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

Partial transcript of Rep. Peter King’s (R-New York) 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. Peter King (R-New York):
…I have to disagree with my good friend, Ms. Schakowsky. I don’t think we can go by a day without seeing words like “snooping”, “scandal” thrown at the NSA, and very seldom do you see the word “patriotic”. How many times have you seen the word “scandal” over the last 4 months, and to me the only scandalous thing is the attacks that are made upon you…I think it’s only a matter of time before someone saying that foreign leaders have a constitutional right. That will be the next debate we have…

Mr. Inglis, you had said before the importance of timing as to whether or not the metadata is controlled by the company or by the NSA and how there have been delays or there could be delays as far as getting the information in time because it’s often a race against the clock.

Gen. Clapper, one case that I have some personal knowledge would be the [Najibullah] Zazi case. If you could explain to us…how important was 215 – section 215 – how important was that as far as timing, as far as ensuring that the dots would be connected in time to save that plot? And also if you could discuss the extent of that plot and what could have happened if that plot had not been stopped?

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper:
Congressman King, first of all, on behalf of not just the NSA but the entire intelligence, I want to thank you for your staunch support of the men and women in the intelligence community.

Let me turn, though, to the real authorities on this case – and it does illustrate the need for timeliness – to Gen. Alexander or Chris Inglis.

NSA Deputy Director Chris Inglis:
So Congressman King, I’ll take a whack at that and then let Gen. Alexander kind of correct my omissions.

As you recall, in early September of 2009, while monitoring the activities of Al Qaeda terrorists in Pakistan, NSA noted contact from that individual to somebody in the United States who was ultimately identified as [Najibullah] Zazi. We tipped that to the FBI and FBI ultimately determined the identity of this person; that’s their authority, not ours. So we tipped that across. And then using the 215 authority, given that we now have reasonable articulable suspicion of a possible plot by Al Qaeda in the homeland, we were able to determine further connections in New York and elsewhere as the FBI tracked him as he made his way from Colorado to New York, where we knew that he now in hindsight intended to map a plot, which was…the most significant terrorist plot since 9/11.

The timeliness of that was not so much attended to what we saw him doing at the time. We saw him on the move, making his way to New York City. But the fact, we didn’t know what we didn’t know. We didn’t know what else he might have afoot – what other plots might be. Was his destination New York? Was he going to do something enroute? Therefore, minutes counted as we helped the FBI focus their time and attention on those things that they should focus on and perhaps rule out all those things where they could save resources and constrain those precious few resources on the disruption of this plot.

As you well know, they ultimately did disrupt this plot. At the end of the day, a terrorist event didn’t happen. And it’s yet another story that can’t be written about NSA not because it’s secret but because it never happened. That’s really our job – it’s to prevent disasters.

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper:
If I might, Congressman King, make another point about the importance of Section 215. Oftentimes the metric used to evaluate its value or worth is number of plots foiled. We had a recent case with the Al Qaeda and other threats in the Middle East, which occasioned the closure of 20 diplomatic facilities throughout the Middle East. And in the course of that, we discovered some numbers of selectors – I think 9 or so – that pointed to the United States. All those were checked out. As it turned out, there was no domestic nexus to any plotting. So I would add to plots foiled as one metric, but I would call the peace of mind metric – when you could rule out a domestic nexus using this tool.

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