Valdosta Daily Times

National, International News

September 27, 2013

Official sidesteps queries on cellphone locations

WASHINGTON — The head of the National Security Agency sidestepped questions Thursday from a senator about whether the NSA has ever used Americans cellphone signals to collect information on their whereabouts that would allow tracking of the movements of individual callers.

Asked twice by Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., if NSA had ever collected or made plans to collect such data, NSA chief Gen. Keith Alexander answered both times by reading from a letter provided to senators who had asked the same question last summer. He also cited a classified version of the letter that was sent to senators and said, “What I don’t want to do ... is put out in an unclassified forum anything that’s classified.”

Wyden promised to keep asking.

“I believe this is something the American people have a right to know, whether NSA has ever collected or made plans to collect cell site information,” Wyden said.

The testy exchange at a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing illustrates the wider tension that has grown between the public and the U.S. intelligence community, following disclosures by Edward Snowden, a 29-year-old former systems analyst on contract to the NSA, about the extensive NSA collection of telephone and email records of millions of Americans.

The panel’s bipartisan leadership used the hearing to promote their version of legislation to change the Federal Intelligence Surveillance Act. The lawmakers seek to trim NSA’s authority to access and analyze U.S. phone records and provide new protections to Americans’ privacy. They also want to broaden the government’s spying powers to allow monitoring of terror suspects who travel to the U.S. after being tracked overseas by the NSA.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., chairwoman of the committee, said the legislation would “strictly limit access to the ... phone metadata records, expressly prohibit the collection of the content of phone calls,” and limit the amount of time such U.S. phone call data could be kept.

Such records show the date and length of calls, and the numbers dialed.

But Feinstein’s proposed legislation would not stop the bulk collection of telephone and email records. A separate bipartisan group of four senators, including Wyden, unveiled legislation earlier this week to end those bulk collections.

Feinstein and the committee’s top Republican, Sen. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, defended U.S. intelligence efforts, as did Alexander and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper — insisting that while they collect U.S. bulk records, they do not listen in on individual Americans’ phone calls or read their emails without a court order.

Alexander and Clapper spoke of wanting to cooperate with suggested changes in order to win back the public’s trust.

Clapper told the committee he was willing to consider limiting both how U.S. telephone and email data collected by NSA is used, and the amount of time it is stored. He said he’s also open to other changes, such as appointing an independent official to oppose the government in hearings before the FISA court, the secret federal court that considers all government surveillance requests.

But Alexander’s exchanges with Wyden and Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., showed the tension between the intelligence community and a bipartisan group of lawmakers who think NSA’s powers need to be drastically cut.

“Is it the goal of the NSA to collect the phone records of all Americans?” Udall asked.

“Yes, I believe it is in the nation’s best interest to put all the phone records into a lockbox that we could search when the nation needs to do it. Yes,” Alexander replied.

But Alexander said the cellphone site data — it shows the whereabouts of cellphone callers, and enables an analyst to track where they go — is different.

“The court has said hold off if you want to do cell-site data or plan to do that, you have to come back to the court,” Alexander said. “Did I answer those right?”

Alexander’s reply was an apparent reference to Wyden’s much-publicized exchange with Clapper earlier this year over whether U.S. intelligence agencies had gathered the telephone records of millions of Americans.

Clapper said no, but then had to apologize later when Snowden’s leaks revealed the bulk collection of U.S. telephone records and email data.

1
Text Only
National, International News
  • Stowaway teen forces review of airport security

    A 15-year-old boy found his way onto an airport’s tarmac and climbed into a jetliner’s wheel well, then flew for five freezing hours to Hawaii — a misadventure that forced authorities to take a hard look at the security system that protects the nation’s airline fleet.

    April 22, 2014

  • South Korea Ship Sink_Rich copy.jpg Death count in ferry sinking tops 100

    One by one, coast guard officers carried the newly arrived bodies covered in white sheets from a boat to a tent on the dock of this island, the first step in identifying a sharply rising number of corpses from a South Korean ferry that sank nearly a week ago.

    April 22, 2014 1 Photo

  • AP520422034 copy.jpg Today in History for Tuesday, April 22, 2014

    Today is Tuesday, April 22, the 112th day of 2014. There are 253 days left in the year.

    April 22, 2014 1 Photo

  • Immigration _Rich copy.jpg DHS secretary re-evaluating deportation priorities

    Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said Wednesday he’s re-evaluating the Obama administration’s deportation priorities to make certain they’re focused on national security, public safety and border security, amid growing pressure from the Latino community and President Barack Obama’s fellow Democrats. 

    April 22, 2014 1 Photo

  • Rethinking Pot 420_Rich copy.jpg Public smoke-out marks pot holiday in Colorado

    Tens of thousands of revelers raised joints, pipes and vaporizer devices to the sky Sunday at a central Denver park in a defiant toast to the April 20 pot holiday, a once-underground celebration that stepped into the mainstream in the first state in the nation to legalize recreational marijuana.

    April 21, 2014 1 Photo

  • Submarine Sleep Sched_Rich copy.jpg Navy OKs changes for submariners’ sleep schedules

    With no sunlight to set day apart from night on a submarine, the U.S. Navy for decades has staggered sailors’ working hours on schedules with little resemblance to life above the ocean’s surface.

    April 21, 2014 1 Photo

  • South Korea Ship Sink_Rich copy.jpg Grim work for families as more bodies discovered

    There are no names listed as relatives huddle around signboards to identify bodies from a sunken ferry. Just the slimmest of clues about mostly young lives now lost. Many favored hoodies and track pants. One girl painted her fingernails red and toenails black. Another had braces on her teeth.

    April 21, 2014 1 Photo

  • AP600421099 copy.jpg Today in History for Monday, April 21, 2014

    Today is Monday, April 21, the 111th day of 2014. There are 254 days left in the year.

    April 21, 2014 1 Photo

  • Space Robot_Rich copy.jpg NASA’s Robonaut finally getting legs

    Robonaut, the first out-of-this-world humanoid, is finally getting its space legs.

    April 20, 2014 1 Photo

  • Nepal Everest Avalanc_Rich copy.jpg Another body pulled from snow in avalanche

    Search teams recovered a 13th body Saturday from the snow and ice covering a dangerous climbing pass on Mount Everest, where an avalanche a day earlier swept over a group of Sherpa guides in the deadliest disaster on the world’s highest peak.

    April 20, 2014 1 Photo

Top News
Poll

Given the amount of rain recently, what's your favorite “rain” song?

Singing in the Rain
Purple Rain
Have You Ever Seen the Rain?
November Rain
Rainy Night in Georgia
Other
     View Results