Sen. Mike Johanns still has questions after being able to discuss the government’s electronic surveillance program with the head of the National Security Agency during a Senate hearing.
Johanns got the opportunity to question National Security Agency chief General Keith Alexander during a hearing of the Senate Appropriations Committee (see previous story). Johanns asked Alexander a number of questions, exceeding his five minute period by a minute or two.
“I can’t say that I was especially gratified by the answers I got,” Johanns replies when asked about the exchange.
Johanns says he would like more information on the reach of the program which collects data on cell phone calls, web surfing and email correspondence to thwart terrorist attacks.
“I want to continue to pursue this. I want a better understanding of what capabilities they have and I want to understand what they believe the bright lines are.”
But, does the program have bright lines between the legitimate investigation of suspected terrorist activity and the invasion of the American public’s privacy?
“I don’t know,” Johanns says. “I must admit, I honestly don’t know. I sure as heck hope there are bright lines.”
The NSA insists the program has stopped dozens of potential terrorist attacks. Officials add that the disclosure of the program by 29-year-old NSA contractor Edward Snowden has compromised national security.
The NSA program relies on a section of the Patriot Act that allows law enforcement to collect “business records,” which includes telephone records. The program also gathers “metadata,” such as calls made and taken, use of the Internet and emails sent and received without necessarily listening in on the call or reading the emails. NSA officials say the metadata allows intelligence analysts to decipher patterns. The program casts a wide net, giving the NSA nearly unlimited authority to gather such data.
AUDIO: Brent Martin reports [:50]