'There will be changes' to NSA intelligence ops, says Rep. Schakowsky

 

House intelligence committee member Rep Jan Schakowsky(D-Ill.) vowed large-scale changes to National Securty Agency's operations, which could curtail or completely rollback elements of the agency's intelligence capabilities. 

"There will be changes," Schakowsky sternly warned Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and NSA Director Gen. Keith Alexander during the House intelligence panel's hearing on Tuesday. 

The changes Congress may make to NSA operationscome in the wake recently-publicized details that the NSA was collecting intelligence against key European allies, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

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Tuesday is the first time both top U.S. intelligence officials have appeared publicly since news of the NSA's European operations was exposed.

During the hearing, Schakowsky laid into the intelligence chiefs over the agency's European operations and lawmakers' lack of knowledge of those operations. 

"Why did we not know?" the Illinois Democrat pressed Alexander.  

"We are the intelligence committee and we did not know," she added. 

Schakowsky's outrage echoed that of Senate intelligence committee chief Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who is calling for a "total review" of all U.S. intelligence operations. 

“The problem is the Congress has no knowledge, the intelligence committees have no knowledge,” Feinstein added. 

Her committee is marking up legislation in closed session on the NSA Tuesday.

But recent reports  in The Wall Street Journal claimed that European intelligence agencies were the ones responsible for the surveillance operation that ensnared Merkel and other European leaders.

The only role NSA had in the operation is that the agency was granted access to the intelligence gathered during those missions, the Journal reported on Tuesday.

That said, "more needs to be done," on intelligence reform to improve transparency and access to details of the NSA's operations, House intelligence panel ranking member Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.) told Clapper and Alexander during the House hearing.

But House intelligence committee members Reps. Peter King (R-N.Y.) and Jim Langevin (R-R.I.) warned that congressional overreaction on intelligence oversight would pose a risk to national security priorities. 

Lawmakers need to ask themselves what kind of national security tradeoffs they would be willing to make, in order to address the controversies facing the NSA and intelligence community, Langevin said. 

To that end, Alexander said his agency and the rest of the intelligence community "will follow faithfully the laws [Congress] set up" regarding changes to NSA operations. 

But there would clearly be a risk to intelligence priorities, if agency operations are curtailed or shut down outright due to "a perception" of civil liberties violations," Alexander added. 

"In my opinion, it will create a [intelligence] gap," he added. 

Clapper took that risk a step further, saying any decision to ramp down operations at NSA or elsewhere is akin to the loss of capabilities due to budget cuts under sequestration. 

That said, "we are going to get this right," Clapper told the House panel.