeches?

        2. My other advice to her is to switch back to the GOP and win the nomination as a gay (whether she is or not), female, law and order, military-loving candidate. She can come out and say that Benghazi was all Obama’s fault–she practically begged him to release the nukes.

          1. military-loving candidate

            I think she has always been sort of hawkish.

            What people don’t understand is that one day the wrong colored draperies are going to show up at the Whitehouse and then Hillary will look out the window to see Bill banging some chubby on the lawn, and that’s right before we all die in a nuclear holocaust.

            People don’t get that.

    3. It’s -isms all the way down for the dumb party. Career politicians can’t take the chance of being called anything negative, they have a career of power over us serfs to worry about.

    4. I think most Republican politicians in Washington don’t want to win. Being in charge is a huge hassle. They just want to steal some or a lot depending on the politician and continue to get the perks of being in office. Their attitude is say whatever keeps the boobs at home happy and go along and get along.

      If they ever went after Obama, they might win and be in charge. And they don’t want that. And worse still, the really important people in the media would say mean things about them. They want to fit in. They have to live in Washington after all.

      1. Cocktail parties and all that, amirite?

    5. Correction. First openly gay POTUS candidate, I bet the oval office has already experienced a queer executive.

      1. Yes, apparently James Buchanan was gay.

        1. My father’s gay.

          1. Well he was on a show called King of Queens after all…

    6. I say after the first woman, it will be the first latin american immigrant.
      The FYTW law will be combined with OMG RACIST! to get him in.

  9. Joey Tamoli says no way man, it will enver happen.


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