NSA official: ‘Much easier’ to explain operations after Snowden

The official in charge of making sure the National Security Agency is complying with the law says it’s been “much easier” to talk about his agency ever since Edward Snowden revealed details of its operations.

“It’s actually much easier today,” compliance director John DeLong said at a conference on government information technology sponsored by FedScoop on Thursday.

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He said he "started doing interviews in 2012,” and at that time he would have to respond to questions with, “Well, that’s classified.”

But after Snowden’s leaks last year — which DeLong called more of a “flood” than a series of leaks — there has been “a shift in resources” to be more transparent about the way the NSA operates.

“You would have those discussions [about explaining the NSA’s operations] in the past, but that’s much more becoming part of the culture, part of trying to minimize surprise,” he said.

Part of the change has been due to Vice Adm. Mike Rogers, the new director of the NSA who has pledged to improve the agency’s relations with the public since Snowden’s leaks prompted a global backlash.

Agency officials have maintained that all of the NSA's operations fully comply with the law and that steps are taken to protect people’s privacy and civil liberties. Still, President Obama has directed the agency to make some changes to help reassure the public that the spy agency is not out of control. 

Earlier this year, Obama directed the NSA to get court approval before it searched a database of Americans’ phone records and limited those searches to people two “hops” away from a suspect.

DeLong said on Thursday that the changes were put into effect the same day that the president announced them.

“It helped to have a compliance program — a compliance workforce — that was already in place,” he said. That way, the agency was not operating “from a cold start.”

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