US intelligence heads speak for FISA preservation

Two opposite forces have clashed in Thursday’s open hearing by the US Senate Intelligence Committee on the subject of potential legislative changes to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

One side – led by the Committee’s Chairman Dianne Feinstein and Vice Chairman Saxby Chambliss and apparently backed by most of the other Senators sitting on it – has stated its support for the current NSA program aimed at keeping logs of every phone call made by US citizens

Senator Feinstein has said that she considers the program to be lawful, and has announced that she and Senator Chambliss are working on a bill that would make small changes to the program – such as decreasing the number of years the logged data is stored and requiring the NSA to send to the FISC a list of phone numbers they are surveilling, along with the detailed reasons they are doing so – but that the continuation of the program should not be brought into question.

The other force mentioned at the beginning of this article was formed by two members of the Committee, Senators Ron Wyden and Mark Udall, who have introduced a comprehensive legislation (summary) to reform domestic surveillance laws and the secret surveillance court on Wednesday.

Among the five panelist (go here for their prepared statements) who addressed the committee were also the Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, NSA Director General Keith Alexander, and Deputy Attorney General James Cole, who expectedly defended the program.

In their joint statement, they reiterated their efforts toward increasing transparency regarding intelligence collection in order to promote greater public confidence in these intelligence activities, and have stated that “because of the [Snowden’s] unauthorized disclosures, a great deal of information that was previously classified about these intelligence programs is now in the public domain. These unauthorized disclosures have already caused significant harm to national security, and inaccurate or incomplete press coverage of the unauthorized disclosures has also undermined public confidence in out efforts to protect American’s privacy.”

Senator Wyden reiterated by saying that “any government official who thought that the intrusive, constitutionally flawed surveillance system would never be disclosed was ignoring history.

“Notwithstanding the extraordinary professionalism and patriotism of thousands of dedicated intelligence professionals, the leadership of your agencies built an intelligence collection system that repeatedly deceived the American people. Time and again, the American people were told one thing about domestic surveillance in public forums, while government agencies did something else in private,” he commented.

“Now these secret interpretations of the law and violations of the Constitutional rights of Americans have become public, your agencies face terrible consequences that were not planned for. There has been a loss of trust in our intelligence apparatus here at home and with friendly foreign allies, and that trust is going to take time to rebuild. And in my view this loss of trust undermines America’s ability to collect intelligence on real threats, and every member of this committee knows there are very real threats out there.”

He also probed Director Alexander for answers on whether the NSA has ever collected or made any plans to collect Americans’ cell-site information in bulk, but has not received a direct answer because the matter is classified.

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