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Public Statements

NSA Terrorist Surveillance Program

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC


NSA TERRORIST SURVEILLANCE PROGRAM

Mr. CHAMBLISS. Mr. President, several weeks ago, after a highly classified program was leaked to the media, the President described certain activities of the National Security Agency that he authorized in the weeks following our Nation coming under direct attack on our own soil by Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida terrorists.

As described by the President, the Vice President, the Attorney General, and experts from the Department of Justice and the intelligence community, the terrorist surveillance program at NSA targets very specific international communications of suspected and known al-Qaida operatives in a foreign country who are communicating with associates around the world and, occasionally, in a limited way, with individuals inside the United States. The purpose of the program is to collect foreign intelligence in an effort to identify and prevent another devastating attack on our homeland.

As we have learned, the terrorist surveillance program is designed with the goal of preventing terrorist attacks in the United States and protecting the lives of Americans. Given the imperative to reliably and immediately detect and disrupt the plots of international terrorists who are intent on killing Americans, the President is acting well within his constitutional authorities.

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act has been, and continues to be, a valuable tool in protecting our national security interests in many cases. However, the world changed on September 11, 2001, demonstrating the importance that the President have the power and authority to protect the American people from future attacks of terrorism. Both the Constitution and the Congress grant the President that authority. FISA lacks the speed and agility necessary to fight the war on terror, and its bureaucratic requirements prevent the ``hot pursuit'' of international communications necessary to prevent attacks.

As vitally important as it is to protect American lives, it is also important that Americans' rights are protected. That is exactly why the administration has put in place a system of responsible measures to ensure our civil liberties are also protected. In doing so, congressional leaders from both parties have been kept informed about the program from the start. Furthermore, this program is reauthorized approximately every 45 days to ensure it is still necessary, and that it is being used properly, and the activities conducted within this program are thoroughly reviewed by lawyers within the National Security Agency and the Department of Justice to ensure the program is only collecting the international communications of suspected terrorists here in the United States and elsewhere.

Their oversight includes assuring an aggressive program is in place to assist the highly trained intelligence professionals at NSA verify that all activities are consistent with minimization procedures that weed out the identities of ordinary Americans and preserve civil liberties.

I note that FISA, which has been the alternative that the critics of this program have looked to as the real program that should be used, requires a reauthorization every 90 days. Here the President and the administration have taken an additional precaution to protect the privacy rights of Americans by reauthorizing this program approximately every 45 days.

On September 11, 2001, terrorists operating covertly inside the United States, and in contact with al-Qaida members overseas, perpetrated the worst attack on domestic soil in American history. Osama bin Laden recently reiterated publicly al-Qaida's intention to attack us again with operatives hiding within our borders.

Congress identified al-Qaida as an enemy of this country by passing the authorization for the use of force, authorizing the President to use all necessary and appropriate force to protect our homeland.

When the enemy is behind your lines, you must use every lawful tool at your disposal to find and stop them. That is why the President has authorized the terrorist surveillance program.

As the 9/11 Commission pointed out, and as also the joint House-Senate Intelligence Committee investigation, as well as the report from the Subcommittee on Terrorism and Homeland Security in the House, which was filed in July of 2002, reported, two of the terrorist hijackers who flew a jet into the Pentagon, Nawaf al Hamzi and Khalid al Mihdhar, were communicating with members of al-Qaida overseas while they were inside the United States preparing for the deadly attack of September 11.

Regrettably, we did not know this until it was too late. GEN Mike Hayden, the former Director of the National Security Agency and the Deputy Director of National Intelligence, indicated that had this program been in place before 9/11, these terrorists could have been detected and identified.

Unfortunately, as a result of the public disclosure of this highly classified program, our enemies have learned information they should not have. Our national security has been damaged and Americans have been put at greater risk.

In our recent Intelligence Committee open hearing, CIA Director Porter Goss commented that as a consequence of leaks in general, damage has been very severe to our capabilities to carry out our mission. General Hayden observed that our intelligence capabilities are not immune to leaks in the public domain.

It is clear that this is an important program necessary to address the previous flaws in our early warning system that allowed at least two of the 9/11 murderers to live among us while they plotted our destruction. This vital program makes it more likely that terrorists will be identified and located in time to prevent another disaster. In fact, that may have already happened. It is a program that is conducted within the President's constitutional authority and is subject to review and oversight.

It is also clear that continued leaks over this program are degrading our ability to continue to protect the lives of Americans.

Mr. President, I yield the floor.

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