The administration came under fire from Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., for releasing the documents just before the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, but no panel member brought up the violations.
The Office of the Director of National Intelligence “has known for weeks that this hearing is coming, and yet, ODNI released this material just a few minutes before the hearing began,” Franken told Robert Litt, the ODNI general counsel. “It’s a step forward, but . . . when it’s ad-hoc transparency, that doesn’t engender trust.”
Franken touted legislation he is proposing to require the government to disclose the number of Americans from whom it is collecting metadata. The panel chairman, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., is sponsoring a bill that would restrict the NSA’s ability to collect metadata and increase judicial oversight.
Feinstein warned against legislating sweeping restrictions.
“I think we need to prevent an attack wherever we can,” she said. “That doesn’t mean we can’t make some changes, (but) we would put this nation in jeopardy if we eliminate these programs.”
Deputy Attorney General James Cole, NSA Deputy Director John Inglis and Litt defended the programs’ constitutionality by citing the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court oversight.
But former FISA Court Judge James Carr, who also testified, said the court’s oversight is not as balanced as officials make it out to be. He suggested that a public interest representative be added to the court when it is considering government requests for new surveillance programs.
“There were a couple of occasions . . . (when) it would have been useful to have someone speak in opposition to the request,” Carr said.
Currently, only government lawyers can appear before the court or participate in its appeals process.
Meanwhile, Wyden said in a statement that he and Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., “spent a significant portion of 2011” pressing U.S. intelligence agencies to provide evidence to back up assertions that the bulk email collection program provided the NSA with intelligence it cannot gain by other means.
The program’s closure showed that the administration “repeatedly made inaccurate statements to Congress” about its “value and effectiveness,” he said, adding that he continues “to be skeptical of claims that the ongoing bulk phone records collection program provides . . . any unique value.”