The name of Tuesday’s hearing of the House Select Committee on Intelligence sounded more like the subtitle to a Stanley Kubrick film: “How Disclosed NSA Programs Protect Americans, and Why Disclosure Aids Our Adversaries.”
Chairman Mike Rogers’ (R-MI) clear goal was to give the members of the intelligence committee a chance to trumpet the value of the National Security Agency’s secret surveillance program and chastise Edward Snowden, the former defense contractor who fled to Hong Kong with the intent of leaking secret documents.
“In recent years, these programs, together with other intelligence, have protected the U.S and our allies from terrorist threats across the globe to include helping prevent potential terrorist events over 50 times since 9/11,” said NSA director General Keith Alexander. He named specific attacks that had been prevented by tracking telephone communication and Internet metadata, including one against the New York Stock Exchange.
Snowden has asserted that as a low-level analyst he had unfettered access to Americans’ private communication through connections with top technology companies established by the so-called PRISM program.
“If I target for example an email address, for example under FAA 702, and that email address sent something to you, Joe America, the analyst gets it,” Snowden wrote. “All of it. IPs, raw data, content, headers, attachments, everything. And it gets saved for a very long time – and can be extended further with waivers rather than warrants.”
He’s referring to Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which according to the government “targeted acquisition of foreign intelligence information concerning foreign targets located outside the United States under court oversight.” Snowden argues that where such actual oversight exists, it can be easily gamed.
Alexander flatly denied that such access exists.
Deputy Attorney General James Cole added that there is a second document that goes along with the court order leaked by Snowden that gives the NSA access to the metadata of all Verizon phones. This document clearly outlines how data may be used, Cole said, adding that American citizens and residents are not subject to such orders.
“So if you have a U.S. permanent resident who’s in Madrid, we can’t target them under 702,” Cole said. “If you have a non-U.S. person who’s in Cleveland, Ohio we cannot target them under 702.”
Snowden said Monday that he objected to this distinction, even though it complies with American law. “Suspicionless [sic] surveillance does not become okay simply because it’s only victimizing 95% of the world instead of 100%,” he wrote.
Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) took on Snowden directly, echoing Dick Cheney by calling him a “traitor.”
“It seems to me that the problem here,” Bachmann said, “is of an individual who worked within the system, who broke laws, and who chose to declassify highly sensitive, classified information.”
Chairman Rogers echoed Bachmann. “It is at times like these where our enemies within become almost as damaging as our enemies on the outside,” he said.