NSA of­fi­cial: No lack of over­sight

The Washington Times Daily - - Politics - BY GUY TAY­LOR

NEW YORK | The top deputy at the Na­tional Se­cu­rity Agency de­fended the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s spy­ing ac­tiv­i­ties Tues­day, as­sert­ing that, de­spite dam­ag­ing leaks and me­dia at­ten­tion in re­cent months, the agency’s se­cre­tive op­er­a­tions ex­ist only un­der close scru­tiny from of­fi­cials across the gov­ern­ment.

“There’s no lack, there’s no dearth of insight into what the NSA does on a reg­u­lar ba­sis,” NSA Deputy Di­rec­tor John C. Inglis told an au­di­ence dur­ing a rare pub­lic ap­pear­ance at New York Univer­sity’s law school.

Mr. Inglis said he hoped to gen­er­ate a deeper con­ver­sa­tion than the “bat­tle of sound bites” that have rocked the world’s me­dia since the sum­mer when Ed­ward Snow­den — the for­mer NSA con­trac­tor now liv­ing in Rus­sia — be­gan leak­ing in­ter­nal in­for­ma­tion about the far-reach­ing scope of the agency’s tele­phone and com­puter data col­lec­tion ac­tiv­i­ties in the United States and around the world.

The Snow­den leaks ex­posed to the pub­lic how the NSA gath­ers and archives ba­sic data from bil­lions of phone calls com­ing into and out of the United States so that it may be quickly search­able in the event of ter­ror­ism-re­lated in­ves­ti­ga­tions. The rev­e­la­tions have sparked strong crit­i­cism on Capi­tol Hill and out­rage in for­eign cap­i­tals rang­ing from Ber­lin to Brasilia.

Mr. Inglis, a top NSA of­fi­cial since the late-1990s, said Tues­day that the agency is ac­tu­ally far more con­cerned with civil lib­er­ties than has been sug­gested by crit­ics.

An­a­lysts work­ing in­side the NSA “care as pas­sion­ately about civil lib­er­ties [and] na­tional se­cu­rity both, as any of you might,” he said. “We agree with our harsh­est crit­ics. We should not choose be­tween those two. We must af­fect both and we need to be held ac­count­able for them.”

He added that an­a­lysts work­ing in­side the agency be­lieve deeply that their work is vi­tal to U.S. na­tional se­cu­rity.

“If I worry about any­thing in the midst of this di­a­logue, it’s that we’re caus­ing them to re­con­sider whether that work is re­spected,” Mr. Inglis said. “They don’t want to be re­warded for that or re­mu­ner­ated in that with re­spect to money. But they do want to know that at the end of the day that work does make a dif­fer­ence in a way that’s ap­pre­ci­ated by the na­tion.”

Ea­ger to counter neg­a­tive at­ten­tion on the NSA dur­ing re­cent months, Mr. Inglis con­tended that the agency’s spy­ing ac­tiv­i­ties are con­sid­er­ably more well-known to of­fi­cials within the U.S. gov­ern­ment than has been re­ported.

He de­scribed the agency as hav­ing lit­tle le­gal wig­gle room to con­duct com­plex, le­git­i­mate and se­cre­tive spy­ing ac­tiv­i­ties on a rapidly evolv­ing tech­no­log­i­cal land­scape around the world — ac­tiv­i­ties that he said are vi­tal to pro­tect­ing the United States and its in­ter­ests from the threat of ter­ror­ism.

There are “up­wards of 300 peo­ple” in­side the NSA fo­cused ex­clu­sively and “on a full-time ba­sis” on as­sur­ing that the agency’s op­er­a­tions do not breach U.S. laws, Mr. Inglis said.

“But NSA is not the fox watch­ing its own hen house,” he said, adding that in ad­di­tion to its own in­ter­nal over­sight pro­gram, the agency is sub­ject to “very in­tru­sive insight” from the Jus­tice Depart­ment.

“I think that’s ap­pro­pri­ate,” he said, adding that the NSA op­er­a­tions are also well-known to of­fi­cials con­duct­ing over­sight from De­fense Depart­ment, the of­fice of the di­rec­tor of na­tional in­tel­li­gence and, “of course you’ve got the courts that might over­see some of our au­thor­i­ties, the con­gres­sional in­tel­li­gence com­mit­tees, and var­i­ous then ex­tra-con­sti­tu­tional bod­ies like the Pri­vacy and Civil Lib­er­ties Over­sight Board.”

“Add to that the Fourth Es­tate, which again we wel­come, that in­tru­sive look at what we do,” Mr. Inglis said.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

NSA Deputy Di­rec­tor John C. Inglis says he hopes to gen­er­ate a deeper con­ver­sa­tion than the “bat­tle of sound bites” about the agency’s spy­ing.

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