Transcript: Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger’s Q&A with DNI James Clapper & NSA Director Gen. Keith Alexander on surveillance programs – Oct. 29, 2013

Partial transcript of Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger’s (D-Maryland) Q&A with Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and National Security Agency Director Gen. Keith Alexander on NSA’s surveillance programs before the House Intelligence Committee on Oct. 29, 2013:

Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Maryland): As far as the questions are concerned, number one, I believe we need to increase transparency and regain the public’s confidence in the programs our intelligence community uses to keep us safe. One way to do this is to release more information about the programs and processes. Now, General Clapper, do you feel we can de-classify FISA court decisions, orders, and opinions in a way that protects our national security but also gives the American public more insight into what is legally allowed and what is not?

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper: I do, Mr. Ruppersberger, and we have in concert with the interagency, particularly NSA and the Department of Justice, released a lot of documents – over 2,000 in the last 2 or 3 months – with certain caveats. As I indicated in my statement, we certainly want to make these as transparent and as available as possible but we also want to ensure that we protect sources, methods, techniques, liaison partners, importantly targets. So with those caveats in mind, I agree with that we can and should and that we have been doing so.

Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Maryland): Okay. Second question. All of these programs are already subject to executive, judicial, and legislative branch oversight. But we’re looking to see if we can do more to be more transparent. Now, General Alexander, do you feel a presidentially-appointed, Senate-confirmed Inspector General of the NSA will provide an extra independent check. Do you feel this is necessary?

NSA Director Gen. Keith Alexander: Well, I think for certain it won’t hurt. I’m not sure that it would have stopped anything that happened. I think in the public’s interest that you and the public could know that we’re being increasingly transparent. So I don’t oppose that. I think anything that we can show that we’re being transparent is a step in the right direction.

Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Maryland): Okay. I think that’s where we’re really going. I think based on the testimony we have here, I think the oversight that this committee has had throughout the years, we feel – I feel strongly that the men and women in the intelligence community are following the law based on the laws and procedures and processes and leadership that we have put in place. And that’s why it’s extremely important, though, that we get back the confidence from the American people. Unfortunately, with a lot of the media that has been out there, a lot of the media that has not been based on fact, you know, allegations that are out there that are really to gain in some situations a – what I want to say is putting out a situation where it inflames or it scares people. And that’s not what we need as Americans. We need the American people to trust the government. So what we need to focus on is that transparency issue and that’s what we’re trying to do. We need to do something in that regard.

Now, the final question that I do have, when it comes to changing the business records provision – that Section 215 metadata, our committee is evaluating whether we could get away from the bulk collection and move closer to the system used in the criminal prosecution system in our country. The telecommunication providers would respond to a subpoena and give the government information about metadata – phone numbers, no content. The information will come from what the providers already have in their business records. As I said in my opening statement, this is the most operationally challenging proposal, and we know we have a lot of issues from the operation, technical point of view to move forward with this. But it’s critically important that we evaluate what can keep the operational capability of the program to keep our country safe.

We’ve talked about that. You’ve testified that this does keep our country safe. I think there have been statements that are said that if we had this program before 9/11, it was a good possibility that we would have identified the fact that one of those terrorists was in the United States coordinating the attack. It’s like finding a needle in a haystack. If you have to – the terrorist being the needle and if you need to find those terrorists throughout the world, you have to have a haystack. That haystack is basically no one’s name, address – just a number and the duration of a call. Notwithstanding that, we must move forward and try to put together, I think, another system that will allow the American public to trust what we’re doing. Now, let me ask you this: Do you think a program such as this by going to the providers, as we do in criminal cases, instead of us – the government – holding that metadata, do you have an opinion of whether it would work? And I know, again, that there are operational issues. Could you discuss them with us?

NSA Deputy Director Chris Inglis: Congressman Ruppersberger, I’d be happy to take that question…You’ve asked that thoughtful question a number of times and it caused to undertake a study of this question. There are numerous architectures – technical architectures – that are possible, that are viable. Where you place the data is a component of that architecture. There are four features that we think are essential – four features that are present today…the architecture we have today. The first is we must provide for privacy. We must have the controls placed on this such that it’s used only for those narrow prescribed purposes that the court has authorized. The second is it needs to have the breath. It needs to be the whole haystack. As you comprise this, you put it together, it needs to be such that when you make a query you come away confident that you have the whole answer. If you’re looking for a terrorist plot in the United States, that the answer of “I didn’t find one” is an answer you can take to the bank because you actually have the breath. You also have to have the depth. You’ve got to know you got a far enough – you looked far enough back in time that you know that there’s something that if it’s in its incipient phase two years ago and has gone quiet, you can actually see it in that phase. We’ve talked about having then data for 5 years, which we do today, or as little as 3 years, which we still think would meet that need. And then finally –

Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Maryland): Let me just stop you there because I understand that providers via FCC rules must keep it for 18 months.

NSA Deputy Director Chris Inglis: They keep it for their own purposes. They don’t keep it to respond to the government…

Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Maryland): I know that.

NSA Deputy Director Chris Inglis: And they therefore don’t keep it in the form and format that would make it such that you could meet the fourth requirement, which is that it needs to be available in a timely way. Minutes count when we’re trying to support the FBI in the detection of a plot that might be in that moment in time ongoing. Agility counts. Again, I think multiple architectures can meet those four criteria. That’s how we would assess any particular recommendation the committee might make. I would be happy to meet and work with the committee to that extent.

Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Maryland): All right. Gen. Alexander, Gen. Clapper, do you have any other comments on that on the metadata 215 with the providers.

NSA Director Gen. Keith Alexander: I agree with what Chris said.

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper: Chris articulated exactly – whatever architectural scheme we come up with – as long as those 4 requirements are met, we could –

Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Maryland): How about Justice Department attorney, Mr. Cole?

Deputy Attorney General James Cole: I agree with Mr. Inglis’s evaluation on that.

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