Background Briefing On U.S. Signals Intelligence Review



Published on 18 January 2014

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by Office of the Spokesperson

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Washington, D.C.

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THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
January 17, 2014

BACKGROUND CONFERENCE CALL
BY SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIALS
ON THE ADMINISTRATION’S REVIEW OF SIGNALS INTELLIGENCE

Via Telephone

9:27 A.M. EST

MS. HAYDEN: Hi, everyone. Thanks for joining us this morning. Just a few quick notes. Number one, it did not say in the invitation that this call is embargoed, but it in fact is embargoed until the delivery of the President’s speech, so you cannot use this material until then. Second, we have two senior administration officials with us. Their comments need to be attributed on background to senior administration officials.

Again, they’re on background as senior administration officials. And with that, I will turn it over to my colleague.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thanks, everybody, for joining the call. I’ll make a few opening comments, then my colleague will walk you through some of the reforms associated with our efforts here in the United States, then I’ll make some comments on our efforts overseas, and then we’ll take your questions.

First of all, let me just step back and say that today’s speech comes at the conclusion of a process of several different reviews into our use of signals intelligence over the last several months, which we can discuss further. In terms of how the President has viewed these issues, as a senator, of course, the President has in the past been outspoken when he believes that there’s been abuse or overreach in our surveillance programs. At the same time, he’s always recognized the significant utility in our surveillance programs in securing the American people, particularly given the threats that we face from not just terrorists, but also cyber threats, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and other emerging dangers.

At the same time, I think, the President believes strongly that we have a responsibility to carefully review these types of surveillance programs given the potential for overreach. We have not determined that there has been abuse in these programs. In fact, the intelligence community has followed the protocols established by Congress and the courts in terms of how they implement these surveillance programs. But at the same time, the very fact of this type of surveillance, when technology is advancing, does present the risk of potential abuse. And that very much colored how the President looked at this issue.

And I think that this should be underscored, that part of what we’re doing here is responding to significant technological advances that give the United States intelligence capabilities that are growing, in some respects more rapidly than our efforts to apply a framework that ensures that privacy and civil liberties are protected. And I think the President’s bottom line is that just as we must protect our security, it is frankly not worth -- sorry, I should say just as we protect our security, we have to understand that our privacy and civil liberties are a part of our security as Americans given our values and our traditions.

Over the course of the last several months, I think what we did is hear many different voices. We heard from industry. We heard from privacy advocates. We of course heard from the President’s national security team, as well as a number of outside groups, to include the review group that he established in the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board. And finally, of course members of Congress. And while there are many different perspectives, I think what the President will discuss today is there are also areas of overlap that help us find a way forward in dealing with these issues.

From that process, the President has made a series of decisions about reforms that we will pursue. Some of those reforms can be implemented immediately, and we will indicate that in the President’s comments today. Some of them require the government to determine how to implement a change in approach, and therefore will require a period of time for implementation. And I think we’re very clear in the speech what we can do today, what we are directing the government to do going forward, and then what issues are going to merit further discussion and debate.

But the fact of the matter is that there are a number of very significant reforms in the President’s speech today. This is without a doubt the most significant reform in our surveillance programs since President Obama took office. They put us in a new direction that seeks to preserve the capabilities that we need to protect the American people while providing greater assurance that privacy and civil liberty concerns are being taken into account. And this addresses both issues at home and issues around the world.

And with that, I’ll turn it over to my colleague to talk through some of the reforms that we’re undertaking here.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thanks, everyone, for joining the call. I’m going to take this in a few separate pieces here. First, I want to talk about the presidential guidance that the President will issue today. This is guidance that will lay out the principles governing our signals intelligence activities, and it will provide, as I said, principles for the conduct of those activities -- both what the intelligence community does and does not do going forward.

So it will also reference a policy oversight process. The President, in the course of this review that he directed his team to conduct, thought that it was very important to ensure that his senior national security team and all the voices from around the government be represented in that process, and that there be an annual review of our signals intelligence activities and decisions about how we target those capabilities, and that those decisions weigh the costs and benefits associated with our collection activities.

So that is the presidential guidance that will be issued today, and we’ll be making sure that we get that out to you to see it.

As my colleague alluded to, there is also a series of specific reforms that the President will announce today. In the category of additional and more transparency, as you know, the President has spoken to this issue. And early on, right after these unauthorized disclosures, he directed his team to make public, consistent with national security, as much information as possible about the conduct of these programs and the legal rationale for them.

So going forward, he will direct the Attorney General and the Director of National Intelligence to review for declassification purposes, consistent with national security, all future opinions with privacy implications of the FISA Court. That process he will direct today in his speech.

With respect to NSLs, a number of recommendations were made by the review group. He will indicate that he understands those concerns that have been raised and speak to the broad range of questions and concerns that have been raised with the use of that tool. And he will state quite specifically that the secrecy associated with NSLs and their use today is something he is asking the Attorney General to reform so that national security letters will not remain secret indefinitely and that, in fact, the government will need to make and establish the need for that secrecy going forward when they’re used in investigations.

And then, lastly, in the category of transparency, for the first time, the President will announce that providers who receive requests from the government will be able to make more information public than they have ever been permitted to make public before about the data requests that they receive from the government. And he is going to call on Congress to establish a panel of outside advocates to add voices regarding privacy and civil liberties and technological expertise to the FISA Court process.

So this is something that Congress, quite obviously because it implicates another branch of government, they will have to establish this process and give this authority. But he will state that he believes there needs to be additional voices and advocates in the FISA Court process on novel issues of law and on large questions, and that he will want to work with Congress to establish a panel of cleared counsel who can be called upon to provide those other voices in significant and novel cases before the court.

With respect to other authorities that have been the subject of both unauthorized disclosures and of the review group’s recommendations, he will talk about the Section 702 program. This is a very valuable program and he will discuss that this has been very valuable for the intelligence community to keep this country safe and to address the safety of our allies and it, of course, focuses on intelligence collection targeted at non-U.S. persons who are located overseas. Nevertheless, as has been noted and discussed by the review group, it does include the incidental collection of information about U.S. persons and the President will discuss that he recognizes the concerns that that collection can raise.

So he will ask the Attorney General and the DNI to propose reforms to address whether there are greater protections we can place on the U.S. person information that is collected and the access, and use, and retention of that data. He will make clear with respect to 702 and with respect to 215, which I’ll get to in a minute, that there has not been any indications of abuse and that these are useful programs but that he recognizes the concerns that have been raised about the potential for abuse when the government is in the business of collecting these large volumes of information and that he is asking for reforms to be aimed at those concerns.

Finally, with respect to the section 215 program, the President will be quite clear that he believes that this is not a domestic spying program; this is a program that allows information about telephone calls, about the numbers that are called, the duration of those calls, but not the content to be collected.

He will talk about the fact that this has been a useful program, one of many tools that the intelligence community uses to ensure that we can identify links to terrorist actors and terrorist groups, and that he thinks that this is a capability that needs to be preserved. He will also say, however, that he recognizes that there have been legitimate concerns raised about the prospect of abuse when large values of this type of information is collected and held by the government. He will note that the review group, here again, has not identified any indications of abuse of this program.

But nevertheless, the concerns that are inherent and that he thinks are legitimate ones that have been raised about the prospect of future abuse when the government is in possession of this information, he recognizes that those are legitimate concerns and ones that he agrees with. So he will say that the government, he believes, should not be in the business of holding this type of data under this program. And so he is going to order a series of immediate steps to reform the program as it currently exists.

He will also discuss how -- while he has benefited from a lot of input and a lot of voices on this issue, including from his own review group about other proposals such as holding the data at the providers or at a third party, he will discuss how he recognizes that those options also present themselves other complications and other issues, some of them related to privacy concerns that have been legitimately raised. So for that reason, he is going to order the Attorney General and the NSA and the rest of the intelligence community to come back to him within 60 days with ideas for alternative approaches. He believes there’s ways that we can preserve and replicate the capabilities that the Section 215 program has provided without the government holding the data and while addressing the legitimate privacy concerns that people have raised about this program.

He will also order two other additional, immediate steps during this 60-day period. One is that the government will no longer be able to access the records going out beyond two hops -- in other words, two persons removed from the query that the government makes. And most specifically and I think importantly in this regard, he will ask the Attorney General to work with the FISA Court to ensure that no query can be made going forward without judicial review in advance of that query. So that is two specific steps that he will be ordering immediately in addition to asking his national security team and his intelligence community leaders to come back to him with potential alternative approaches to preserve these capabilities while addressing the concerns about holding this information by the government.

So that’s a laydown of the very specific reforms that the President will speak to later this morning.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I’ll go through some of the international concerns and then we’ll move to your questions. Clearly, internationally, there’s been a lot of attention on the disclosures of the last several months. The President’s view as a general matter is that U.S. intelligence collection overseas is both necessary for our own national security and also for the security of our partners, and the information we share has helped protect many of our friends and allies around the world.

At the same time, the President believes strongly that our intelligence programs and our leadership can only be sustained if we have the trust and confidence of both leaders and people around the world. And so he wanted to take a number of concrete steps, both with respect to transparency and with respect to our activities, that can begin to build trust in our efforts overseas.

And I’ll just highlight a number of those and then we’ll move to your questions. First of all, the presidential directive that he’s issuing today will clearly prescribe what the United States does and does not do when it comes to our overseas surveillance. And so this is both a new step to take in terms of being transparent about the purposes of our intelligence collection, and also the review itself I think has helped to hone in on what exactly it is the United States does and does not do abroad.

First of all, to begin with, the directive makes clear that the United States does not use signals intelligence for the purpose of indiscriminately reviewing the e-mails or phone calls of ordinary people who pose no threat to our national security. Furthermore, the United States does not collect intelligence to suppress criticism or dissent, nor do we collect intelligence to disadvantage people on the basis of ethnicity, race, gender, sexual orientation, or religious beliefs.

Furthermore, he will make clear that we do not collect intelligence to provide a competitive advantage to U.S. companies or commercial sectors. So these are spelled out in a directive so people can see going forward what it is that the United States does not do in terms of its signals intelligence collection abroad.

He will also indicate in the presidential directive what we do use data for to meet our security requirements, and we’re very clear in enumerating the categories that we use -- that we pursue signals intelligence for. And those are counterintelligence, counterterrorism, counterproliferation, cybersecurity, force protection for our troops and our allies, and combating transnational crime to include sanctions evasion. And so those are the categories that are spelled out as areas for U.S. signals collection abroad.

He has also taken an unprecedented step of extending certain protections for foreign nationals that we have for the American people. So for instance, as you’ve heard us detail over the course of the last several months, with respect to these bulk collection signals collection programs, U.S. persons have certain protections as it relates to their information. And the President is directing the DNI and the Attorney General to develop safeguards that apply some of those protections for foreign persons. And those protections will include the duration that we can hold personal information for people overseas -- for non-U.S. persons overseas, for instance -- and also restrictions on the use of this information, again, to bring our practices, with respect to non-U.S. persons overseas, in line with the protections that we have for U.S. persons.

And so both with respect to making clear what we don’t do, making sure what we do -- in terms of our signals collection and in terms of extending protections for non-U.S. persons, we are taking significant steps to assure people overseas that our intelligence activities are targeted on threats to our national security rather than ordinary people.

Furthermore, there has been much attention on the issue of heads of state and government and our intelligence collection overseas, our surveillance activities. And we have already undertaken a careful review of the different heads of state and government that may be subject to this surveillance. And the President will make clear today that absent a compelling national security purpose, we will not monitor the communications of heads of state in government of our close friends and allies overseas. And we can discuss this as well.

The bottom line is the President believes that those leaders should know that when he wants to know what they think, he is not going to turn to surveillance of their personal communications. Rather, he is going to pick up the phone himself and call them.

A few organization reforms to close on. First of all, the State Department will now have to appoint a senior officer to coordinate our diplomacy on issues related to technology and signals intelligence. Here at the White House, we will appoint a senior official to implement privacy safeguards that the President is announcing today. The President will also devote resources to centralize and improve the process that we use to handle foreign requests for legal assistance, keeping our high standards for privacy even as we help foreign partners fight crime and terrorism.

And he is also going to ask John Podesta to lead a review of big data and privacy more broadly, and this will be an effort that includes the President’s Council of Advisors in Science and Technology brings together industry privacy experts to look at the challenges inherent in big data that are in both the public and private sectors, and whether we can forge international norms in how to manage this data while promoting the free flow of information in ways that is consistent with our privacy and security.

So those are the steps that we’re pursuing overseas -- some of the steps we’re pursuing overseas. And with that, I’ll turn it back to Caitlin and then we’ll take your questions.

MS. HAYDEN: Thanks. For anyone who joined kind of midway here, I just wanted to remind folks that this call is embargoed until delivery of the speech. As soon as we can, we’ll get out the text of the President’s speech as well as some factsheets and the presidential guidance that our senior officials mentioned. So as soon as we can get those out, we will. But again, this is embargoed. And operator, we’re happy to go ahead and start questions.

QUESTION: Thanks for doing the call. One question on the 215 reforms. I’m assuming that this applies just to the NSA bulk collection. I’m just wondering whether or not there are any reforms that apply more broadly to other 215 programs -- sort of, what about those?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes, we are speaking specifically to the Section 215 program that deals with bulk telephony metadata, so that’s the specific program that of course has been of greatest interest since these disclosures back in June.

And again, just to recap briefly, what the President has decided is that the government should not hold this bulk telephony metadata given the potential risks to personal privacy. Therefore, in the immediate steps that we're taking, we're shortening the hops to two hops from a potential terrorist target. But importantly, the President is directing the Attorney General to work with the FISA Court to ensure that we get judicial review before we can query the database during this period of time when we're making a determination about how we can transition to a program in which the government does not hold this data.

I'd just note that essentially there are several ways of doing this. There is the issue of providers holding this data, which of course would require additional work to ensure that there's appropriate privacy safeguards as well as the ability for us to meet our national security requirements. There's been a recommendation of a third party that doesn’t currently exist, so by definition that would take further time and study to determine how we could establish that capacity. And then there's the question of what the intelligence community can do with their other existing programs to ensure that we have the capability to map terrorist connections without the government holding this data.

I'd note that this takes place in a window of time where we're going to have to be seeking reauthorization anyway in late March. So there's a natural window for us to begin to make these determinations as it relates to who holds the telephone metadata.

The bottom line here is that we are ending the program as it currently exists because the government will no longer hold this telephone metadata. And to give people assurance that we are moving immediately in the spirit of that recommendation, we are no longer querying that metadata absent judicial review. I’d also note we'll be working with Congress on this given the interest in congressional committees, and so they will be a part of our efforts to reform this program.

Q: Thanks, right. I'm wondering what you're going to do about the other 215 programs.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The President's speech is talking specifically about his signals intelligence reforms and the 215 bulk telephony metadata. So we're not addressing any other potential programs with regard to 215.

Q: Okay. You had just talked about reviews of big data and privacy more broadly. I didn’t know if that’s like another step that you guys are planning to take, or whether or not you think that the rest of the -- any other 215 programs are handled fine so you don’t need to look at those.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I'll be quite candid about this. The fact of the matter is that the programs that drew the most attention -- I think appropriately -- after the disclosures were the telephone metadata program and 702, in the incidental collection on Americans, where we're going to take steps to address the concerns that have been raised.

Interestingly, the more you look at these issues, the more you realize how crosscutting are -- about logical advancement and privacy, which relates both to government but also, more broadly, across our society. That’s the purpose of the effort that John Podesta will lead. That goes beyond just signals intelligence, but at the question of big data, more broadly. But with respect to our programs and 215, it's the telephone metadata one.

Q: Thank you. Can I try to drill down a little bit more on that? When you said just now, bottom line, we're ending the program as it currently exists, the government will no longer hold the metadata absent, and we'll stop clearing absent judicial review -- does that mean that as of this speech these data will not be held, period? And the second question was, you talked on the international front about not listening in on communications of "close friends and allies," and I'm wondering how you define close friends and allies. That seems to be, with all due respect, a big loophole.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: With respect to your second question, we frankly can't be in the business of going individual by individual to determine every foreign leader that we may or may not be collecting intelligence on.

What I can tell you, though, is that having looked at this issue, and having reviewed our signals intelligence, we have made determinations to not pursue surveillance on dozens of heads of state in government. So this is not just the case where Angela Merkel is not being subject to surveillance; this is something that applies -- again, we’ve determined that we will not pursue this type of surveillance on the order of dozens of leaders. So that gives you a sense of the scale without being able to go one by one.

On 215, the objective set by the President is to have a new approach in which the government will not hold this metadata, will not hold the database of telephone metadata. That, practically speaking, cannot be implemented at the flip of a switch because we have to study whether there are ways that the providers can hold the data, that they are both comfortable with but have sufficient privacy safeguards. We have to determine what a potential third party would be because that structure doesn't exist. And we have to look at alternatively perhaps we could reach a determination that current, other existing intelligence community capabilities allow us to essentially replicate the core capability, which is mapping extremist connections without having the government -- but I’m getting to your question here --

Q: Pending finding the alternatives, it stays the same?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It doesn't stay the same because of the --

Q: But there will be queries?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes. So the status quo ante from the previous reauthorization in January is that the government holds the database. So that will be the steady state while we undergo this transition, but precisely because the President wanted to indicate the change in the way we’re doing business, we have determined that we will not query that database without prior judicial review, which is the immediate change -- so that people know that even during this period of transition, we’re applying a different standard and different set of safeguards.

So while the government has the database, in the past we could query it without prior judicial review, now what we’re saying is for each query we will seek judicial review before we undertake that query. And the objective is to determine in the next 60 days prior to the reauthorization, what the approach is that will allow us to have the government not hold this metadata.

Q: Thanks for clarifying.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Great, thanks. Next question.

Q: Hi, everyone. Thanks for doing the call. Could you explain how the prior judicial review is going to work, the idea of a judicial finding? Does this have to come from the FISA Court or could it come from the DOJ?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thanks, Margaret. This would be done with the FISA Court. The Attorney General will direct -- I’m sorry, the President will direct the Attorney General to go to seek the FISA authority to modify the existing program so that FISA Court approval would be needed, as my colleague mentioned, before querying. So as it exists today, it is an entirely executive branch and NSA determination about whether or not reasonable, articulable suspicion is present in a certain phone number in order to query the database. Today, that is an entirely executive branch and NSA determination. There are safeguards and oversight of that determination, but nevertheless it is one that is conducted within NSA as the program currently exists.

What the President is doing is changing the program as it exists today, ending that practice, and saying that those determinations will have to be approved by the FISA Court.

Q: Is it just possible that the existing program could be reauthorized instead? And can you clarify on the independent advocate, is that really what that is? Or is it not really an independent advocate that you’re creating, but sort of something -- an in-between step?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: On the FISA Court advocate point, the President, as he said back in August, believes very strongly that there ought to be additional voices and outside advocate voices on significant issues that come before the FISA Court. So he is going to work with Congress and direct his team to work with Congress, who would have to authorize this and create this structure, to establish a panel of advocates that can appear before and who receive clearances from the government so that they can appear before the FISA Court to offer additional advocacy and outside perspectives on significant issues

Q: But only in certain cases, right?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Margaret, to be clear, that’s their purpose, right? So by definition, it’s independent because the purpose of this panel would be to represent the concerns associated with privacy, civil liberties and technology. And so, by definition, these are not existing aspects of the court. This is a new panel that will be created for that purpose.

What was your other follow-up? I forgot.

Q: It was just to say, so it only applies to novel or significant cases; it’s an independent advocate, but they only kind of have access when someone -- the court or the government decides they should have access?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No. So what this is, Margaret, is that the court handles kind of individual criminal-type cases. So if there are individuals that we are seeking an authority to pursue a lead on, the court handles that. Then there’s a second category of issues where the court is rendering a judgment that affects a broader privacy equity, whether it’s related to bulk data or whether it’s related to a new type of case or a new type of government effort to pursue a lead that raises a privacy issue. And so those are the instances in which you’d have this independent panel raising --

Q: Got it, got it. And you’d asked me about what my follow-up question was, and it was to follow up on Andrew’s question: Can’t Congress just reauthorize 215? I mean, even if the President is saying he thinks it should end, can’t it just be reauthorized? Is that an option?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, obviously Congress can be heard on this issue, and we’re going to work with them. There’s obviously the regular reauthorization role that they play. That’s why we’re already saying we’re taking this step of taking this out of the executive branch, both as it relates to our ability to query without judicial review, but then as it relates to who holds the metadata. And it’s our expectation that we can work with Congress to have a common view of how to achieve that goal.

There are different views in Congress on this issue, just as there are different views in Congress on the FISA issue in terms of who holds the data. Some would give it to the providers; some would create a third party. And so that’s part of the reason why we need a window of time to determine what the end state of this transition is.

The principle the President is laying down and what he is saying he will do is not have the government hold the metadata. With respect to whether it’s to providers or a third party, or we simply draw on existing intelligence community capabilities to map terrorist communications and networks, that’s a determination we’ll make. And we’ll aim to make it before the next reauthorization. So that provides the natural hook for the time window that we’re trying to get this done.

Q: Thank you.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Next question.

Q: Thanks. Just kind of sort of anticipating one of the likely criticisms of this approach -- might be that by asking the NSA and the Attorney General to come up with recommendations about how the programs can change, the government is effectively acting as a watchdog of its own operations. Could you sort of answer that? And on the foreign leaders question, does this mean that the signals intelligence will not target people around foreign leaders, or simply the head of state or the leaders themselves?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: On your second question, to be very clear, Steve, we focused on heads of state and government. Frankly, that was the issue that had emerged. We do believe that’s a unique category. So the changes that have been made and the decisions that have been made will relate specifically to heads of state and government.

I will say that we have also initiated bilateral conversations with other governments about how more broadly we can build better cooperation, coordination in terms of our intelligence activities. And so with respect to other countries, we’re pursuing on a bilateral basis. For instance, with the French, we’ve been in very active conversations with them on this -- how we can improve coordination and cooperation and address a broader category of issues.

On your first point, I think people need to understand that a lot of this is simply the President makes decisions, and they have to be implemented by the intelligence community and the Attorney General. So in 215, we have a decision from the President. Now it’s a matter of determining implementation on the part of the Attorney General and the intelligence community. The same thing applies to a number of the other reforms that he’s announcing today.

But I’d be very clear that Congress has a role to play here, so Congress has to, for instance, reform the FISA Court to create this panel of outside experts. Congress can be a part of the authorization of a new approach to 215 telephone metadata collection that takes this out of the government, so there’s a natural congressional oversight.

On national security letters, for instance, you’ll also hear the President indicate that while we’re undertaking two important reforms, both in terms of not having the indefinite nondisclosure apply and also in terms of allowing providers to make information public about their national security letters, he’ll also indicate that there are people in Congress who want to pursue more aggressive and substantial reforms. And the President is open to working with Congress to look more comprehensively at the issue of national security letters.

So this is an area where we believe there’s obviously judicial review, there’s congressional oversight, and there may be congressional action associated with a number of more substantial reforms.

Q: Actually, I think you just answered my question on NSLs. The President is not going to explicitly call for judicial review?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, he is not. The President will acknowledge that that has been an issue that has been raised, and that it presents -- while it is a concern and an issue that has been raised, it also presents a concern about raising -- I should say making it more difficult and subjecting to a different standard an investigation related to terrorism versus an investigation related to, for instance, bank fraud or a traditional criminal investigation.

But as my colleague said, the President will speak to some specific reforms with regard to transparency around the use of NSLs, and acknowledge that there are other suggestions and concerns out there that he’s willing to work with Congress on.

Q: Can you hear me?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes.

Q: Oh, I’m glad you’re here because I’m just trying to understand this as a practical matter for an analyst. What’s different starting this morning than was true last night? If I’m an analyst at the NSA -- ridiculous metaphor I assure you -- but what can't I do, or what steps do I have to go through now either on the hops or on review to query data that has sparked my interest in an ongoing and legally authorized surveillance case?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think the most tangible thing there, Major, is with respect to the 215 program as the President will say, that he is going to ask the Attorney General to go to the FISA Court, who would have to implement this, to modify the program as it exists today so that that analyst cannot conduct that query without the prior approval of the FISA Court.

So that is a new reform. Again, it will have to be authorized by the FISA Court. But that is a very specific and tangible change to the program as it exists today.

Q: So no longer the umbrella approval counts; it has to have a specific, oriented FISA approval to re-query that data, is that correct?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I'm not sure if I'm understanding your question. There no longer is NSA approval of the determination to query the database. That is no longer an issue that is dealt with solely within NSA. They have to bring that to the FISA Court.

Q: And do you have any concerns about how long that will take?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, I think, Major, the NSA and the Department of Justice have proven that they can address exigent issues. And I think this is something that the Department of Justice and NSA will work with the FISA Court on and ensure that emergencies and exigencies can be handled as they are in the FISA process generally.

Q: Thank you.

MS. HAYDEN: Great. I think that’s all we have time for. Thanks, everyone, for joining us. Obviously, this call is embargoed. These were senior administration officials. We'll get out more information, including the speech text as soon as we can, to the extent you have follow-ups. I think folks know how to reach us.

Thanks a lot.

END 10:10 A.M. EST




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Posted 2014-01-18 14:31:00