Udall: NSA offering thin excuses

'Lack of understanding' no better than malicious intent, senator says

Intelligence officials offered up a hollow defense when they said that National Security Agency officials said they didn’t completely understand the implications of collecting electronic communications, said Sen Mark Udall, D-Colo.

“If the assertion that ineptitude and not malice was the cause of these ongoing violations is taken at face value, it is perfectly reasonable for Congress and the American people to question whether a program that no one fully understood was an effective defense of American security at all,” Udall and Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said in a statement.

The director of national intelligence last week blamed surveillance overreaches in part on “a lack of a shared understanding among various NSA components about how certain aspects of the complex architecture supporting the program functioned.”

There was “no single cause of the incidents and, in fact, a number of successful oversight, management, and technology processes in place operated as designed and uncovered these matters,” Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said last week.

Clapper released records covering the years from 2006 to 2009.

NSA Director Keith Alexander said also that declassified documents showed the NSA went beyond the authority granted by courts “and some of these inconsistencies were not recognized for more than two and a half years.”

Such admissions raise concerns “about the potential for blind spots in the NSA’s surveillance programs,” Udall and Wyden said. “It also supports our position that bulk collection ought to be ended.”

Udall and Wyden are members of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and have commented jointly in a series of statements since NSA contractor Edward Snowden leaked information about the surveillance program earlier this year.

The NSA operates under the jurisdiction of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, but misrepresentations from the agency “inevitably led to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court being consistently misinformed as it made binding rulings on the meaning of U.S. surveillance law. This underscores our concern that intelligence agencies’ assessments and descriptions about particular collection programs — even significant ones — are not always accurate,” Udall and Wyden said.

“It is up to Congress, the courts and the public to ask the tough questions and require intelligence officials to back their assertions up with actual evidence. It is not enough to simply defer to these officials’ conclusions without challenging them,” the senators said.


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Udall on the campaign trail. Blowing hot air.

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