Intel Leaders to Congress: 'Country Will be Less Secure' if FISA Section 702 Not Renewed

From left, FBI Acting Director Andrew McCabe, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, and National Security Agency Director Adm. Mike Rogers testify at the Senate Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington on June 7, 2017. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

WASHINGTON — Intelligence leaders called upon Congress in a joint statement today to reauthorize Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which allows for warrantless collection of electronic communications, as Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) threatened to filibuster any long-term extension of the program.

The controversial provision expires at the end of the year. Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, CIA Director Mike Pompeo, FBI Director Chris Wray, and NSA Director Adm. Mike Rogers warned that reauthorizing 702 before it expires is “vital to keeping the nation safe.”

“Let us be clear: if Congress fails to act, vital intelligence collection on international terrorists and other foreign adversaries will be lost. The country will be less secure,” the intel leaders stated. “There is no substitute for Section 702. If Congress fails to reauthorize this authority, the Intelligence Community will lose valuable foreign intelligence information, and the resulting intelligence gaps will make it easier for terrorists, weapons proliferators, malicious cyber actors, and other foreign adversaries to plan attacks against our citizens and allies without detection. Section 702 has been instrumental in preventing attacks on the homeland and removing terrorists from the battlefield.”

As lawmakers have talked about reforming the provision, the intelligence community leaders stressed that “Congress is not required to make any changes to Section 702.”

“The Intelligence Community conducts and uses 702 collection in a manner that protects the privacy and civil liberties of individuals. Every single court that has reviewed Section 702 and queries of its data has found it to be constitutional,” they added. “The Intelligence Community’s use of Section 702, which permits targeted surveillance only of foreign persons located outside the United States, is subject to extensive oversight and incorporates substantial protections to protect the privacy and civil liberties of individuals. In short, we believe Congress got it right in 2008 when it passed Section 702 and in 2012 when Congress reauthorized it.”

Still, they added, the intelligence community would be “open to reasonable reforms” if they don’t “impede the operational efficacy of this vital authority.”

They explained that current Section 702 certifications do not expire until April 2018, but if not reauthorized by the Dec. 31 deadline intelligence agencies would have to begin winding down the program after the first of the year.

“Short-term extensions are not the long-term answer either, as they fail to provide certainty, and will create needless and wasteful operational complications,” the agency leaders said. “We urge Congress, therefore, to act quickly to reauthorize Section 702 in a manner that preserves the effectiveness of this critical national security law before it expires.”

Paul, at a press conference calling for FISA reform earlier this week with Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Mike Lee (R-Utah), Pat Leahy (D-Vt.), and Steve Daines (R-Mont.), called for “a full-throated debate on reforming, controlling, and overseeing this enormous power we allow our intelligence community to have.”

A reauthorization bill moving through the House was slammed by Wyden as “an eleventh-hour attempt to sneak an unchecked warrantless surveillance program through Congress.”

“The legislation posted late yesterday is a clear step backward for Americans’ rights. It does nothing to check the warrantless backdoor searches of Americans’ communications,” Wyden said in a statement Wednesday. “The bill also fails to codify the current prohibition on ‘abouts’ collection, in which communications entirely among innocent Americans can be swept up if they reference a target’s email address.”