Among the documents declassified by Director of National Intelligence James Clapper on Wednesday was a letter from the office to members of Congress dated December 14, 2009. The letter is explicit in describing the collection of phone metadata, which became broad public knowledge following the Edward Snowden leaks in June. So why has Congress only become outraged this month?
Here's the relevant section, from the fifth page of the document.
The orders generally require production of the business records (as described above) relating to substantially all of the telephone calls handled by the companies, including both calls made between the United States and a foreign country and calls made entirely within the United States.
Precisely what the Snowden leaks revealed. That document was provided to members of Congress (and certain staff) in a secure location for a short period of time at some point after it was drafted. The same allowance was made for a similar letter in 2011.
Why, then, is it only now that members of Congress are calling for changes to that process? Clearly it's not a coincidence.
They knew but didn't understand the significance. One possibility is that the paragraph only stands out to us now because we know what we're looking for. The document is dense and lengthy, including further classified details about how and why the NSA conducts its surveillance. The section that follows the one above outlines the oversight procedures in place, including from Congress:
These programs have been briefed to the Intelligence and Judiciary Committees, to include hearings, briefings, and, with respect to the Intelligence Committees, visits to NSA. In addition, the Intelligence Committees have been fully briefed on the compliance issues.
And then, since the point of the letter was to sell Congress on extending the authorization, it then makes the case for the value of the programs. The letter is a bad-news sandwich, starting with mentions of 9/11 and ending with the "vital capability" the program provides. It is possible that members of Congress didn't understand what they were looking at.