Top intelligence official declassifies some phone surveillance program details

09.06.2013 04:31

President Obama explains the
NSA's secret surveillance
program at an event in
California, reassuring the
public, "When it comes to
telephone calls, nobody is
listening to your telephone
calls. That's not what this
program's about."
By Matthew DeLuca, Staff
Writer, NBC News
President Obama defended what
he called long-standing Internet
and phone monitoring programs
as valuable tools to fight
terrorism, saying that
congressional lawmakers have
been repeatedly briefed on the
program and that federal judges
oversee the program
“throughout.”
“Nobody is listening to your
telephone calls,” Obama said.
“That’s not what this program is
about. As was indicated, what
the intelligence community is
doing is looking at the numbers
and durations of calls. They’re
not looking at names and they’re
not looking at content, but
sifting through this so-called
meta data, they may identify
potential leads with respect to
people that might engage in
terrorism.”
He said the programs have been
subject to congressional and
judicial review and approval.
“I think on balance we have
established a process and a
procedure that the American
people should feel comfortable
about,” Obama said.
The president’s remarks came
one day after the revelation of
two secret programs that allow
government intelligence agencies
to gather information on
domestic phone and Internet
usage by American citizens.
“I don’t welcome leaks, because
there’s a reason why these
programs are classified,” Obama
said, regarding the unauthorized
release of confidential
documents such as the one that
led to the initial Guardian report
on the phone records program.
The president made the
comments following a statement
on the Affordable Care Act in
San Jose, Calif. The president is
scheduled to begin a two-day
summit with Chinese President Xi
Jinping in California later on
Friday.
On Thursday, the United States’
top intelligence official
declassified details of the top
secret phone records program
after it was revealed, while also
blasting the leak.
Director of National Intelligence
James Clapper took the step in a
statement issued on Thursday
night, after media reports
revealed the programs that have
been used to collect the phone
records of Americans and
monitor Internet use.
Referencing a report that first
appeared in Britain’s Guardian
newspaper, Clapper said that the
“unauthorized disclosure of a
top secret U.S. court document
threatens potentially long-lasting
and irreversible harm to our
ability to identify and respond to
the many threats facing our
nation.”
Clapper said in the statement
that he was declassifying some
details of the Foreign
Intelligence Surveillance Act to
“provide a more thorough
understanding of the program.”
“Although this program has been
properly classified, the leak of
one order, without any context,
has created a misleading
impression of how it operates.
Accordingly, we have determined
to declassify certain limited
information about this
program,” Clapper said.
The program does not allow the
government to surveil the
contents of phone calls made by
Americans, but what is
referenced in the order
published by the Guardian as
“telephony metadata” includes
the sending and receiving
telephone numbers and the
length of the call, according to
Clapper.
“The collection is broad in scope
because more narrow collection
would limit our ability to screen
for and identify terrorism-
related communications,”
Clapper said. “Acquiring this
information allows us to make
connections related to terrorist
activities over time. The FISA
court specifically approved this
method of collection as lawful,
subject to stringent restrictions.”
White House spokesman Josh
Earnest said on Thursday that
government powers under the
Patriot Act are reviewed by a
“robust legal regime.”
Clapper also said that members
of Congress, some of whom
reacted with indignation to
media reports about the
program on Thursday, had been
“fully and repeatedly briefed” on
the program described in the
Guardian article. Similar
statements about
Congressmembers’ knowledge of
the program were made by Sen.
Dianne Feinstein, chair of the
Senate Intelligence Committee,
on Thursday.
“It began in 2009 – what
appeared in the Guardian today,
as I understand it, is simply a
court reauthorization of a
program. The court is required
to look at it every three
months,” Feinstein said.