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

Partial transcript of Rep. Frank LoBiondo’s (R-New Jersey) 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. Frank LoBiondo (R-New Jersey):
…I think far too many people in America, for them, Sept. 11th is a very distant memory. You’ve said, Gen. Alexander, that the fact that we haven’t had an attack with mass casualties is not an accident. I don’t think enough people understand that.

I also know from trips to what seems to the edge of the world – to Africa and the Arabian Peninsula and the Middle East – that your folks and Gen. Clapper, the other intelligence agency folks who are placing themselves in incredibly difficult circumstances – dangerous circumstances – patriots beyond belief – can’t talk about it, can’t discuss what great work is being done. But they need to know that at least some of us are very appreciative and I think if more of America knew what they were doing, they would be very appreciative. So I really want to emphasize that really strong message that without them this country would be in greater peril.

With that having being said, can you describe, Gen. Alexander, how NSA are taking steps to improve transparency under the collection of FISA?

NSA Director Gen. Keith Alexander:
Congressman, thanks for those kind words. What we are doing on transparency are a couple of things. First, working with the DNI and the administration, to get more information out and we are trying to push a lot of this information out so that people know what we’re doing and why we’re doing it.

I think the greatest step in transparency that we’re doing is the hiring of a Civil Liberties and Privacy Officer so that people can see that we are going to have a front door, that we are transparent in this, and that we take this very seriously. I think that’s a huge step forward.

There’s more that we’ve got to do to push information out to the press. You know, it’s difficult for an intelligence agency to give any information out because of the concern of giving classified information out and doing something that would put some of our people or our nation at risk. That’s the concern. We’re working our way through it.

We have a great shop – our media leaks team behind me…are helping to push that out on behalf of Director Clapper and the rest of the intel community.

Rep. Frank LoBiondo (R-New Jersey):
And Gen. Alexander, you’ve talked about this a little bit already, but I think because there’s so much attention I would ask for a little redundancy here, for you to describe to us how NSA protects the U.S. citizens’ personal data?

NSA Director Gen. Keith Alexander:
Congressman, there are several things that we do to protect U.S. person’s data. It starts with what we call minimization procedures in our training. So everyone is trained the fact that you’re going to bump into U.S. person’s data on the Internet today is very likely. So there is to be some way to minimize the fact that a U.S. person. Let me just for the clarity here define what a U.S. person is. It’s not just us – a U.S. person – but it could also be a company or a green card holder or someone who is working in a foreign government who is dual citizen. All of those are U.S. persons. And so we have a series of Attorney General-approved minimization procedures for handling U.S. persons. That’s the first step.

With the respect to these court-ordered programs, we have special training that we have to go through, and I think this is really important for the question you’re asking. It starts out with every time we make a query, the analyst who approves it has to have a written record of why this query and this number is being looked at, and that’s an auditable event. And then when the analyst goes in and actually does a query, every action that they do is overseen. And then once they get all that data out…it can only go to people cleared to receive it, which is a small group of people and to the FBI.

So in each case, when you look at these programs in the way with the business record FISA and the way we handle that data, there is a set of procedures that we go through.

So from my perspective, this is perhaps the most overseen program that we have.

What this really means – and I would add here – I talked briefly about the emphatic access control that we have for the program. What that means – once the number is approved, it’s put on a list and those numbers – you can’t make a mistake typing it in – only those numbers would actually ever be queried. So somebody has to add it to a list and then somebody says, “Okay, I’m authorized to query on this number”, now they can query it. So we set those rules up, we set the oversight up, and then we review and audit everything that’s been done on that.

And from my perspective, the way that we handle it and the way that we come back and push this information out, I think on the foreign side, I think it’s important to recognize that too because you and the Chairman are asking a question that’s very close. Director Clapper talked about the National Intelligence Priority Framework. In foreign intelligence collection, we go after a collection – we have to state why we’re doing it. What is the purpose of this collection and what are we doing? And in our reporting, that goes along with the options of what we’re trying to put forward so people know that we’re answering a question. This isn’t, you know, we’re just going after data. So that perception that we would just collect all the content and the emails in the world is erroneous.

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