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Public Statements

NSA Oversight and Accountability

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

Mr. LEAHY. Mr. President, we are at a watershed moment in the history of intelligence oversight, like nothing I have seen since the Church Committee. Some of the recent revelations have led to important national conversations about the scope of our Nation's intelligence gathering powers here at home, and to renewed legislative efforts to recalibrate those authorities and the related oversight regimes. The USA FREEDOM Act that Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner and I introduced last week along with more than 100 members of Congress does just that.

It is important, however, to acknowledge that some of the leaks have led to needless risk to our national security and have threatened our relationships with some of our most important international partners.

And all of this leads back to a 29-year-old contractor named Edward Snowden.

Let me make clear once more that I do not condone the way any of these highly classified programs were disclosed. I am deeply concerned about the potential damage to our intelligence gathering capabilities, foreign relationships, and national security.

I am also deeply concerned that one person could wreak this much havoc in such a short period of time. Especially in the wake of the Private Manning leaks, I do not understand how the National Security Agency could have allowed this to happen.

This past weekend, Colbert King wrote in the Washington Post that this damage was, in a sense, self-inflicted. I ask unanimous consent that the King op-ed be printed in the Record. As Mr. King put it, ``I want to know how Snowden got his hands on so much of the nation's most sensitive intelligence and was able to flee the country, all within three months.''

I want to know too. We need to hold people accountable for allowing such a massive leak to occur and we need to change the way we do business to ensure that we prevent this type of breach in the future. In public and in private, I have continued to ask the leaders of the intelligence community to tell me who is being held accountable and what is being done to prevent this from happening again.

Without adequate answers to these questions, the American people are rightly concerned that their private information could be swept up into a massive database, and then compromised. The NSA has acknowledged that it is collecting U.S. phone records on an unprecedented scale, and that it is also collecting massive amounts of Internet content against targets abroad, which also includes some communications of law-abiding Americans. And yet the government asks us to trust that it will keep this information safe, and that we should have faith in its internal policies and procedures.

This plea comes from the same intelligence community that the FISA court found to have made substantial misrepresentations about the scope of its collection; and the same intelligence community that allowed Edward Snowden to steal such vast amounts of information.

And it comes from the same intelligence community whose inspector general just wrote to tell me that he is unable at this time to conduct a communitywide review of government activities conducted under section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act and section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. I ask unanimous consent that the September 23, 2013, letter from a bipartisan group of Senate Judiciary Committee members to the inspector general of the intelligence community be printed in the Record, as well as his November 5, 2013, response.

The intelligence community faces a trust deficit, and I am particularly concerned that the NSA has strayed and overreached beyond its core missions. One important step toward rebuilding that trust would be for the NSA to spend less of its time collecting data on innocent Americans, and more on keeping our Nation's secrets safe and holding its own accountable.

The Senate Judiciary Committee will continue its work on these issues in the next few weeks. On November 13, the Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology, and the Law will hold a hearing on Senator Franken's Surveillance Transparency Act, which I have cosponsored. And on November 20, I have invited back to the committee Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, NSA Director Keith Alexander, and Deputy Attorney General James Cole for another hearing to review the intelligence community's surveillance authorities.

[From the Washington Post, Nov. 2, 2013]
Latest NSA Spying Revelations Distract From the Real Issues

(By Colbert I. King)
What's this about governments spying on their closest allies?

We called it ``the bubble.'' It was a 12-by-15-foot acoustic conference room made of clear plastic and aluminum. There were at least five inches of space between the walls of the bubble and the walls of the room in which it was located. The bubble's plastic walls, ceiling and floor allowed visual inspection for electronic listening devices, or ``bugs.''

As an extra security measure, a noise-generating machine was installed in the outer room to prevent interception of any discussions of classified information within the bubble. The outer room was secured by a combination lock, the code known only to my office.

The first U.S. ``bubble'' was installed after hidden microphones were found in American diplomatic missions in Moscow, Prague and elsewhere in the 1960s.

Our bubble, within a room on an upper floor of the U. S. Embassy in Bad Godesberg, West Germany, was a countermeasure against possible technical penetration by the Soviet KGB and the East German Stasi. But Eastern Bloc countries weren't the only concern.

Our bubble allowed classified discussions to occur beyond the hearing of our host and ally, the-then Federal Republic of Germany, and our friends down the road in the French and British embassies.

That was nearly 50 years ago.

This year, in my current capacity, I was sitting in the office of an ambassador in Washington when a member of his staff alerted him to an important call. There was a phone on the ambassador's desk. But he left the room to take the call.

It turns out that his prime minister was calling from overseas. The ambassador went to a secure location in the embassy where he could conduct a confidential conversation.

True, he was in the capital city of his nation's closest ally. But the matter to be discussed was for the ears of his countrymen only, U. S. friendship notwithstanding.

Today, as the United States has been doing for decades, close allies in Europe, the Middle East and elsewhere take similar precautions even when their missions are in friendly countries.

Gentlemen may know that it is bad form to read each other's mail or to eavesdrop. But in diplomacy and national security, the desire to know what another country is up to tends to overwhelm any sense of rectitude.

Consequently, the European outrage over snooping among friends may be slightly overdone. That is an entirely separate matter from the National Security Agency's (NSA) vacuum-cleanerlike collection of the communication records and metadata of millions of Americans, including private citizens and, apparently, foreign citizens both here and overseas. The scope of that intelligence-collection program, disputed by Gen. Keith Alexander, the director of the NSA, this week is the cause of uproar around the country and in Congress. There is still much to sort out and probably reform.

The monitoring of foreign leaders' phone calls, however, is closer to the larger deed of spying on allied governments.

Which takes us to an indelicate question: Why is a foreign leader, a repository of a nation's secrets, communicating by text messages and smartphone?

The most junior Foreign Service officer or government civil servant entrusted with sensitive information assumes that e-mails and cellphones are susceptible to eavesdropping. What makes a head of state behave as if he or she is immune from monitoring?

Which brings up another tactless question: Why haven't the security services of those foreign leaders developed countermeasures to prevent successful spying on personal communications?

The danger here isn't simply that the NSA may have overstepped its bounds with respect to U.S. allies. The intelligence services of the foes of Germany, France, Spain, Brazil and the like may have the capacity to listen in on high-level conversations.

The naiveté of outraged foreign leaders and their vulnerability to spying are nearly--but not totally--as surprising as the scale of NSA snooping.

The NSA revelations, meanwhile, should not draw attention away from the revelations' primary source: Edward Joseph Snowden.

How in the world is it possible that a high school dropout with a GED, a community college student who didn't graduate, a failed Army recruit and security guard can catapult himself into a CIA information technology job, an overseas posting and subsequently a $200,000-a-year job with a company contracted to do NSA work in Hawaii, where he was able to gain access to the crown jewels of America's secrets?

Whistleblower, traitor, patriot: Debate the labels all you want. The government has charged him with espionage. Take it up with Attorney General Eric Holder.

I want to know how Snowden got his hands on so much of the nation's most sensitive intelligence and was able to flee the country, all within three months.

Damage? Done by the U.S. government to itself.


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