The Stealth Senator Emerges Into the Daylight

The majority of (my) every day is consumed in reading the overnight intel reports (and) meeting with foreign leaders - from presidents to chiefs of their intelligence community.

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As Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC) campaigns for re-election, it is a legitimate question for N.C. reporters-- given their lack of background in covering national security topics--as to whether they will give him a free pass on his highly controversial role as chairman of the "oversight" Senate Intelligence Committee?

Apparently not, if he can dictate the coverage on his own terms, as in

Burr: Orlando Shooting Reveals Gaps in U.S. Terrorism Strategy,

Charlotte Observer (McClatchy), June 18, 2016.

The senator, who once said he would prefer not to ever talk about intelligence matters in public, has now turned his committee into a high-profile televised platform featuring C.I.A. director John Brennan.

On Burr's Watch

Parading as the top intelligence official in Congress, the fingerprints of North Carolina's senior senator are on some bad and questionable things going down in Washington, and that deserve vigorous debate:

1. He has condoned the torture committed in the past by C.I.A. employees on detainee suspects in black site prisons abroad, and protected the practitioners still on board at the Agency, while doing everything in his power--when he demands the return of all copies sent to executive branch agencies--to bury the detailed evidence in the classified version of the torture report released by the committee in late 2014.

New details on the torture practices have just emerged:

Detainees Describe C.I.A. Torture in Declassified Transcripts,

New York Times, June 16, 2016.

I nearly died four times

said a detainee when describing CIA torture by being waterboarded 83 times.

To cover up the evidence is to be complicit in the torture.

2. He continues to post-facto rubber stamp C.I.A. drone strike assassinations of "militants" in several countries that have also resulted in the killing of hundreds of women and children, and even the death of American citizens. The Agency is engaged in war from Pakistan to Yemen to Somalia to Libya. However, drone strikes are in the process of being transferred to the Pentagon. (

CIA Drone Strikes Plummet As White House Shifts Authority to the Pentagon,

Washington Post, June 16, 2016.)

Drone strikes within Pakistan apparently will be included in an upcoming White House report on those killed in counterterrorism operations outside of "war zones."


3. He has steadily supported the expansion of warrantless surveillance of Americans' phone calls and e-mails by the N.S.A., subject only to a secret court--the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court--that almost never interferes. Last week the House of Representatives voted against an amendment to the 2017 annual defense bill that would have set new limits on government surveillance powers.

The FISA Court

The chief judge of the FISA court has rejected a legal challenge to rules permitting F.B.I. agents to search emails written by Americans that the government has intercepted without a warrant in the name of gathering foreign intelligence. (

Judge Rejects Challenge to Searches of Emails Gathered Without a Warrant

New York Times, April 20 , 2016.)

The opinion was issued in November and remained classified until April. It stated that what are called "backdoor searches" by the F.B.I. comply with the Constitution. Yet, a separate part of the heavily-redacted ruling scolded the N.S.A. and the F.B.I. for instances in which they violated court-imposed rules for the program! So much for the third branch of government (Article III). Chief Justice Roberts alone makes the appointments to the FISA court.

Sen. Burr is now working to substantially expand F.B.I. searches through a provision included in the Senate's annual intelligence authorization bill that would give the bureau the ability to demand citizens' online data, including e-mail records and browsing history. According to Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), a senior member of the Intelligence Committee, the bill would allow any F.B.I. field office to demand e-mail records without a court order.

Where Burr's Loyalties Lie

North Carolina has a senator who is party to both executive branch "eye in the sky" warfare abroad--not authorized by Congress--and "Big Brother" government at home. As chairman of the intelligence committee, by law he and a few other members of Congress are briefed by C.I.A. director John Brennan on completed "signature" drone strikes and other significant, anticipated covert operations; and by N.S.A. director Adm. Michael Rogers on phone and Internet surveillance.

But do not expect Burr to talk with voters about such matters, although with discretion he is free to do so.

As a rule, he revels in secrecy, while leaning on the threat of terrorism to get re-elected.


CONCLUSION


Sen. Burr is in bed with the intelligence community in Washington. Hear him toot his horn:

The majority of every day is consumed in reading the overnight intel reports (and) meeting with foreign leaders - from presidents to chiefs of their intelligence community.

(

Burr's Washington Profile on Rise as Chairman of Senate Panel That Focuses on Terrorism,

Charlotte Observer, February 20, 2016.) Just this past week, when Brennan was appearing before his committee, Burr was quoted as saying:

When you look at as many global threats as I do every morning...

What is going on here? Is he a member of the Legislative Branch, or the Executive Branch? He has been co-opted. That is one purpose served by twice-weekly C.I.A. briefings afforded intelligence committee members in a sealed room high up in the Capitol. So much for checks and balances, and the first branch (Article I) of government.


(Chief legislative assistant for foreign policy, U.S. Senate Majority Whip, 1974-77, assisted in drafting the legislation that established the mandate for the first Senate Intelligence Committee.)