Senator Jeff Merkley (D-Or.) has kicked up a lot of dust this week over the NSA’s PRISM program, claiming he and numerous other lawmakers were unaware of the expansive surveillance programs, and contradicting intelligence officials who maintain the programs are subjected to rigorous congressional oversight.
“I don’t know how many people knew about [PRISM] in Congress, but I suspect a very small number on the intelligence committees,” Merkley told Alex Wagner last Friday.
One problem with that: Merkley apparently skipped the congressional briefing meeting on PRISM.
Buzzfeed’s Andrew Kaczynski reports that a “source close to the situation” says Merkley ducked out of a November 27 briefing held by Senators Mark Udall (D-Co.) and Ron Wyden (D-Or.), themselves major critics of the NSA’s various surveillance programs. Merkley’s office said the senator misunderstood the point of the meeting—which included, among others, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper—thinking that it was covering content on which he had already been briefed. Merkley left after only a few minutes for an appearance on Hardball.
If true, the incident would appear to lend credence to the argument put forward by many in the past week that the programs were hardly kept secret from the legislative branch of government, and thus were less cloak-and-dagger than they initially appeared.
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