WASHINGTON — National Security Agency Director Gen. Keith Alexander told the Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday that the NSA is not using its vast databases to create profiles of Americans’ locations, friends and other personal information.
A weekend New York Times article reporting that the NSA is “exploiting its huge collection of data to create sophisticated graphs of some Americans’ social connections” is inaccurate, Alexander said.
It was revealed in June that the NSA has been collecting the telephone metadata of millions of Americans as well as online information on Americans abroad. The article said the NSA was using social network analysis to track patterns.
“Is NSA compiling profiles of the American people for the use of intelligence authorities?” Committee Chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., asked.
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper responded that this was the case only in the context of “plots foiled.” Alexander also noted that the article should have specified that the analysis was only used to target foreigners, not Americans.
“We aren’t creating social networks on our families,” Alexander said, calling the metadata system the “least intrusive.”
Leahy argued otherwise.
“I would say that it’s the most intrusive,” Leahy said. “Americans elect their security but they elect their privacy, too.”
Leahy has introduced legislation to eliminate Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which authorizes NSA’s access to metadata. Leahy said the provision has led to an “unprecedented scale” of collection that violates Americans’ privacy.
“In my view, it’s time for a change,” Leahy said. “Additional transparency and oversight are important parts of that change, but I believe we must do more.”
In his written statement, Leahy said that the NSA violated a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court order by regularly searching the database of phone records without meeting court standards.
“Just because something is technically possible and just because something is deemed technically legal does not mean that it is the right thing to do,” Leahy said.
Same story, different day
Both Clapper and Alexander had similar messages when they testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee last Thursday.
“As Americans we face an unending array of threats,” Clapper said. “We focus on the secret plans of terrorists. What we don’t do is spy unlawfully.
Clapper said the NSA will continue to declassify more information, which he believes is the only way to reassure the public about the metadata collection system.
“I was totally wrong”
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., reflected back to 9/11 when she said she attended a meeting where she was informed by former Director of Intelligence George Tenet that there was a major possibility of a terrorist incident within the next three months.
“I never believed there could be training schools for pilots who would teach pilots to fly and not to land in this country. But I was totally wrong,” Feinstein said. “That can never be allowed to happen in the U.S. again.”
She said the intelligence programs still too often operate hierarchically rather than collaboratively, which makes it unable to collect enough data to be able to target the whereabouts and timing of a potential terrorist attack.
“Our great strength in protecting this homeland is to have the kind of technology able to piece together data while protecting rights,” Feinstein said.
Feinstein proposed many measures of increased transparency for the program during a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing last week, but said this week that she will “do everything (she) can do to prevent this program from being canceled out.”