Officials defend expiring surveillance law

Officials defend expiring surveillance law
© Victoria Sarno Jordan

Top intelligence officials on Friday advocated for a controversial surveillance program's renewal, saying that it provides crucial intelligence on foreign efforts to interfere in democratic elections.

Speaking at the Heritage Foundation, National Security Agency Director Mike Rogers said that the spy powers helped deliver the U.S. intelligence community’s assessment that Russia sought to interfere in the 2016 presidential election. 

Rogers and other high-level officials were stumping for a clean reauthorization of what is known as Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, a law that allows for broad intelligence collection on foreign targets that is set to soon expire. There is currently an effort underway in Congress to reform the law, which has drawn ire from civil liberty advocates because Americans’ communications are incidentally swept up in the collection process.

ADVERTISEMENT

Rogers advocated for the program on Friday, saying that it has provided “significant insights” with respect to cybersecurity — particularly with regards to the intelligence on Russia’s hacking of the Democratic National Committee.

“We would not be able to generate some of the insights we have been able to do in support of the U.S. intelligence community assessment from 2016 with regards to the Russian activity,” Rogers explained, echoing similar comments he made in May.

“We would, without this authority, not have the same level of insight with respect to cyber actions around the world both directed against our neighbors as well as directed against the U.S. structure,” Rogers continued.

Later, FBI Director Christopher Wray added to those observations, saying broadly that the authorities allow the U.S. intelligence community to track foreign interference efforts in other countries and glean insight from them. 

Wray was selected by President Trump to helm the FBI earlier this year after he abruptly fired James Comey. As such, Wray was not at the bureau at the time the intelligence community made the conclusions about Russian interference in the election.

“Lots of people are quite rightly focused on efforts by nation states to meddle with our election systems. Well, nation states are doing the same thing with other countries’ election systems,” Wray said. “The FBI doesn’t investigate interference with the German election system, but if there’s information that we’re obtaining about what’s happening there, that tells us a lot about tradecraft, methodology, and so forth.”

Section 702 is set to expire at the end of this year. A bipartisan group of House Judiciary Committee lawmakers has drafted a measure to reform the program, but it has already begun to garner opposition in Congress.