Obama administration counts 22 Hill briefings on PRISM program

The White House held 22 Hill briefings over 14 months on the law that national security officials cite in defending a secret surveillance program that collects information from Internet use and telephone calls, according to a senior administration official.

Since October 2011, there have been 22 briefings to lawmakers on Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Act Surveillance Act (FISA) Amendments Act, the official said via an email. That legislation allows the Director of National Intelligence and the Justice Department to collect information on people in the United States who aren't citizens for as long as one year.

ADVERTISEMENT
Discussion over Section 702 has recently come up in response to reports on a counterintelligence program that involves collecting telephone and Internet data. On Friday President Obama said that "every member of Congress has been briefed" on the telephone data collection program.

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper has repeatedly defended the program as "lawful."

"Our ability to discuss these activities is limited by our need to protect intelligence sources and methods," Clapper said in a statement on Saturday. "Disclosing information about the specific methods the government uses to collect communications can obviously give our enemies a “playbook” of how to avoid detection. Nonetheless, Section 702 has proven vital to keeping the nation and our allies safe. It continues to be one of our most important tools for the protection of the nation’s security."

On Monday, White House press secretary Jay Carney refused to provide details on how extensively members of Congress had been briefed on Section 702, saying only that there "has been substantial provision of information to Congress ... either to all members or the appropriate committee members of Congress or leadership."

But a number of lawmakers who have criticized the information gathering program have said that it's had the support of Congress partially because they had not known about the extent of the data collection. On Monday Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) said most members of Congress were not given enough information on the extent of the data collection program.

"Well I think that the times that this program's been reauthorized, much of this operates in levels where there are not that many people —members of Congress who are fully engaged in what's going on," Thune said on MSNBC. "The Intelligence Committees, obviously, are involved and Homeland Security to some degree but most members of Congress are given a piece of legislation to vote on and I don't believe that most members of Congress were fully aware of how broad this was."

Asked for comment about the list, Don Stewart, deputy chief of staff for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said only that McConnell had received "numerous briefings" on aspects of the FISA law.

"We have received numerous briefings on FISA and Patriot Act over the years, these are in addition to the normal oversight of intelligence activities that take place within the Intelligence Committee," Stewart said in an email.

The list of briefings, according to the administration official:

10/19/11:  Meeting with SSCI Staff

1/10/12:  HJC Staff Briefings (majority and minority separately briefed)

1/11/12:  SJC Staff Briefings (majority and minority separately briefed)

3/5/12:  Meeting with Pelosi

3/8/12:  Meeting with Reid Staff

3/15/12:  Law Briefing for SJC staff

3/15/12:  Briefing for Senate Leadership Staff

3/21/12: Meeting with McConnell Staff

3/23/12:  SJC Staff Briefing at NSA

3/27/12:  Meeting with Langevin

3/28/12:  Meeting with Schakowsky

3/29/12:  Thompson Meeting

3/29/12:  Wyden and Udall Meeting

4/10/12:  SJC Staff Briefing (in Virginia)

4/20/12:  SJC Staff Briefing at FBI

5/4/12:  SJC Staff Briefing

5/31/12:  HJC FAA Hearing (unclassified)

6/7/12:   HJC MEMBER Briefing (classified)

6/11/12:  Meeting with Leahy Staff

6/21/12:  HPSCI Hearing (classified)

7/18/12:  Whitehouse/Blumenthal Meeting

12/10/12: Akaka Meeting