Republican Senator Says NSA Surveillance Programs Should Be ‘More Transparent’


Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA)

Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA)

The top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee on Sunday called for more transparency of the National Security Agency’s surveillance programs in the wake of a new report supporting NSA leaker Edward Snowden’s claim that even low-level analysts have the power to monitor emails and phone calls without a court order.

Snowden said in an interview released in June that he “had the authorities to wiretap anyone, from you or your accountant, to a federal judge or even the President, if I had a personal e-mail.” While top U.S. officials disputed that charge, Glenn Greenwald, who was among several journalists to first report on Snowden’s revelations, said on ABC’s This Week on Sunday that he will be coming out with a report in the coming days backing up Snowden’s claim. The NSA, he said, has “trillions” of emails and phone calls collected “over the last several years,” and even low level analysts can search a database and listen to those calls or read the emails. “It’s all done with no need to go to a court, with no need to even get supervisor approval,” Greenwald said.

Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA), vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, later in the program disputed Greenwald’s report. “What I have a been assured of is that there is no capability at NSA for anyone without a court order to listen to any telephone conversation or to monitor any email,” he said. But Chambliss, who is supportive of the NSA’s surveillance programs, joined Sen. Dick Durbin’s (D-IL) call for more oversight and transparency:

DURBIN: The sentiment is growing for oversight. … I really believe that we should limit this metadata collection. The notion that we’re going to collect all of the phone records of everyone living in an area code on an off chance that someone in that area code may be a suspect at a later time goes way too far. And there should be another step here, these FISA courts, there should be a real court proceeding. In this case it’s fixed in a way, it’s loaded. There’s only one case coming before the FISA court, the government’s case. Let’s have an advocate for someone standing up for civil liberties. […]

CHAMBLISS: I agree with Dick that the right kind of oversight is absolutely necessary. … I do think that we’re going to have to make some changes to make things more transparent whether we should go as far as what Dick just alluded to I’m not sure. …

A former federal judge presiding over the secret court authorizing NSA surveillance agrees with Durbin, saying earlier this month that “a judge has to hear both sides of a case before deciding.”

“What Fisa does is not adjudication, but approval,” said James Robertson, who retired from the District of Columbia circuit in 2010. “This works just fine when it deals with individual applications for warrants, but the 2008 amendment has turned the Fisa court into administrative agency making rules for others to follow.”

Other supporters of the NSA’s surveillance have also called for more transparency. “I think we ought to be doing a bit more to explain what it is we’re doing, why, and the very tight safeguards under which we’re operating,” said former CIA and NSA director Michael Hayden last month.