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

Partial transcript of Rep. Mac Thornberry’s (R-Texas) 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. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas):
…I’ll have to say that throughout the course of this Snowden matter, I can’t find any reason to complain to any of you at this table about a lack of notification, a lack of information that you have provided us…If I have a problem with NSA is that you provide us with too much information and I have to understand it. And actually you’re very good about helping us understand what’s going on.

Mr. Inglis, I just have a brief question initially. You were listing the 4 attributes of a new business record architecture. You didn’t say security, and I don’t know if that’s what Mr. Pompeo was getting to or not. It’s one thing to talk about the privacy of the records that you’d expect some other architecture to maintain but what about a foreign intelligence service that says, “Ha, that’s a fat target. Let me go after that.”

NSA Deputy Director Chris Inglis:
Sir, I think you’re right. I think I would include that in security. I think that’s inherent in the protection of privacy from all inappropriate access, whether that’s someone who has authorized access who might misuse that or whether that’s somebody that’s operating from a foreign adversarial intelligence service…

Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas):
But it may be a different architecture also makes for a more valuable target?

NSA Deputy Director Chris Inglis:
I agree, sir.

Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas):
…A couple of years ago in our worldwide threats hearing in this room, you said something and I’ll paraphrase that in your 50 years in intelligence, you don’t remember a time when we have a more complex array of serious national security challenges facing our country. I presume that it hasn’t gotten any simpler or any safer in those couple of years. And would you, again, put in context signal intelligence – the sort of stuff that we’re talking about here today that NSA provides – how much of our understanding of this complex array of national security challenges is provided by the sorts of information that signal intelligence provides us?

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper:
Well, sir, you’re quite right. It has not changed in those intervening two years. I think it’s gotten worse.

Just a thought about a previous question where there was a litany of all the threats that we are facing by way example not exhaustion. And in the category of things that keep me awake at night is the preoccupation with all these distractions occasioned by the Snowden revelations and the amount of time – thousands and thousands of man-hours – and in fact the preoccupation of the workforce with all the fallouts that’s been occasioned by this, which serves as a major distraction for all these other substantive threats that exist throughout the rest of the world.

SIGINT [signal intelligence] is huge – hugely – important to the totality of our intelligence effort in this country. It is – if you – in problem after problem after problem, SIGINT is the major contributor to insight into whatever that problem is and I’m talking about hundreds and hundreds of targets where SIGINT is a huge, hugely important – a crucial player. And it’s hard to overstate it. And we’ve done all kinds of studies on this that empirically show the crucial importance of signal intelligence to the nation’s safety and security and that of its people.

Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas):
If I could just take on example – counter-terrorism these days, we don’t do much interrogation at least for very long anymore. Would you say signals intelligence is the primary contributor of information to what we know about terrorism?

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper:
Yes, sir.

NSA Director Gen. Keith Alexander:
If I could…you know, this is one of the key issues that you put out was counter-terrorism. There are two threats that we have here to our country – counter-terrorism and cyber – that this platform that we have – cryptological platform is critical to. And I guess this gets to some of the stuff that you and the Chairman and others have been talking towards, and I think it’s important for our country and our allies to figure out what is the framework for how we’re going to partner in the future. I think this is critical and perhaps the linchpin. How do we do this in the future? Because we’re going to need partners. The ways in what we’re seeing people attacking us in cyberspace and now with terrorism, that’s the way they’re going to hurt us. We’re going to need to work with allies and come up with that framework and I think that’s something that we should do.

Chairman, I would just offer for the committee if you would ever like to bring up a group and we will walk you through every requirement that we have across every place that we have and let you see everything because you know it’s all open. Everybody up there. We will get coffee in the future, pending budget.

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