President Obama today announced his approach to reforming some government surveillance practices, and at least for right now, the US intelligence and defense communities are supportive of those ideas. Both Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper have issued statements vouching for the changes outlined in Obama's speech. "These programs must always balance the need to defend our national security with the responsibility to preserve America's individual liberties, and the President's decisions and recommendations will do that," said Hagel in a statement.
Clapper, who himself has often come under fire throughout the NSA controversy, offered even stronger praise. "The President took a measured and thoughtful approach to the initiatives he announced today," he said. "His reforms are focused on striking the right balance between making sure we have the tools necessary to conduct intelligence, and ensuring that we are being as transparent as possible and abiding by protocols that protect the civil liberties and privacy of all Americans."
Senator Dianne Feinstein and Representative Mike Rogers, who lead the Senate Intelligence Committee and House Intelligence Committee respectively, also seemed happy with Obama's speech. According to a joint statement, they "look forward to working with the president to increase confidence in these programs." Not everyone was impressed with Obama's remarks. Senator Rand Paul said the new strategy basically amounts to "the same unconstitutional program with a new configuration." Statements from Hagel, Clapper, and Feinstein / Rogers follow below. You can read our scorecard of Obama's plans for a better sense of the impact they'll have.
Statement by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel:
I fully support the reforms to signals intelligence programs that President Obama outlined today - not only as Secretary of Defense, but as former co-chair of the President's Intelligence Advisory Board and a former member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. These programs must always balance the need to defend our national security with the responsibility to preserve America's individual liberties, and the President's decisions and recommendations will do that. They will help restore the confidence of the American people and our allies and partners. They will preserve important capabilities that keep us safe. And they will help the men and women of America's military continue to accomplish their missions all over the world.
Statement by Director of National Intelligence James Clapper:
Today, President Obama announced new guidelines for Intelligence Community foreign intelligence surveillance programs. His decisions were guided by recommendations from the Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies, the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board and in close consultation with Congress and Intelligence Community leaders.
The President took a measured and thoughtful approach to the initiatives he announced today. His reforms are focused on striking the right balance between making sure we have the tools necessary to conduct intelligence, and ensuring that we are being as transparent as possible and abiding by protocols that protect the civil liberties and privacy of all Americans. He reminded us that as technology advances, we continue to face new and evolving threats to our national security and must adjust our policies and practices to ensure that our intelligence activities are both necessary and appropriate.
In the coming weeks, we will work with our oversight committees to implement the President’s reforms while we continue to focus on the intelligence challenges facing the United States and our allies.As intelligence professionals, we have historically preferred to avoid the spotlight, but we know that for the foreseeable future, the public will remain focused on what we do and how we do it. To build on and maintain the trust of the American people and our international partners, we must embrace the President’s call for transparency.
As the President said, the men and women of the Intelligence Community perform extraordinarily difficult jobs, in which success is rarely celebrated but is vital to our national security. We conduct the lawful foreign intelligence activities that have been instrumental in preventing a multitude of attacks and saved scores of innocent lives – not just here in the United States, but around the globe.
I am extremely proud of how our workforce, especially the National Security Agency, has persevered, and I have assured the President that as we embrace the reforms announced today, we will continue – as we always have – to do our part to keep the nation safe.
Statement by Senator Dianne Feinstein and Representative Mike Rogers:
Today President Obama gave a strong speech in defense of the need to collect and use intelligence in order to protect the nation and to prevent terrorist attacks around the world. We strongly agree with his comments in support and praise of the professionals in our intelligence community who do this work while upholding the civil liberties and privacy rights of all Americans.
We are also pleased the president underscored the importance of using telephone metadata to rapidly identify possible terrorist plots, a gap that existed on September 11, 2001, and which has been closed through the NSA’s collection of telephone metadata under Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act. As the president said, this is a capability that is ‘critical’ and must be ‘preserved.’
We have carefully reviewed this program and have found it to be legal and effective. And for seven months, both the House and Senate intelligence committees have developed legislation to provide additional safeguards on the program, while keeping the data where it is most secure and effective.
The president announced his intent to seek approvals from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court prior to querying the Section 215 database. If instituted, that approval process must be made faster in the future than it was in the past—when it took up to nine days to gain Court approval for a single search. We encourage the White House to send legislation with the president’s proposed changes to Congress so they can be fully debated.
President Obama said today that U.S. intelligence programs have ‘made us more secure’ and that nothing indicates that our intelligence community ‘has sought to violate the law or is cavalier about the civil liberties of their fellow citizens.’ We agree and look forward to working with the president to increase confidence in these programs.