NSA Official Says It Might Have Been Nice If The Agency Had Handled The Public Disclosure Of The Section 215 Program
from the see-also:-snooze-v.-lose dept
Now that Edward Snowden has done all the leg work, the Intelligence Community is admitting that, yeah, maybe it should have been more upfront about the phone metadata collection. The soon-to-be-former NSA Deputy Director says it might have been better for the agency to be out ahead of the disclosures, rather than forced to play defense.
Richard Ledgett, who is retiring next month, said in an interview with Reuters that disclosing the secret program would have been difficult. But, he said, doing so might have mitigated the damage done by Snowden.
"That's one where I might have to say, yes," Ledgett said in his office at NSA headquarters in Fort Meade, Maryland. "That's one where maybe it would have been less shocking when Snowden did what he did."
Ledgett's not alone in feeling this way. Since the leaking began back in June 2013, several current and former officials have made similar statements. For one thing, controlling the disclosure means controlling the narrative. The IC could have pointed to several things in defense of the bulk domestic collection program, including:
a.) the lawfulness of the collection
b.) the rigorous oversight
c.) the strict compliance with FISA and the FISA court
d.) it's "just metadata"
Doing so might have headed off Snowden and other leakers. Possibly. At the very least, it would have bought the NSA some time and some narrative leeway before documents began being published showing:
a.) the collection's lawfulness was dubious at best
b.) the oversight was a joke
c.) the FISA court routinely discovered abuse by the NSA
d.) metadata exposes quite a bit of a person's life, actually.
Not quite as straightforward were Ledgett's comments on the Section 702 program, which provides backdoor domestic searches for a variety of government agencies, as well as harvests millions of communications from internet backbones. During the run-up to the Section 215 reauthorization two years ago, it sometimes appeared the NSA was willing to make deep compromises on the telephone metadata program in order to spare the internet collection the same sort of Congressional scrutiny.
Since 2011, oversight committee members (well, just a couple of them, actually) have been demanding an estimate of the amount of American communications incidentally-collected by the NSA with this program. Six years later, there have been promises made but none kept. At this point, Ledgett is just another IC official making promises no one seems to have any intent of keeping.
Privacy advocates have repeatedly demanded that the government share an estimate of how many Americans are ensnared by programs authorized under Section 702.
Intelligence officials have declined to do so. But Ledgett, in remarks earlier Tuesday at a forum sponsored by the Aspen Institute, said "yes" when asked if an estimate would be provided before year end.
We'll see. Deadlines have been ignored in the past and Ledgett's on his way out the door, so these are promises he can't be held responsible for not keeping.