Tags: Comey | Surveillance

Comey Says Surveillance Requirements Are Tough, And That's Good

Image: Comey Says Surveillance Requirements Are Tough, And That's Good
James Comey (AP)

Thursday, 23 Mar 2017 03:00 PM

As claims and counterclaims about surveillance of President Donald Trump's associates swirl in Washington, FBI Director James Comey struck a defensive tone Thursday about the power and constraints the bureau confronts when it comes to conducting electronic monitoring.

"It is a pain in the neck to get permission to conduct electronic surveillance in the United States," Comey said during a counterterrorism conference in Austin, Texas. "And that's good."

Comey's comments come days after his congressional testimony, in which he said there was no evidence to support Trump's claims that the Obama administration “wiretapped” Trump Tower in New York last year while confirming that Trump associates have been under investigation since July for possible ties to Russia.

They also arrived amid new claims by House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes that the communications of multiple people affiliated with Trump's team were intercepted during legal foreign surveillance of foreign targets.

Nunes, who briefed Trump on his findings Wednesday before sharing the evidence with anyone on the Intelligence Committee, hasn't said how the communications were intercepted or identified what agency conducted the surveillance. Nunes has since apologized to the panel's Democrats for how he disclosed the information, two committee aides said.

Comey declined to comment on Nunes's claims after his speech.

MLK Letter

During his appearance, Comey stressed the constraints and oversight the Federal Bureau of Investigation faces when it comes to surveillance, as well as his awareness of the power his agents have.

"I care deeply about constraint and oversight," Comey said. He said he keeps at his desk the October 1963 application that FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover submitted to Attorney General Robert Kennedy to "bug and wiretap" Martin Luther King Jr. The application, which was approved, didn't have time or geographic limitations, Comey said.

Comey said he has the document at a spot where every morning he puts a stack of applications to a special court to conduct electronic surveillance under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which Congress passed in the aftermath of Hoover's spying on King.

"The thickness of those FISA applications represents in living color what that constraint looks like," Comey said. "We need to be constrained. We have awesome power to do good in the FBI, but if we fall in love with our own virtue, we can go sideways."

Islamic State

Separately, Comey said during his speech that the FBI is still investigating about 1,000 cases of potential terrorists inside the U.S. inspired by Islamic State. Coming a day after a terrorist in London killed three people, Comey said "the thing that keeps me up at night" is worrying about where someone in the U.S. might seek to carry out an attack.

U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May said that British security services once investigated the terrorist behind Wednesday's attack, though she added that he was no longer “part of the current intelligence picture.”

"What makes this so hard for us is how do we see them and how do we assess them in a good way," Comey said. "It's very difficult for us to answer the question: What does the person who you are most worried about look like?”

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As claims and counterclaims about surveillance of President Donald Trump's associates swirl in Washington, FBI Director James Comey struck a defensive tone Thursday about the power and constraints the bureau confronts when it comes to conducting electronic monitoring....
Comey, Surveillance
523
2017-00-23
Thursday, 23 Mar 2017 03:00 PM
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