Wyden Considered Blowing the Whistle on the NSA from the Senate Floor

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Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, one of the most vocal critics of the NSA's surveillance infrastructure, revealed in an interview to Rolling Stone that he considered, however briefly, publicly exposing details of those programs from the Senate floor.

That response came after Wyden was asked about his now-famous exchange with Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, an exchange in which Clapper denied that the government collected data on citizens. Wyden, who'd given Clapper the question in advance, took action immediately afterward.

When the Director gave an inaccurate answer to the question, I had my staff call his office later on a secure line and urge them to amend his response. They decided to let his inaccurate answer stand on the public record, until about a month after the Snowden disclosures. Even then, they started off trying to defend his answer, before finally admitting publicly that it had been inaccurate.

(Clapper eventually settled on a response he was happy with.)

So why, Rolling Stone asked, didn't he speak up publicly before the Snowden leaks? After all, as we've noted, members of Congress are immune from prosecution for anything they say from the floor of the chamber.

A lot of people have just said to me, "Well, you feel so strongly about [these issues] — when you knew this, why didn't you just go to the floor of the United States Senate and just, you know, read it all [into the record]?" And, of course, anybody who does this kind of work thinks a lot about that. You think about it all the time. I can see why plenty of people would criticize me — progressives and others.

That sentiment was echoed by Wyden's former deputy chief of staff, Jennifer Hoelzer. In a post at TechDirt, Hoelzer lamented that even as a member of Wyden's staff she wasn't privy to the classified details of the programs the senator opposed. "[D]uring my tenure in Wyden's office," she writes, "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."

Now that Wyden can talk about the programs — he is.

Hat-tip: The Hill.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.