By Charlie Savage, New York Times
WASHINGTON — A leading Democrat in Congress is pushing back against an effort to impose new constraints on a civil liberties watchdog agency that investigates the nation’s security programs.
The agency, the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, is a bipartisan five-member panel that Congress created after a recommendation by the commission that investigated the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Its members and staff have security clearances and a mandate to investigate government practices that affect individual rights.
The Senate and House intelligence committees have increasingly sought to impose new rules on the board’s work, including a series of proposals in a pending intelligence authorization bill. But in a letter this week to Senate Intelligence Committee leaders, Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, demanded that the proposals be withdrawn.
Since the independent board began fully operating three years ago, it has produced a high-profile report about the once-secret National Security Agency program that collected bulk records of Americans’ phone calls. It called the program ineffective and illegal and said it should be shut down. Congress later did so by enacting the USA Freedom Act.
The oversight board also issued a report that brought to light new details about how the warrantless surveillance program authorized by the FISA Amendments Act worked. It is currently scrutinizing programs that operate under Executive Order 12333, which sets rules for espionage activities that Congress has left unregulated by statute.
In the letter, obtained by The New York Times, Leahy, D-Vt., described the provisions as “completely unacceptable” and “misguided.” He deplored what he portrayed as an emerging pattern of efforts by the intelligence panels …