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

Partial transcript of Rep. Mike Thompson’s (D-California) 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. Mike Thompson (D-California):
…Some of us believe that we should – we being the relevant committees of jurisdiction – should have more information from the FISA court in order to do better oversight on our end. We want to change the law to require that this happen. We don’t want to read in the paper after the fact that FISA had sent NSA letters critiquing how you do or don’t do your job and we only learn about it when some more intelligence is disclosed from leakers. I want to know – and this would also require all denials and modifications of FISA orders and any new or changed legal interpretation of FISA. And I’d like to know from you – and we’d start with Gen. Alexander – would there be any harm to sources and methods in making this change?

NSA Director Gen. Keith Alexander:
Well, not as you described it but I’m not familiar with this…I’m going to pass this buck as it goes down to the Attorney General. Not that I know of, but I’m not – at least the way you’ve described it giving access to the committee on certain things. It’s our intent anytime we see something significant like that to report it to the committee…

Rep. Mike Thompson (D-California):
It just seems to me they have a different window or I’d say a better window on what’s going on. And anything that they see as an issue should be shared with us. So if there needs to be changes made we could do that. Mr. Cole?

Deputy Attorney General James Cole:
Congressman, I think the real issue comes down to what is in the application, what is in the order, what is in the filing in the FISA court, and that may implicate sources and methods and the nature of that disclosure is going to be unique to each different document that we’re talking about. So if there are ways to either redact them or keep them classified or not allow them to be made public, things of that nature –

Rep. Mike Thompson (D-California):
We’re the intelligence committee…

Deputy Attorney General James Cole:
I understand that, and much of what you can get can come in in that regard, and as long as it’s kept in that way, there’s not a reason that it should necessarily – there’s been a number of FISA orders and applications and opinions and things of that nature that have been released and made public after redactions that are appropriate. And I know there’s continuing efforts in that regard. So I think it’s just balancing those kinds of issues that I think would be the big issue here.

Rep. Mike Thompson (D-California):
Thank you. Mr. Chairman, I too want to just say that we need to do everything we can to ensure that our members get the information that we need. And on Mr. [Adam] Schiff’s point, there’s – two different newspapers today are reporting that the Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee has stated “The Senate Intelligence Committee was not satisfactorily informed and it hampers our ability to do proper oversight.” I think we need to work collaboratively to make sure that we can do that. And now, I’d like to yield my remaining time to Mr. Schiff.

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-California):
…You know, we’ve been talking about selectors here, and plainly not all selectors are equal. When a selector is the chancellor of an allied nation, that’s an exceptional selector. And I can’t speak, Mr. Chairman, for other members of the committee, but I’ll be very surprised if there are any – apart perhaps from the Chairman – who were aware of this if it was going on and it’s not for lack of doing homework by committee members. So I think we need to have a broader discussion about the requirements of disclosure to the committee when programs have the capacity for the kind of blowback that this has had. In the covert action area when there’s a covert action contemplated that would considerable blowback if it was discovered, we have a discussion about it and notification here in Congress, and I don’t think the standard should be any different in terms of our intelligence activities. I thank the gentleman and I yield back.

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