Mark Udall called a letter that he and 12 of his Senate colleagues received from the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) James Clapper in response to their July 26 letter regarding extension of the FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) Amendments Act "inadequate." The senators' July letter asked DNI Clapper to provide unclassified answers to key questions in order to help inform the Senate debate on an extension of the FISA Amendments Act.
"I opposed a long-term extension of the federal government's warrantless surveillance program earlier this year because Congress and the American people need a better understanding of how this law has affected the privacy of Americans. My colleagues and I were hoping to get more clarity in the response we received from the DNI to our July letter," Udall said. "Specifically, our letter asked if any wholly domestic U.S. communications had been intercepted under the FISA Amendments Act and whether the government has attempted to search for the communications of specific Americans without a warrant or emergency authorization. In response to our letter, the DNI has now told us that the answers to those questions are classified. The DNI also takes exception to our use of the word "loophole' to describe how the law could allow the government to conduct warrantless searches for Americans' communications -- and yet the DNI does not deny that the law provides this authority.
"The DNI's response is inadequate and does not sufficiently address my concerns regarding the possibility of unauthorized surveillance of Americans. Coloradans can rest assured that I will continue to vigorously demand more accountability and fight to protect their constitutional right to privacy."
Earlier this summer, both the Judiciary Committee and the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence approved legislation to extend the expiring provisions of the FISA Amendments Act of 2008, whose central provision allows the intelligence community to continue to conduct surveillance of foreigners reasonably believed to be outside the United States. During the mark-up in the Senate Intelligence Committee, Udall and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) voted against the FAA Sunsets Extension Act after they unsuccessfully tried to amend the legislation.
Udall's comments come as the U.S. House of Representatives is expected to vote tomorrow on similar legislation to extend FISA Amendments Act authorities.
The senators' July letter to the Director of National Intelligence focused on concerns that Udall and Wyden raised during the Committee mark-up -- first, the length of the extension; second, that it should be possible to provide an estimate of the number of Americans whose phone calls and e-mails may have been reviewed without a warrant; and third, whether the government has attempted to search without a warrant for the communications of specific Americans under the FISA Amendments Act.
Since joining the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Udall has worked to balance the civil liberties of Americans with the nation's national security interests.