Intel Chiefs Warn 'Country Will Be Less Secure' if Congress Doesn't Reauthorize FISA Program

National Security Agency Director Mike Rogers
National Security Agency Director Mike Rogers / Getty Images
December 21, 2017

Top intelligence and law enforcement officials on Thursday requested that Congress reauthorize Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA, which permits the targeted collection of emails and other communications associated with foreign persons located outside the United States.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions, FBI Director Christopher Wray,  Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, CIA Director Mike Pompeo, and NSA Director Mike Rogers released a join statement expressing the importance of Section 702 to national security.

"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 officials wrote.

"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," the statement continued. "Section 702 has been instrumental in preventing attacks on the homeland and removing terrorists from the battlefield."

The message was released in response to the apparent decision by lawmakers to abandon an effort this week to pass legislation that would reauthorize the NSA's surveillance program for several years.

The disagreement over a longer-term solution comes as a coalition of congressional Republicans, Democrats, and privacy advocacy groups have expressed the need for more privacy safeguards in the program, the Associated Press noted.

The officials argued in their statement that the collection of information under Section 702 is accomplished 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," the officials noted.

"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," they wrote. "In short, we believe Congress got it right in 2008 when it passed Section 702 and in 2012 when Congress reauthorized it."

Section 702 is set to expire on Dec. 31, 2017, but the current certifications do not expire until April 2018. The officials said, however, that the intelligence community would have to start winding down its Section 702 program well in advance of that date.

"Winding down such a valuable program would force agencies to divert resources away from addressing foreign threats. 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 intelligence chiefs wrote. "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."