Any congressional changes in intelligence-gathering rules likely to be minimal, analysts say.
WASHINGTON – Even amid international criticisms over some National Security Agency (NSA) intelligence-gathering activities, there are few signs Congress this year will alter the programs’ guts: what’s collected and how it’s used.
As U.S. intelligence leaders meet this week with lawmakers to discuss possible legislative changes, they may debate how a secret court authorizes the spying, the legal standard for surveillance targets or where to store the records.
Beyond that, congressional leaders probably have little appetite for restricting the NSA’s activities, wary of being blamed if there’s a future terrorist attack, said Michael Mandelbaum, a professor of foreign policy at the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. “Nobody wants to be seen as weakening defenses against terrorism,” he said.
The legislative push follows a series of disclosures from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden since June that have raised questions about whether intelligence gathering violated the privacy of Americans — and some U.S. allies.
“It’s very clear that, to the extent that we keep these tools at all, they’re going to be legislatively amended,” Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said during a speech Sept. 12. “We can do with more oversight and give people more confidence in what we do.”
Robert Litt, general counsel for intelligence agencies, is scheduled to testify to lawmakers in closed session this week to discuss legislative proposals.
Rep. Mike Rogers, a Michigan Republican who leads the House intelligence committee, predicted Congress will agree to some changes this year. House and Senate intelligence panels have been exchanging proposals, said Rogers, declining to discuss details.
In light of Snowden’s disclosures to news media outlets, Clapper has ordered some documents declassified in response to lawsuits from privacy groups including the American Civil Liberties Union and San Francisco-based Electronic Frontier Foundation.
The intelligence apparatus created after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks grew so large that nobody fully understood how it worked, letting the NSA illegally intercept some phone calls and e-mails of innocent Americans, declassified documents show. The NSA violated surveillance rules for almost three years and misled the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court overseeing the programs, the documents said.
The documents were made public after revelations about U.S. phone and Internet surveillance by Snowden, who fled to Russia, where he has temporary asylum.