Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., isn’t pleased with a bill pending in her state’s legislature that would prohibit state and local support for the National Security Agency.
The legislation was proposed Feb. 6 by eight Republicans in the 141-member Maryland House of Delegates and would deny the NSA “material support, participation or assistance in any form” from the state, its political subdivisions and companies with state contracts.
The spy agency’s national headquarters are located in Fort Meade, Md., and the agency is often described as one of the state’s largest employers, although the precise number of employees who work there is unclear.
The bill would theoretically deprive NSA facilities of water and electricity carried over public utilities, ban the use of NSA-derived evidence in state courts and prevent state universities from partnering with the NSA on research.
“I’m shocked that the Republicans would go ahead and do that to the National Security Agency,” Mikulski tells U.S. News.
“When I think back to Ronald Reagan and how strong he was on defense and the way he led the end of the Cold War, I am shocked that the Republicans would want to negatively impact the National Security Agency,” she says. “I think it is misguided and really could, under their misguided efforts, really advocate unilateral disarmament in the world of cybersecurity.”
Mikulski, first elected to the U.S. Senate in 1986, says she’s generally reluctant to comment on bills pending in the state legislature, but considers the NSA’s work extremely important.
“We do want to prevent the attacks on the United States from terrorists,” she says, adding: “Anything we deal with in the world of surveillance – which is different from cybersecurity – needs to be constitutional, legal, authorized by the president and necessary.”
Del. Michael Smigiel, the bill’s lead sponsor, agrees that the NSA is important to national security, but says it must follow the Constitution, something he alleges it does not currently do with programs that collect his constituents’ communications without individualized warrants.
“The Constitution’s not debatable, it’s not negotiable, there are not certain people who are exempt,” says Smigiel, a Republican. “Collecting information on American citizens, you can’t do that without a warrant, that's what our Constitution says.”
Smigiel says that five of the eight original bill sponsors have dropped their participation.
“It’s easy to defend the Constitution when it’s not under attack,” he says. Smigiel plans to round up more sponsors next week, ahead of the bill’s March 6 judiciary committee hearing.
The Maryland bill is the latest in a series of state efforts to cut off the NSA one jurisdiction at a time for allegedly ignoring the Fourth Amendment with its dragnet collection of phone and Internet records.
The legislative wave has been spearheaded by the Tenth Amendment Center, which along with the Bill of Rights Defense Committee launched the OffNow coalition last year seeking to cut off water to the NSA’s just-built Utah Data Center.
Lawmakers in Arizona, California, Tennessee, Utah, Washington and other states have filed similar bills based on model legislation from the Tenth Amendment Center. Several of the bills were offered by bipartisan sponsors frustrated with the slow pace of federal reform to surveillance programs disclosed last year by exiled whistle-blower Edward Snowden.
“I'm not shocked by Mikulski's comments,” Mike Maharrey of the Tenth Amendment Center says. "After all, this is a senator who voted no on extending Patriot Act wiretap [authority] in 2005 when Bush was president, but then turned around and voted to extend Patriot Act roving wiretap provisions in 2011 with Obama in the White House. Still, it's really weird for me to hear a Democrat vigorously defending George W. Bush's spy legacy. Defending civil liberties and privacy rights shouldn't be a partisan issue.”
If the Maryland bill were to pass, it might have serious consequences for the NSA. The agency recently signed a contract with Howard County, Md., for wastewater to cool a computer center under construction at Fort Meade, The Washington Post reported Jan. 2. The deal reportedly involves up to 5 million gallons of water a day in exchange for nearly $2 million a year.
As of 2006, the agency was Baltimore Gas and Electric’s largest customer, The Baltimore Sun reported, using as much electricity as the city of Annapolis.