Search Form
First, enter a politician or zip code
Now, choose a category

Public Statements

Hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee - Strengthening FISA (Panel 1)


Location: Washington, DC


SEN. TOM COBURN (R-OK): Thank you, Mr. Director, for being here, and thank you for your service.

I just want to spend a little more time giving you a chance to outline for the American public the assurance that we have a minimization program that has been looked at, the procedures for that have been looked at by the FISA Court, agreed to by the FISA Court, and the assurance that you can give the American people that in fact there's not going to be a violation of that minimization process.

Can you speak to that for a moment?

ADM. MCCONNELL: Yes, sir, I can. It's -- we've been doing this for 29 years. It is reviewed at four tiers, four different levels. The agency doing it is -- they have a training process inside, then it's looked at by their general counsel and their IG. My office, as the overseer of the community, we review it. The Department of Justice also reviews it. The FISA Court reviews it for the process and so on, and then it is subject to review by the Congress and the Oversight Committee. So if there's a question and they want to look at, you know, what we've done or what the procedure or visit NSA or look at any of that, we'd make it all available so people could see it and understand it.

SEN. COBURN: Okay. And so that brings me to my next question. You all don't operate without oversight, correct?

ADM. MCCONNELL: No, no, sir, we don't.

SEN. COBURN: There is oversight. And what are the committees of Congress that have oversight over what you do?

ADM. MCCONNELL: Primarily, it's the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.

SEN. COBURN: Okay. Can you kind of give us a short summary of the oversight mechanisms of the Protect American Act (sic/Protect America Act) that are in place today?

ADM. MCCONNELL: Yes, sir. The four tiers I just mentioned: internal is for the agency; external, meaning my office and the Department of Justice, the FISA Court and the Congress. We -- since the law was passed in July -- I'm sorry -- in August, and we put our -- we came back up on our full coverage, there have been approximately seven visits -- no, I'm sorry -- 10 visits out to NSA to sit down with the analysts and look at the data and the process, and what's the training standard, what are the conditions and what would you do with the information, and track it through the process.

So it's been extensively reviewed, and it is subject to that extensive review so long as there are questions or if anybody wants to revisit on a periodic basis.

SEN. COBURN: One of the questions -- and I think legitimately raised, especially because of some of the past actions -- is developing the trust of the American people. There's a certain paranoia out there because we are close to stepping on individual American rights.

Do you as an agency have plans to try to communicate in a positive fashion both to the Congress and the American people about holding your responsibility for both minimization as well as the protection of individual rights in this country?

ADM. MCCONNELL: Yes, sir. I personally have been very, very public on this issue, criticized in some cases for being so public. But if you'll remember the three points that I started with -- no warrant for a foreigner overseas -- a foreign terrorist located overseas, a way to get assistance from the private sector; the third point is the one I believe very, very strongly in. Any time there is surveillance of a U.S. person where that person is a target, I support, believe in and would strongly endorse that we have a warrant. That warrant is given to us by a court, and that's not a menial process to go through because it's probable-cause standard. Some would argue, well, you can go really fast because in an emergency you can get just a phone call, but you're still meeting a probable-cause standard. So the director of NSA, me, the attorney general, we're not going to go fast until we have the facts in front of us because it ultimately has to stand the scrutiny of a court.

SEN. COBURN: So let me summarize, and you say if you agree with this. If you're an American citizen, you're not going to be targeted to any of this without the approval of a court.

ADM. MCCONNELL: That's correct.

SEN. COBURN: All right. That needs to be said loud and loud and loud. If you're an American citizen, you have the protection of a court before you are subject to this law.

ADM. MCCONNELL: If you're an American citizen or even a non- citizen in the country, you have the protection of a warrant issued by a court before we can conduct any kind of a surveillance.

Now, sir -- so you're aware. Some will argue that we're targeting overseas and the person overseas called in the United States -- that's where minimization starts.

We can't control what the overseas target does; we have to have a process to deal with that, and that's where minimization was introduced. It's an elegant solution. We have tried every way we can think of to make that different or stronger or more complete, and those who framed this law in '78 and all of us that have looked at it since, we can't find a better process.

SEN. COBURN: But those minimization procedures like Dr. -- like Senator Feinstein suggested have been looked at by the FISA Court.

ADM. MCCONNELL: They have.

SEN. COBURN: And you are suggesting that you would be happy to have those reviewed, and those probably should be reviewed sequentially and annually.

ADM. MCCONNELL: By not only the court but by the Congress.


ADM. MCCONNELL: And whatever periodicity they would -- they need to review them to be comfortable with doing it the right way.

SEN. COBURN: I have no other questions.

SEN. LEAHY: Thank you very much, Senator Coburn.


Skip to top

Help us stay free for all your Fellow Americans

Just $5 from everyone reading this would do it.

Back to top