Morning Read: Leahy Questions Spy Chiefs on Surveillance Programs | Off Message

Morning Read: Leahy Questions Spy Chiefs on Surveillance Programs



Sen. Patrick Leahy got all up in the National Security Agency's grill Wednesday, questioning whether its controversial collection of domestic phone data directly led to the apprehension of terrorists.

At a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing he called to discuss surveillance programs disclosed by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, Leahy "accused Obama administration officials of overstating the success" of the phone data program, according to the New York Times.

Times reporters Charlie Savage and David Sanger write :

[Leahy] said he had been shown a classified list of “terrorist events” detected through surveillance, and it did not show that “dozens or even several terrorist plots” had been thwarted by the domestic program.

“If this program is not effective it has to end. So far, I’m not convinced by what I’ve seen,” Mr. Leahy said, citing the “massive privacy implications” of keeping records of every American’s domestic calls.

While questioning NSA deputy director John Inglis, Leahy "pressed for hard numbers" of terrorist plots impeded by the phone data collection program, reports Politico's Josh Gerstein:

“That’s a very difficult question to answer in that that’s not necessarily how these programs work,” Inglis said. He said one case in which the program had been critical — a case that would most likely not have been made “but for” the call-tracking database — was the successful prosecution of several men in San Diego for support of the Al-Shabaab jihadist group in Somalia.

Leahy suggested officials had muddled the numbers by combining those involving call-tracking with another program that allows U.S. officials to intercept Internet traffic linked to foreigners.

“Safe to say there are not 54 ‘but fors’?” Leahy asked, referring to reported successes of the call-tracking program.

“It is safe to say that,” Inglis said.

The Judiciary Committee chairman also got hectic on the NSA for allowing Snowden to reveal the agency's secrets in the first place, according to ABC News' Mike Levine:

“How soon will we know who screwed up?” [Leahy] bluntly asked a top NSA official during a committee hearing this morning.

“I think that we’ll know over weeks and months precisely what happened and who should then be held accountable, and we will hold them accountable,” [Inglis] said.

Leahy followed up: “Are you taking any steps now to make sure such a screw-up doesn’t happen again?”

Inglis said the NSA is taking such steps, insisting, “We have instituted a range of mechanisms — not simply one — to ensure that we would understand and immediately be able to catch someone who tried to repeat precisely what Mr. Snowden did.”

But, Inglis added, “We also have to be creative and thoughtful enough to understand that there are many other ways that someone might try to beat the system.”

Leahy is scheduled to speak with Vermont Public Radio's Bob Kinzel Thursday at noon on Vermont Edition to discuss the NSA controversy in greater detail.