Transcript: Sen. Chuck Grassley’s remarks on the oversight of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act on Oct. 2, 2013

Partial transcript of remarks by Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) on the oversight of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and the National Security Agency (NSA). The Senate Judiciary Committee hearing was held on Oct. 2, 2013:

…National security is the first responsibility of our federal government.

We last held a hearing on this subject in late July. At that time, I expressed the view that the reports in the media had called into serious question over the law and other regulations current in place strike the right balance between protecting our civil liberties and our national security.

This is especially so concerning the public revelation that under Section 215 of the Patriot Act the government is collecting Americans’ phone records in bulk. Additional public disclosures since our last hearing have underscored that concern.

Indeed, since that time, the Administration has declassified legal opinions reflecting significant errors by the government before the FISA court in implementing 215 and 702. The good news is that these appear to have been for the most part unintentional mistakes that government brought to the court’s attention on its own accord. Of course, the bad news is that even with all the checks and balances built into the system, these kinds of errors can still occur.

Even more unsettling are other reports since July that suggested that there have been cases of intentional and willful misuse of intelligence authorities by NSA employees to spy on their spouses and neighbors. These disclosures have created broader crisis of trust in the legitimacy of our intelligence-gathering methods generally.

In my view, had these programs been more transparent from the start, this trust deficit that the American people have wouldn’t be as severe as it is now.

This brings me to the President’s response to the crisis, which has been very baffling to me. The President held a news conference in early August, a news conference that should have been held – and thankfully he did – in which he defended the bulk collection of phone records as “an important tool in our effort to disrupt terrorist plots” and suggested some areas for reform.

Since then, as far as I know, he hasn’t said a word in public about these issues. If the President really and truly believes in the importance of these programs, he should be publicly defending them as part of our national debate. He shouldn’t be contracting out that job solely to the intelligence community.

Simply put, as in so many other areas, the President is failing to lead where he wants others to follow.

In any event, I’m pleased that we’ve taken a number of steps to follow up on some of these disturbing reports.

Since July, a bipartisan group of members of this committee requested that the inspector general of the intelligence community conduct a thorough review of the implementation of these authorities.

Additionally, I wrote to the NSA inspector general and received a public accounting of the handful of documented instances where the NSA employees intentionally abused their authorities. It was heartening to see how few cases of intentional misconduct exists but on the other hand, it’s alarming to know that the possibility of employees engaging in such behavior turns out to be very real. The NSA inspector general’s response to my letter reflected that many of these cases were referred to the Department of Justice for possible criminal prosecution…I’ll be following up with the Department of Justice on these cases with a letter to the Attorney General today.

The balance between protecting individual liberties and our national security is a delicate one. Reasonable people can disagree about precisely where that balance is best struck…

Something has come to my attention just yesterday – press reports that 70% of the intelligence community being furloughed. I’m concerned that if lawyers in the intelligence community determine that 70% of their employees are non-essential to the nation, which is national security – the number one responsibility of the federal government – then the intelligence community either needs better lawyers to make big changes to the workforce or are you over-employing in those areas. I can’t believe that 70% of the intelligence community is being furloughed and we’re still being able to meet our national security responsibilities. So that concerns me very much…

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One Comment on “Transcript: Sen. Chuck Grassley’s remarks on the oversight of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act on Oct. 2, 2013

  1. Pingback: Transcript: Sen. Patrick Leahy’s remarks on the oversight of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act on Oct. 2, 2013 | What The Folly?!

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