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Op-Ed: Rep. Zeldin: Americans deserve the truth and it’s Congress’ duty to provide it

Sensitive and classified documents. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Eboni Reams/Released)

Last week, I descended into the basement of the U.S. Capitol where I had the opportunity to review a classified document made available only to Members of Congress. Detailing the U.S. government’s abuse of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), this memo angered me. It was frustrating and disappointing, but also profoundly enlightening.

Since its enactment, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act has been an important program for national security. As a former Army Military Intelligence and then JAG officer, I understand the importance of giving our intelligence agencies the critical tools they need to protect our homeland, assist our troops on the front lines and surveil our enemies.

However, it is critical that we strike a balance between national security and civil liberty to prevent any gross violation of individual liberties under the guise of national security. This is a delicate debate that dates back to the Washington administration.

Congress’ first and foremost priority is to provide for the national defense, and this includes providing our intelligence agencies strong tools to safeguard our homeland. As the duly elected representatives of the people, we also have the responsibility of ensuring an appropriate balance is struck and, when it is not, to release information we feel is in the national interest and of public importance.

Americans deserve to know the truth, and it is Congress’ duty to ensure transparency and accountability for these violations. Upon discovering violations, such as those disclosed in this classified document, there is an important process that provides the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence the ability to vote to publicly release information in its possession. I believe strongly that it must do so in earnest.

Government transparency and accountability should be neither a partisan nor divisive issue, and yet when the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence voted to release the files to Members of Congress, not a single Democrat voted in favor of its release. To pull the wool over the eyes of the American people insults their intelligence and debases the freedoms and liberties on which our nation was founded. Information critical to the viability of our union should not be held hostage by the politically biased and their puppeteers.

Equally as important, releasing this classified information will not compromise good sources and methods. Rather, it will reveal the feds’ reliance on bad sources and methods. That’s why I, along with more than 65 members of the House of Representatives, have called for the public release of this classified document. I am also calling for the release of all relevant material sourced in the memo.

Americans have the right to know, and if we, as their elected representatives, fail to stand up for them, who will? The significant power assumed in the ability to collect intelligence and Americans’ most intimate data, warrants an equal amount of oversight to ensure its proper usage. The only way forward is to allow the American people to decide for themselves whether the methods enclosed in this classified document were justified.

Congressman Lee Zeldin (R, C – NY 1) is the U.S. Representative for New York’s 1st Congressional District and currently serves on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. In 2006 Zeldin was deployed to Iraq with an infantry battalion of paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne Division. In 2007, he transitioned from active duty to the Army Reserve where he currently serves with the rank of Major.

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