Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Pat Leahy (D-Vt.) on Monday implied the National Security Agency (NSA) can't be trusted to keep Americans' data safe, as the NSA's justification for the program is not holding up to scrutiny.
Leahy stressed that he does not condone the way information about the NSA's broad domestic spying program was leaked by contractor Edward Snowden. But he said a recent report in the New York Times indicates that Snowden accomplished this leak — which awakened the world to the scope of the NSA's activities, using inexpensive software.
"When I hear their leadership ask us to trust they will keep our information safe, and that we should have faith in its internal policies and procedures, you have ask, is this accurate?" he said on the Senate floor.
Leahy also said the NSA has been caught stretching the truth about how effective its collection of bulk phone data has been in scouring for information about possible terrorist threats.
"This is the same NSA that first told us its Section 215 program was essential to national security," he said. "In speeches around the country, they said it thwarted dozens of plots. I think the number was somewhere in the 50s.
"But then, when they're asked questions in a congressional hearing specifically about it, that number went from in the 50s down to possibly one."
Leahy also argued that while the NSA says collection of bulk phone data is critical, recent reports indicate that the NSA is only collecting about a quarter of the data available to it. That, he said, means the NSA is running a very expensive and controversial program, but is not capturing even a majority of the data out there.
"So it appears to this senator that the intelligence community's defends unprecedented, massive, indiscriminate bulk collection by arguing it needs the entire haystack in order for it to have an effective terrorism tool," he said. "And now the American public finds, they really only have 20 to 30 percent of that so-called haystack."
Leahy has introduced legislation to scale back the scope of the NSA's domestic spying program, and has said he will continue to work on it in the Senate. He said his committee will meet this week to hear from the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, a group that has said the NSA spying program should be scrapped.
"If the NSA is to regain the trust of the American people, it's got to spend less time collecting data on innocent Americans, and more time keeping our nation safe," Leahy said today.