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Wyden Speech at Wayne Morse Legacy Series

Wyden Speech at Wayne Morse Legacy Series

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Published by Senator Ron Wyden
March 18, 2014 - Senator Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) delivered the following remarks at the inaugural Wayne Morse Legacy Series in Portland, Oregon.
March 18, 2014 - Senator Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) delivered the following remarks at the inaugural Wayne Morse Legacy Series in Portland, Oregon.

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Published by: Senator Ron Wyden on Mar 20, 2014
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06/16/2014

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Picking Up the Morse Tradition: Taking on Excessive National Security Secrecy and Asking the Tough Questions
 As prepared for delivery
More than sixty years ago, Wayne Morse took a folding chair not unlike the kind most of us have in our homes down to the Senate floor. Now, if you’ve never seen the Senate floor, it’s an ornate space filled with a hundred old wooden desks -- one for each senator. The desks, though immaculately maintained, all contain carvings on the inside of the names of senators who have held that seat in the past. It’s a historic room befitting one of the world’s oldest deliberative bodies. Suffice it to say, a folding chair didn’t quite fit in. As the story goes, on this particular day, Senator Morse was not sitting at his desk. Instead, he unfolded that chair in the aisle dividing the two parties, sat down and refused to move. To add some context, Morse had just recently left the Republican party in protest of General Eisenhower’s decision to choose Richard  Nixon as his running mate. He had not yet joined the Democratic party; that would not happen for another few years. He was technically an independent, neither aligned with the Republicans nor the Democrats. He was a man without a party so he sat like one -- independently. It was a gesture of principle above politics and above party. It was Wayne Morse through and through.
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I have the honor to be the current tenant of the seat Senator Morse once held. And because of that I feel I have the duty to maintain that very same spirit of  principle and independence. As some of you know, I am a journalist’s son. Much of my youth was spent chasing the delusional dream of playing in the NBA while my father travelled from town to town taking jobs with newspapers and magazines. He researched and wrote books but most importantly, he asked questions. To me, one of the most important functions a legislator can perform is to ask tough questions on the  public’s behalf – to inform the public and serve as a check on the executive branch. And that was definitely Senator Morse’s view. I have been invited today to talk about the surveillance state and its impact on the rights and civil liberties of Americans. If you’ll indulge me, I’d also like to talk about my history with Senator Morse and how some of the seminal moments of his career have affected my own thinking. As I do I hope you’ll come to see that much of Senator Morse’s battle against excessive national security secrecy resonates in today’s interactions between Congress and the Executive Branch. Senator Morse didn’t live to see the creation of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, I am positive that he would agree with the spirit of that committee. Created as a check on the government’s intelligence apparatus in the wake of some different surveillance scandals, the Intelligence Committee’s primary function is to
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conduct vigorous oversight of America’s intelligence agencies. Vigorous oversight means more than just ensuring that the government doesn’t break any laws or that national security is always protected – though those are extremely important responsibilities. Vigorous oversight also means preserving Constitutional  protections afforded to the American people, and protecting the public from intrusive government overreach. Among other things, the Intelligence Committee is charged with making sure that surveillance activities don’t undermine Americans’ rights and liberties, abroad or at home. In recent months the public has seen firsthand what intrusive overreach looks like. As a result of the tidal wave of disclosures that began last June, the American people have finally been made aware of the full ramifications of the dragnet domestic surveillance that I and a few of my colleagues have been fighting to rein in for years. For the past several years I and a handful of other senators, to include Senator Udall of Colorado and our own Jeff Merkley, have been arguing that Americans had a right to know how surveillance laws were being secretly interpreted. We believed that once the public was informed about the true extent of the government’s surveillance authorities, people would demand significant, meaningful reforms. So our small group has been asking tough questions of our own. We take advantage of the rare opportunities that we have to publicly question intelligence officials to widen the public’s understanding of domestic
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