Compliance With Wiretap Law is Transparent, NSA Says

August 29, 2012

With their license to conduct warrantless wiretaps up for renewal, National Security Agency officials maintain that Congress, the courts and executive branch officials have ample visibility into the dragnet’s effect on privacy.

Some lawmakers, however, dispute the contention that the agency is open about U.S. surveillance.

Amendments enacted in 2008 to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act allow NSA to monitor communications involving U.S. residents without a court order only if the primary targets of intelligence collection are individuals abroad. Those mandates expire in December.

NSA Compliance Director John DeLong said, since creating his position in 2009, he has been training analysts, modifying technology and following external recommendations to obey the rules.

“We are not a free agent that’s just out there, waking up and deciding what to do every day,” DeLong told Nextgov during an interview. “We are really heavily regulated both by requirements that come in -- a majority of them externally -- and then also very specific authorizations.”

One of the biggest misperceptions, he said, is that the compliance office sets the monitoring policies. That is not so.

“There is a tremendous amount of external oversight,” Delong said. In the executive branch that includes the Department of Justice and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence; in Congress, it includes the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and other Senate committees; and in the judicial branch, it includes the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, he said.

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