Sen. Mike Lee on NDAA: Don’t ‘trust any bill so large that it has to be delivered by handcart’

Maj. Kristin “Beo” Wolfe, F-35A Lightning II Demonstration Team commander and pilot, flies a demonstration flight at Hill Air Force Base on Dec. 6, 2022.
Maj. Kristin “Beo” Wolfe, F-35A Lightning II Demonstration Team commander and pilot, flies a demonstration flight at Hill Air Force Base on Dec. 6, 2022. | Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

After releasing the 2024 National Defense Authorization Act on Thursday, the Armed Services Committees in the Senate and House were met with opposition from conservatives who are hesitant to approve the bill without changes.

The bill is over 3,000 pages long and allocates $841.4 billion for the Department of Defense. The House and the Senate previously passed separate bills for the 2024 NDAA, and Thursday’s document is the reconciliation bill.

One of the biggest concerns for conservatives is the reauthorization of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, including the controversial Section 702, without any changes. Section 702 allows the government to conduct surveillance on foreigners they believe are potentially dangerous to U.S. security, but many privacy advocates are concerned about how the FBI and other intelligence agencies have targeted Americans through the 702 databases.

Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, spoke in a July oversight hearing on how the FBI used Section 702 databases to spy on 204,000 Americans in 2022.

“You can’t make this stuff up,” he said. “There are 204,000 reasons why Republicans will oppose FISA reauthorization in its current form.”

Rep. Jarrold Nadler, D-N.Y., expressed similar concerns at a House Judiciary hearing in April. He said, “The warrantless collection of this much data alone should give anyone pause. But those American communications are not just collected and set aside — they are made available to agencies like the FBI, who can search the 702 database for our communications, for purposes having nothing to do with national security.”

“These so-called ‘backdoor searches’ are neither hypothetical nor rare. Last year, the FBI used U.S. person identifiers to query the 702 database nearly 3.4 million times,” Nadler added.

Civil organizations call Section 702 ‘dangerous’

Sen. Mike Lee has been vocal on X about potentially harmful aspects of the defense bill, writing on Dec. 7, “After all we’ve learned about the FBI in recent years, the fact that some members of Congress are still willing to reauthorize FISA 702 without reforms — not even a warrant requirement for ‘backdoor’ surveillance of Americans — makes me wonder if they’re illiterate. #StopTheNDAA.”

He also questioned the length of the bill, saying, “As a rule, Americans shouldn’t trust any bill so large that it has to be delivered by handcart,” about the more than 3,000 page bill.

In an interview with the Washington Journal, founder of the National Security Institute at George Mason University’s law school Jamil Jaffer said Section 702 surveillance has resulted in several “inadvertent mistakes.”

“The problem is that we’ve got to have better rules in place, we have to have stronger punishments in place ... when it’s an intentional error,” Jaffer said. “Congress wants to put some of those reforms in place. That probably makes a lot of good sense.”

Congress enacted FISA Section 702 in 2008, and it must be reauthorized every five years. The section must be reapproved by Dec. 31 or “the bulk of the U.S. government’s capability to collect on foreign intelligence targets will disappear,” Jaffer said.

The progressive nonprofit law institute at NYU, The Brennan Center, was joined by over 30 other civil society organizations in a joint statement to 12 members of the House and Senate opposing the reauthorization of Section 702, calling it “dangerous to our liberties and our democracy.”

“FBI agents have used this surveillance authority, which is supposed to be limited to non-U.S. citizens located outside the United States, to gain warrantless access to the communications of tens of thousands of protesters, racial justice activists, 19,000 donors to a congressional campaign, journalists, and members of the U.S. Congress,” the statement read.

The act continues to fund abortion travel

Many revisions to earlier versions of the 2024 NDAA were rejected in the final bill released Thursday. The House attempted to eliminate the Pentagon’s 2022 abortion order which “ensur(es) access to reproductive health care,” but the final bill includes the policy as before.

A Senate provision banning the requirement of providing gendered pronouns was modified to say, “The Secretary of Defense may neither require nor prohibit members of the armed forces or Department of Defense civilian employees from listing their gender or pronouns in official correspondence,” per the report.

Additionally, House Republicans sought to disband the Defense Advisory Committee on Diversity and Inclusion, which didn’t make the latest version. However, the act includes a hiring freeze on the DEI committee until the Government Accountability Office has completed an audit of the department.

Broken down, the bill allocates $841.4 billion to the Pentagon, $32.4 billion to the Department of Energy and $438 million for other “defense-related activities,” according to the 2024 NDAA conference report.