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Blog: SITREP - June 15, 2013

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It's been a busy week and I've got a lot to report, so bear with me. First up, the House passed the annual National Defense Authorization Act (the NDAA) on Friday. I've been through the process a few times now, but this was my first time as a member of the House Armed Services Committee. In short, the NDAA is the single piece of legislation that authorizes each and every dollar spent on each and every individual program within the Department of Defense. As a member of the Armed Services Committee, I had the privilege (and responsibility) to go through each line and make determinations about programmatic changes that I thought could help improve the things I listed above. One of the things that I've been particularly focused on is what we call "directed energy".

In a nutshell, we now have the capability to use extremely powerful laser technology to disrupt or destroy everything from incoming missiles headed at naval vessels to incoming mortars headed for ground troops. I know it all sounds very "Star Wars-like", but trust me; the technology is already there. It's also a weapons platform that is far cheaper to use and to train our troops on. It also tends to involve far less collateral damage than conventional bombs. In short, directed energy is the future and it's time we start moving seriously in that direction. Over the years, DOD has invested considerable funds in developing the technology, but they've stopped short of going the final step to really put this technology to good use. In the military, there has been an unfortunate habit of throwing good money after bad on projects that might have shown some early promise, but never really lived up to their potential. In this case, it's taking money that's been invested pretty wisely, and making sure that the United States (and its taxpayers) get the benefit of having committed those resources.

I've also been deeply involved in getting a new submersible vehicle for the SEALs throughout the process. Without getting into the details (all very sensitive for obvious reasons), right now, the SEALs are stuck with an open-water submersible, which limits the amount of time and distance they can cover underwater. This would change that. With this new submersible, they'll be able to go further underwater, with more equipment and without being frozen solid by the time they arrive at their destination. They can also stay hidden below the surface longer. And honestly, that makes me feel a little sorry for America's enemies who are going to be on the receiving end of this significant new capability. It's really not fair to the bad guys… But I'm OK with that.

Finally, as I have in years passed, I offered an amendment to the NDAA, which would make the Combat Action Badge retroactively available to military personnel who served in combat prior to September 11th, 2001. Because I wasn't a member of the committee before, I always had to offer that amendment on the House floor, which meant it was easier for the Senate to ignore (I'm not sure why they ignore it in the first place, but that's for another day). In any case, my Combat Action Badge Amendment was included in the base text of the bill this time, which means it's got a better chance of making it through to the final bill. I'm excited about that. We've been working on this for years, and frankly, it is long past overdue. The veterans have earned it. Literally. Also happening this week -- the revelations about the NSA and new developments on Syria… First -- on the NSA phone records business.

Last Friday, I was just about to head out the door to an event and was just about to turn off the news. The President is addressing the media about the NSA scandal and his justification is, "all members of Congress were briefed on this program". Uhhhhh…. No…. They weren't. This statement came after James Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence, sat in front of a Senate Committee and lied straight to the faces of sitting United States Senators in response to a direct question about whether the NSA was collecting records on ordinary Americans. I've been through enough of these hearings to know that when an intelligence official can't answer a question publicly, they simply say, "Congressman, I can't discuss that in an open setting, but I would be happy to provide you with details in a classified setting." They don't lie to your face like that. At least, they really, really shouldn't. To be blunt about it, I don't think the program is necessary or appropriate and I've been pretty outspoken about that. I think Snowden broke the law and he's going to be held accountable for it, but the program itself is way beyond what I feel the NSA should be permitted to do. I was a cop long enough to know that you can put the bad guys behind bars without cutting corners and without violating the rights of American citizens. I remember the old timers telling me when the Miranda case was settled and the police would henceforth be required to provide Miranda warnings to suspects that we'd never get another conviction. Turns out that wasn't the case. At the end of the day, you have somebody you suspect to be a threat to the United States, you go to the courts and get authorization to obtain the phone records for that person and everybody he's been talking to. You get authorization to get the phone records for all of the people they've been talking to. You do some good, old-fashioned police work, and you end up getting the people you're after. You don't get the phone records of every single American citizen, keep them indefinitely, without notifying Congress, proceed to lie to Congress about it, and expect me to be OK with that. That's not how this works.

The Intel Reauthorization legislation and the FISA Reauthorization will be coming up again in the coming months in Congress. Expect a vigorous debate on this issue and expect yours truly to be a part of that debate. Finally (and I'll have more on this next week), the President has come out and said that they have conclusive evidence that the Syrian regime used chemical weapons against the rebels. I'm sure this was probably just a coincidence, but the announcement that the President is going to begin providing military support to the rebels came within hours of the amendment process being closed for the National Defense Authorization. To be blunt about it, there are factions within "the rebels" who aren't exactly friendly to the United States and I'm not thrilled with the idea of giving them anti-aircraft weaponry and the like. I'm also not thrilled about the prospect of getting drawn into another foreign conflict (that does not directly involve us) and putting more young American lives at risk. As always, I'm anxious to hear what you all think about these issues and anything else going on with the federal government. And P.S. - Don't worry, we haven't forgotten about the IRS, Fast and Furious, Benghazi, the DOJ's seizure of reporters phone records, healthcare implementation, or the record debt we're continuing to accumulate. There are only so many pages I can send you each week. But rest assured, we're on it.


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