Senators demand independent review of surveillance programs exposed by Snowden

A bi-partisan group of senators has sent a letter to the inspector general of the United States intelligence community in hopes of having a federal auditor review the surveillance operations carried out by the government.

The group, led by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick
Leahy (D-Vermont) and including lawmakers on both sides of the
aisle, sent the request to I. Charles McCullough III at the
Office of the Director of National Intelligence on Monday this
week urging for the inspector general to conduct
comprehensive reviews” of the activities conducted under
Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act and Section 702 of the Foreign
Intelligence Surveillance Act.

Earlier this year, former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden
leaked top-secret national security documents to the media
suggesting the federal government has largely misrepresented to
the American public the way it utilizes those provisions to
collect data on US citizens.

Recent disclosures about classified government surveillance
activities have generated significant public discussion about the
breadth of these programs, many of which are conducted pursuant
to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), and the need
for appropriate oversight and checks and balances
,” the
lawmakers wrote.

The group, which also includes Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-New York),
Sheldon Whitehouse (R-Rhode Island), Chris Coons (D-Delaware),
Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut), Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Mike
Lee (R-Utah), Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Jeff Flake (R-Arizona) – is
asking for the inspector general to conduct “comprehensive and
independent reviews
” of how Sections 215 and 702 are
implemented within the intelligence community, and to make a
summary of their findings available to the public. Doing so, the
senators write, “will help promote greater oversight,
transparency, and public accountability
.”

According to the lawmakers, an independent audit is necessary
because the authorities vested to government officials through
Sections 215 and 702 involve components that span the
intelligence community’s numerous offices, including the National
Security Agency, Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of
Investigation, Central Intelligence Agency and the Office of the
Director of National Intelligence.

Past reviews, they wrote, “have been more narrowly
focused
” and concentrated on single agencies. As concerns
about the government’s surveillance operations remain rampant
months after the first Snowden leak, though, the lawmakers are
looking towards locating and learning about any issues concerning
the misuse or abuse of Sections 702 and 215 they haven’t been
identified yet.

In particular, the lawmakers are asking McCullough to examine how
those authorities have been used to collect, retain, analyze and
disseminate information about US persons, review the application
minimization procedures and guidelines already in place and
examine “any improper or illegal use of the authorities or
information collected pursuant to them
,” as well as “the
effectiveness of the authorities as investigative and
intelligence tools
.”

At a Tuesday morning event in Washington, DC’s Georgetown
University Law Center, Sen. Leahy suggested the effectiveness of
these authorities isn’t exactly up to par.

I am convinced that the system set up in the 1970s to
regulate the surveillance capabilities of our intelligence
community is no longer working
,” Leahy said, according to The
Hill’s Brendan Sasso. “We have to recalibrate.”

In my view – and I’ve discussed this with the White House –
the Section 215 bulk collection of Americans’ phone records must
end
,” Leahy added. “The government has not made its case
that this is an effective counterterrorism tool, especially in
light of the intrusion on Americans’ privacy rights
.”

US President Barack Obama said in August that he was tasking an
independent group to step back and review our capabilities –
particularly our surveillance technologies
.” As RT reported earlier this week, though, that
supposedly-independent panel has been staffed almost entirely
with officials who previously held positions in Democratic
administrations, including the Obama White House.

Last week, FISA Court Judge Claire Eagan made public an August 29 ruling in which the
surveillance justices insisted the surveillance powers handed to
the NSA and other intelligence agencies does not violate the
constitutionally protected right against unlawful searches. The
FISA court is expected to soon release unclassified versions of
other opinion pertaining to the surveillance programs detailed in
leaks attributed to Snowden, who has since been granted asylum in
Russia. He is wanted in the US for espionage and other charges
due to the leaks, which have continuously been picked up by the
media since the first disclosures began in early June.

The group of senators led by Leahy has asked McCullough to hand
over the inspector general’s findings by the end of the year.

Copyright: RT