Exclusive: Rep. Adam Schiff on NSA

January 21, 2014

In a wide ranging and exclusive interview on the NSA and the efforts to rein in the worst of the alleged abuses of the intelligence community, West Hollywood’s Congressman Adam Schiff gave an insider’s account of what how intelligence flows between intelligence sources and our congressman, but also a broad look at the new direction public opinion and legislative pressure have pushed the metadata collection program.

Rep. Schiff has been deeply involved in the intelligence programs involving metadata collection of Internet and telephone activity, serving as a senior member of the US House of Representatives Intelligence Committee and ranking member of the Subcommittee on Technical and Tactical Intelligence;  when the Snowden affair revealed the size and secrecy of the programs, he dove in, writing or co-sponsoring several pieces of legislation to address the issues.

A few gems emerged from the 20 minute long conversation, which is available here in audio form, not the least of which is a description of which members of Congress see what intelligence when and how – is the nation really kept in the dark?

Rep. Schiff attending WeHo’s LA Gay Pride even before representing the district.

The potential for abuse of privacy drives him to increase oversight, especially in light of a Senator Bernie Sanders’s reminding us of a recent story that involved a Southern Californian congress woman whose phone was tapped by the NSA without FISA approval in 2005 or 2006.

No one to this day knows if Rep. Jane Harman, called the “most crucial defender of the Bush warrantless eavesdropping program, using her status as ‘the ranking Democratic on the House intelligence committee’ to repeatedly praise the NSA program as “essential to U.S. national security” and ‘both necessary and legal,’” was blackmailed by the Bush administration for an allegedly corrupt agreement she made on that phone call with an alleged Israeli spy.

Rep. Schiff responds to the potential for abuse around the 15 minute mark.

He also joined the growing band of congressional leaders who fear that Edward Snowden might have been Russian intelligence coup (See the video below), while confirming that the damage done to our foreign troops’ placement, readiness and possible plans by Mr. Snowden’s data dump, saying, “it is every bit as bad as related by Chair Mike Rogers and Ranking Member Ruppersberger.”

At the same time on MSNBC, he applauded the President’s proposals overall to rein in the intelligence gathering, in particular the “law enforcement approach” to gathering evidence.

“I also was pleased to hear the President’s support for an adversary before the FISA Court so that there is a party charged with advocating on behalf of privacy and civil liberties of Americans. However, the devil will be in the details.

“I was particularly pleased to hear the President’s support for moving call record data outside of the NSA and requiring a court order to search it. The telephony metadata program is not without value, but the program can be restructured so that the government no longer collects the calling records of Americans in bulk. Doing so will achieve the same goals of protecting the nation from terrorism, but also be more respectful of privacy and with a minimal loss in efficiency.”

The congressman has been ahead of the curve: in 2013 he introduced legislation, the “Telephone Metadata Reform Act,” which would restructure the  telephone metadata program by specifically removing call records from the types of information the Government can obtain, then introduced the “Ending Secret Law Act” which would require the Attorney General to declassify significant Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) opinions and then legislation to require that the 11 judges on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) be nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate. Finally, he introduced legislation to require the Privacy and Civil Liberties Board to create a pool of attorneys with experience in Fourth Amendment or national security law to argue the side of the public when the government requests a surveillance warrant in the FISA Court.

Click this image for the audio interview with WeHo News…

Watching the activities of the NSA closely, Congressman Schiff had several criticisms to share, about the political wisdom of allowing the NSA to operate with such a free hand, about his fellow congress members’ level of curiosity and preparation (look at the 13 minute mark for an example of his keen wit) and how NSA assumptions about how well its representatives “read between the lines” of their reports fail to serve the country.

Finally, at the interview’s end, Congressman Schiff admitted that surveillance of the American people may have gone too far, but at least it’s not as bad as elsewhere and our system of check and balances, in this case at least, seems to be working as Congress, courts and the President work together.

In this MSNBC interview on Monday, Rep. Schiff says a third party should not hold the data; it should be left in the phone companies’ hands, and that there are questions about why Edward Snowden took not only files pertaining to privacy abuses but also information that threatens our national security and military.