Statement of Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Chairman, Senate Judiciary Committee, On NSA Oversight and Accountability

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 placed 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 community-wide 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 placed 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.

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