01.06.16

House Committee to Consider Safeguards for Handling Communications Intercepted by NSA (Wall Street Journal)

WASHINGTON—The U.S. House Intelligence Committee will consider whether new safeguards are needed for handling communications intercepted by the National Security Agency that involve U.S. lawmakers or other Americans, the top Democrat on the panel said on Wednesday.

The move follows a report in The Wall Street Journal about how the NSA targeted Israeli communications during the 2015 congressional debate over a nuclear accord with Iran. The Journal said the NSA targeted the communications of Israeli Prime MinisterBenjamin Netanyahu and other senior Israeli officials, and, in so doing, swept up the contents of some of their private conversations with lawmakers and Jewish-American groups.

At the request of the committee’s chairman, Rep. Devin Nunes (R., Calif.), members of the panel on Wednesday received a classified briefing from intelligence agencies about how they handled intercepted Israeli communications “to, from or about” lawmakers, officials said.

 

Current and former U.S. officials declined to say whether the communications in question were between Israeli officials and U.S. lawmakers directly, or whether they were Israeli officials discussing their contacts with members of Congress after the fact, or both.

In a written statement issued after the closed-door briefing, Rep. Adam Schiff of California, the ranking Democrat on the committee, said: “There is no evidence that the intelligence community was spying on members, or that the laws and procedures governing any incidental collection on members of Congress were violated in any way.”

Nevertheless, Mr. Schiff said the House Intelligence Committee would “explore whether any additional safeguards are necessary when it comes to incidental collection—not only for members of Congress... but for all Americans.”

A spokesman for Mr. Schiff declined to comment on what types of additional safeguards might be considered by the intelligence committee.

Mr. Nunes declined to comment on Wednesday’s briefing.

 

A spokesman for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which oversees U.S. spy agencies, also declined to comment, saying the contents of the briefing were classified.

 

Under Cold War-era procedures for handling intercepted communications involving Americans, the NSA and other agencies are required to mask the identities of U.S. citizens and legal residents, including government officials and lawmakers, in their intelligence reports through a process called “minimization.”

 

Senior officials in the executive branch can ask the NSA to “unmask” the identities of the Americans involved. The more senior the official making the request, the more likely intelligence officials would provide the information, current and former officials said.

 

Special safeguards for lawmakers require the intelligence agencies to notify the congressional intelligence committees whenever the identities of members of Congress are revealed to executive branch officials.

 

Current and former officials said the NSA followed the minimization procedures during the 2015 congressional debate over the Iran deal by obscuring the identities of lawmakers and other Americans in the agency’s intelligence reports.

 

House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R., Utah) has also asked the NSA for information regarding the intercepted communications.


Source: Wall Street Journal