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24 Sep, 2013 19:07

Senators demand independent review of surveillance programs exposed by Snowden

Senators demand independent review of surveillance programs exposed by Snowden

A bi-partisan group of senators has sent a letter to the inspector general of the United States intelligence community in hopes of having a federal auditor review the surveillance operations carried out by the government.

The group, led by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) and including lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, sent the request to I. Charles McCullough III at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence on Monday this week urging for the inspector general to conduct “comprehensive reviews” of the activities conducted under Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act and Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

Earlier this year, former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden leaked top-secret national security documents to the media suggesting the federal government has largely misrepresented to the American public the way it utilizes those provisions to collect data on US citizens.

Recent disclosures about classified government surveillance activities have generated significant public discussion about the breadth of these programs, many of which are conducted pursuant to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), and the need for appropriate oversight and checks and balances,” the lawmakers wrote.

The group, which also includes Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-New York), Sheldon Whitehouse (R-Rhode Island), Chris Coons (D-Delaware), Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut), Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Mike Lee (R-Utah), Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Jeff Flake (R-Arizona) — is asking for the inspector general to conduct “comprehensive and independent reviews” of how Sections 215 and 702 are implemented within the intelligence community, and to make a summary of their findings available to the public. Doing so, the senators write, “will help promote greater oversight, transparency, and public accountability.”

According to the lawmakers, an independent audit is necessary because the authorities vested to government officials through Sections 215 and 702 involve components that span the intelligence community’s numerous offices, including the National Security Agency, Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Central Intelligence Agency and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

Past reviews, they wrote, “have been more narrowly focused” and concentrated on single agencies. As concerns about the government’s surveillance operations remain rampant months after the first Snowden leak, though, the lawmakers are looking towards locating and learning about any issues concerning the misuse or abuse of Sections 702 and 215 they haven’t been identified yet.

In particular, the lawmakers are asking McCullough to examine how those authorities have been used to collect, retain, analyze and disseminate information about US persons, review the application minimization procedures and guidelines already in place and examine “any improper or illegal use of the authorities or information collected pursuant to them,” as well as “the effectiveness of the authorities as investigative and intelligence tools.”

At a Tuesday morning event in Washington, DC’s Georgetown University Law Center, Sen. Leahy suggested the effectiveness of these authorities isn’t exactly up to par.

"I am convinced that the system set up in the 1970s to regulate the surveillance capabilities of our intelligence community is no longer working," Leahy said, according to The Hill’s Brendan Sasso. “We have to recalibrate."

"In my view — and I've discussed this with the White House — the Section 215 bulk collection of Americans’ phone records must end," Leahy added. "The government has not made its case that this is an effective counterterrorism tool, especially in light of the intrusion on Americans’ privacy rights."

US President Barack Obama said in August that he was tasking an “independent group to step back and review our capabilities — particularly our surveillance technologies.” As RT reported earlier this week, though, that supposedly-independent panel has been staffed almost entirely with officials who previously held positions in Democratic administrations, including the Obama White House.

Last week, FISA Court Judge Claire Eagan made public an August 29 ruling in which the surveillance justices insisted the surveillance powers handed to the NSA and other intelligence agencies does not violate the constitutionally protected right against unlawful searches. The FISA court is expected to soon release unclassified versions of other opinion pertaining to the surveillance programs detailed in leaks attributed to Snowden, who has since been granted asylum in Russia. He is wanted in the US for espionage and other charges due to the leaks, which have continuously been picked up by the media since the first disclosures began in early June.

The group of senators led by Leahy has asked McCullough to hand over the inspector general’s findings by the end of the year.