Corker ‘shocked’ that NSA collecting ‘little data’

Greg Nash

Sen. Bob Corker suggested Wednesday that a controversial National Security Agency (NSA) surveillance program should be broadened, saying he was “shocked” by the limited amount of data being collected.

“I think there was an ‘aha’ moment yesterday for people on both sides of the aisle when they realized how little data is being collected,” the Tennessee Republican said at a Christian Science Monitor breakfast with reporters. “I think it’s shocking to know this.”

Senators huddled with administration officials, including FBI Director James Comey, late Tuesday afternoon as part of a classified briefing. Corker, who said he couldn’t discuss the details of the meeting or what he believes are the gaps in the current program, suggested it was a “potential game changer.”

Senators are currently split on how to renew expiring sections of the Patriot Act, including the controversial Section 215. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) wants to pass a “clean” extension, which would preserve the NSA’s phone record collection program as is.

But there’s bipartisan support for the USA Freedom Act, which would end the bulk collection of phone metadata, which includes information about calls in the U.S. but not the conversation. The bill would require the NSA to obtain the data from private companies instead.

Corker, who opposes the USA Freedom Act, told reporters that the program “needs to be ramped up hugely,” not ended.

“The way it’s being implemented today, I don’t see how it’s much useful at all to the American people, and I’m shocked again by the small amount of data,” he said. “The program is not the program I thought it was, not even close.”

He added that “it’s almost malpractice. Malpractice is the best word I can use to describe the amount of data that is actually being collected in the metadata program. …It’s beyond belief how little data is a part of the program and type of data especially if the goal is to deal with terrorists.”

The House is poised to take up the USA Freedom Act on Wednesday, but it’s unclear what the Senate will do. Corker told reporters that after the meeting with administration officials, it is “slightly more likely” senators will try to pass a short-term extension of the program.

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, quickly fired back at the suggestion that the NSA should increase the amount of data it is collecting as part of the program.

“The overriding challenge for the intelligence community in a world awash in electronic data, is not the amount of collection, it’s about acquiring only the data you need and being able to make sense of it,” he said in a statement. “We don’t need to just collect ever increasing amounts of data, we need to be smart and judicious.”

He added that the Freedom Act “will provide the necessary tools to keep us safe, and it will ensure strong privacy protections.”

–This report was updated at 1:06 p.m.

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