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

Partial transcript of Rep. Jan Schakowsky’s (D-Illinois) 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. Jan Schakowsky (D-Illinois):
…Gen. Alexander, you know, we’ve been in many, many meetings together but I have to tell you your robust support of your staff…I felt implied that someone was saying that the people who work for the NSA were impugned as not being patriots and not working hard. And I have to tell you that I have never heard that. I think people have questioned the policies of the NSA. I think the policies that you carry out have certainly been questioned. And they have been carried out by patriots as evidenced by the fact that almost a majority of the Congress actually voted to end the surveillance program and I am certain that you’re not talking about them as not patriots.

The two individuals who wrote – one Republican and one Democrat – who wrote the USA Patriot Act shortly after 9/11 have now introduced the USA Freedom Act that essentially repeal many of the aspects and change them of the Patriot Act.

There has been some diminution of our diplomatic relationships across the world, naive or not. Disingenuous, even, or not. That is just a fact. And it seems to me that now with the President saying it looks like he’s poised to – in the New York Times – order the National Security Agency to stop eavesdropping on leaders of American allies. The Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee raised a question that I think is legitimate – an issue that’s legitimate – why did we not know that heads of state were being eavesdropped on, spied on?

The reason why it’s important is because it is a policy issue that has very broad implications. It could put the United States in a difficult position.

I understand that sources, methods, and all those things but we are the intelligence community and we did not – we didn’t know that, and now all of us – all of us – are dealing with a problem in our international relations.

There will be changes. What I heard from you is a robust defense effectively of the status quo. That isn’t necessarily what I heard in other hearings. I have heard your openness, and I’ve heard, Mr. Ingliss, for different ways that we would measure how we use this metadata.

But I think that we have to move on that. I think that people who are concerned about this – and that’s a lot of patriots – feel that this must be changed.

So I have a couple of questions. What about having an official outside of the NSA to provide prior approval of what would be reasonable, articulable suspicion in order to query a name and ask for that information?

NSA Director Gen. Keith Alexander:
If I could, let me just address – because my intent was not to say that anyone here in Congress or anyone else is less noble. My intent actually in that discussion about NSA was to let you know what I see in the people who are executing these responsibilities that we have challenged them. It was meant as nothing against anyone else. I feel I have a responsibility to stand up for them. You know most of these people. That’s part one.

Two –

Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Illinois):
But that again implies that they need to be stood up for. No one has suggested that the loyal and patriotic employees of the NSA are the problem. You could take responsibility but they don’t need to take responsibility.

NSA Director Gen. Keith Alexander:
Well, so, I think this is where perhaps in a discussion, you know, from my perception, I don’t read all the newspapers but some of the stuff that comes out sure looks that way. And so I just want you to know where I sit on this and it’s not to impugn anyone else but it’s to tell you I think we’re doing the right things.

Now, in that, it doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t change. Let me be also clear that in this area, I think some of our partnerships are absolutely vital to this country, and we need to ensure that we balance those partnerships. So I agree with you 100% on looking at that. That’s a policy decision, and I do think we ought to look at that. These are things that we ought to look with our allies because it takes allies. Where we are today in counter-terrorism and cyber, it’s going to take allies.

But I want to be crystal clear that for our people, I – at least you know – and you’ve met these, you’ve helped set this up. To answer your question – help set up the compliance program.

So, to answer your real question, the issue that I see is we tried that back a couple of years ago with the court, and it took – it got up to 9 days – and the court gave us back that authority to do it. I would propose a counter-offer where everyone that we do is within 48 and 96 hours we send it to the court, and if we make a mistake or something that you disagree with have a way of doing that so that we meet the timelines that you need or, as Chris mentioned, for some of these operations where timing is of the essence. And I use the Najibullah Zazi case where this was a one-week thing and you can’t afford that.

So I would say we would absolutely be willing to work with you on something along those lines or with the committee.

Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Illinois):
…Currently, the NSA is holding for 5 years the business record data. Many people have suggested that’s too long. But 2 or 3 years – what do you think about shortening a time, whether NSA holds it or some other entity holds it?

NSA Director Gen. Keith Alexander:
Our analysts think that somewhere around 3 years is probably the least that you could do. So if we did that – it goes back to what Congressman Ruppersberger said – I think 3 years makes sense. That’s what our analysts have come up with.

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