California Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein has come to the defense of the National Security Agency, even while some Democrats continue attacking its surveillance programs in the wake of Edward Snowden's leaks.
"The NSA's call-records program — which collects phone numbers and the duration and times of calls, but not the content of any conversations, names or location — is necessary and must be preserved if we are to prevent terrorist attacks," she writes in The Wall Street Journal.
The ability of the 16 U.S. intelligence agencies — including those at the State Department, in the military, and at the FBI — to discover plots, is crucial to guarding the nation's safety, Feinstein says.
"This is why NSA's call-records program is an essential component of U.S. counterterrorism efforts."
NSA Director Keith Alexander told Congress in October that if the call-records program was in place before 9/11, there is a "very high" likelihood that the terrorist attack would have been detected.
"Working in combination, the call-records database and other NSA programs have aided efforts by U.S. intelligence agencies to disrupt terrorism in the U.S. approximately a dozen times in recent years, according to the NSA," Feinstein writes.
"This summer, the agency disclosed that 54 terrorist events have been interrupted . . . Thirteen events were in the U.S. homeland." That data proves NSA programs are important for fighting terrorism, Feinstein says.
Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula may be the biggest terrorist threat to the United States. Its sophisticated bomb-maker Ibrahim al-Asiri currently roams freely.
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said, regarding an al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula threat this summer, that there were phone numbers or emails "that emerged from our collection overseas that pointed to the United States."
The NSA was able to use its call-records program to investigate that evidence, and it turned out there was no domestic angle to the plotting, Feinstein says.
"The NSA call-records program is working and contributing to our safety. It is legal and it is subject to strict oversight and thorough judicial review," she writes.
To be sure, the program's transparency and privacy protections must be enhanced, Feinstein says. And the Senate Intelligence Committee will soon
consider a bill along those lines.
"But we must also learn the lesson of 9/11. If we end this vital program, we only make our nation more vulnerable to another devastating terrorist attack," she says.
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