Of­fi­cials are mum on whether Gra­ham ‘un­masked’ in probe

FISA surveil­lance of for­eign calls raising pri­vacy con­cerns

The Washington Times Daily - - POLITICS - BY ALEX SWOYER

Top na­tional se­cu­rity of­fi­cials re­fused to say Tues­day whether they col­lected and then “un­masked” the com­mu­ni­ca­tions of a prom­i­nent GOP se­na­tor and 2016 pres­i­den­tial can­di­date last year — throw­ing a new wrin­kle in the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s push to re­new far-rang­ing spy pow­ers.

Sen. Lind­sey Gra­ham, South Carolina Repub­li­can, said he’s re­ceived in­for­ma­tion that leads him to be­lieve the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion picked up one of his con­ver­sa­tions with a for­eign leader, and his iden­tity was later re­vealed within in­tel­li­gence cir­cles, a process dubbed un­mask­ing.

“Do I have the le­gal right as a United States se­na­tor to find out if my gov­ern­ment is mon­i­tor­ing a con­ver­sa­tion be­tween me and the for­eign leader?” Mr. Gra­ham asked Tues­day at a Se­nate Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee hear­ing. “Should I be wor­ried about that con­ver­sa­tion fall­ing into the hands of po­lit­i­cal peo­ple?”

He said he’s been try­ing to get an an­swer for roughly a month.

Bradley Brooker, the act­ing gen­eral coun­sel for the Di­rec­tor of Na­tional In­tel­li­gence, replied that he’s work­ing on Mr. Gra­ham’s ques­tions but still couldn’t an­swer them.

“Am I ever go­ing to get to know the basic facts?” Mr. Gra­ham de­manded. “I just want to know what con­se­quence as a se­na­tor blows my way.”

His ques­tions come as Congress is de­bat­ing how to han­dle Sec­tion 702 of the For­eign In­tel­li­gence Surveil­lance Act, which lets fed­eral in­tel­li­gence agen­cies mon­i­tor com­mu­ni­ca­tions for ter­ror­ism in­ves­ti­ga­tions as long as the tar­get is a for­eigner lo­cated out­side the U.S.

When that for­eigner is com­mu­ni­cat­ing with some­one in the U.S., those com­mu­ni­ca­tions can be in­ci­den­tally mon­i­tored — raising crit­i­cal pri­vacy and civil lib­er­ties ques­tions.

Amer­i­cans’ iden­tity is gen­er­ally not sup­posed to be at­tached to their com­mu­ni­ca­tions, but of­fi­cials can re­quest it — the un­mask­ing process — if they be­lieve it’s rel­e­vant to gain­ing an un­der­stand­ing of the in­for­ma­tion.

President Trump has in­di­cated he be­lieves his com­mu­ni­ca­tions may have been scooped up last year, and his for­mer top se­cu­rity ad­viser, Michael Flynn, did have his com­mu­ni­ca­tions with a top Rus­sian of­fi­cial mon­i­tored, ac­cord­ing to news re­ports.

Mr. Flynn’s iden­tity was un­masked, and mem­bers of Congress have said they are prob­ing that de­ci­sion.

Sec­tion 702 is slated to ex­pire at the end of this year un­less Congress reau­tho­rizes it, and its ef­fect on Amer­i­cans has be­come a flash point.

A crit­i­cal piece of in­for­ma­tion mem­bers of Congress have de­manded to know is how many Amer­i­cans have had their com­mu­ni­ca­tions in­ci­den­tally col­lected. Di­rec­tor of Na­tional In­tel­li­gence Dan Coates has told them it is likely im­pos­si­ble to say, and even the ef­fort to try to fig­ure out a num­ber would dis­tract from im­por­tant anti-ter­ror­ism work.

Dur­ing Tues­day’s Ju­di­ciary hear­ing, sen­a­tors also pointed to harsh crit­i­cism from a fed­eral judge who over­sees FISA op­er­a­tions, and who in an opin­ion ear­lier this year sug­gested a lack of can­dor at the Na­tional Se­cu­rity Agency.

“On Oc­to­ber 24, 2016, the gov­ern­ment orally ap­prised the Court of sig­nif­i­cant non-com­pli­ance with the NSA’s min­i­miza­tion pro­ce­dures in­volv­ing queries of data ac­quired un­der Sec­tion 702 us­ing U.S. per­son iden­ti­fiers,” Judge Rose­mary M. Col­lyer wrote. “The full scope of non­com­pli­ant query­ing prac­tices had not been pre­vi­ously dis­closed to the Court.”

“That’s kind of tough lan­guage from the FISA court,” said Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, Ver­mont Democrat. “You can see the kind of con­cern on this panel.”

In­tel­li­gence of­fi­cials counter that they self-re­ported their con­cerns about how they were col­lect­ing in­for­ma­tion and cor­rected the prob­lem them­selves, with the co­op­er­a­tion of the court.

Stu­art Evans, deputy as­sis­tant attorney gen­eral for in­tel­li­gence at the Jus­tice De­part­ment, said the agency never has had an in­ten­tional vi­o­la­tion of Sec­tion 702’s rules.

“We all agree that there needs to be a bal­ance to strike be­tween pro­tect­ing the civil lib­er­ties of Amer­i­cans and pro­tect­ing the Amer­i­can public from at­tacks as well,” said Carl Ghat­tas, ex­ec­u­tive as­sis­tant di­rec­tor at the FBI. “We have all stated very em­phat­i­cally the value of this sec­tion in terms of help­ing us pro­tect the Amer­i­can public from at­tacks. It is an ab­so­lute crit­i­cal tool for us.”

Key Se­nate Repub­li­cans have in­tro­duced a full per­ma­nent ex­ten­sion of Sec­tion 702.

Sen. Dianne Fe­in­stein of Cal­i­for­nia, the com­mit­tee’s ranking Democrat, said she sup­ports an ex­ten­sion, but said it must have a sun­set, which she says is the only way for Congress to do over­sight.

“A sun­set al­lows us to re­view and re­vise such as may be nec­es­sary due to tech­nol­ogy changes, as well as other changes that hap­pen at such a rapid pace,” said Ms. Fe­in­stein.

Mr. Brooker coun­tered that Congress has abil­ity to over­see with or with­out the sun­set pro­vi­sion — but ac­knowl­edged the ad­min­is­tra­tion would rather have an ex­ten­sion with a sun­set than no ex­ten­sion at all.


Sen. Lind­sey Gra­ham be­lieves a con­ver­sa­tion he had with a for­eigner was in­ter­cepted and some­one wanted his name un­masked. Of­fi­cials won’t con­firm he was re­vealed.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.