Sen. Feinstein's response to NSA queries

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  5. Dear Ms. York:
  9. I received your communication indicating your concerns about the two
  10. National Security Agency programs that have been in the news recently.
  11. I appreciate that you took the time to write on this important issue
  12. and welcome the opportunity to respond.  
  16. First, I understand your concerns and want to point out that by law,
  17. the government cannot listen to an American's telephone calls or read
  18. their emails without a court warrant issued upon a showing of probable
  19. cause.  As is described in the attachment to this letter provided by
  20. the Executive Branch, the programs that were recently disclosed have to
  21. do with information about phone calls - the kind of information that
  22. you might find on a telephone bill - in one case, and the internet
  23. communications (such as email) of non-Americans outside the United
  24. States in the other case.  Both programs are subject to checks and
  25. balances, and oversight by the Executive Branch, the Congress, and the
  26. Judiciary.
  30. As Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, I can tell you that I
  31. believe the oversight we have conducted is strong and effective and I
  32. am doing my level best to get more information declassified.  Please
  33. know that it is equally frustrating to me, as it is to you, that I
  34. cannot provide more detail on the value these programs provide and the
  35. strict limitations placed on how this information is used.  I take
  36. serious my responsibility to make sure intelligence programs are
  37. effective, but I work equally hard to ensure that intelligence
  38. activities strictly comply with the Constitution and our laws and
  39. protect Americans' privacy rights.
  43. These surveillance programs have proven to be very effective in
  44. identifying terrorists, their activities, and those associated with
  45. terrorist plots, and in allowing the Intelligence Community and the
  46. Federal Bureau of Investigation to prevent numerous terrorist attacks.
  47. More information on this should be forthcoming.
  51. · On June 18, 2003, the Director of the National Security Agency (NSA)
  52. testified to the House Intelligence Committee that there have been
  53. "over 50 potential terrorist events" that these programs helped
  54. prevent.  
  58. · While the specific uses of these surveillance programs remain largely
  59. classified, I have reviewed the classified testimony and reports from
  60. the Executive Branch that describe in detail how this surveillance has
  61. stopped attacks.  
  65. · Two examples where these surveillance programs were used to prevent
  66. terrorist attacks were: (1) the attempted bombing of the New York City
  67. subway system in September 2009 by Najibullah Zazi and his
  68. co-conspirators; and (2) the attempted attack on a Danish newspaper
  69. that published cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed in October 2009 by U.S.
  70. citizen David Headley and his associates.  
  74. · Regarding the planned bombing of the New York City subway system, the
  75. NSA has determined that in early September of 2009, while monitoring
  76. the activities of Al Qaeda terrorists in Pakistan, NSA noted contact
  77. from an individual in the U.S. that the FBI subsequently identified as
  78. Colorado-based Najibullah Zazi.  The U.S. Intelligence Community,
  79. including the FBI and NSA, worked in concert to determine his
  80. relationship with Al Qaeda, as well as identify any foreign or domestic
  81. terrorist links.  The FBI tracked Zazi as he traveled to New York to
  82. meet with co-conspirators, where they were planning to conduct a
  83. terrorist attack using hydrogen peroxide bombs placed in backpacks.
  84. Zazi and his co-conspirators were subsequently arrested. Zazi
  85. eventually pleaded guilty to conspiring to bomb the NYC subway system.  
  89. · Regarding terrorist David Headley, he was also involved in the
  90. planning and reconnaissance of the 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai,
  91. India that killed 166 people, including six Americans.  According to
  92. NSA, in October 2009, Headley, a Chicago businessman and dual U.S. and
  93. Pakistani citizen, was arrested by the FBI as he tried to depart from
  94. Chicago O'Hare airport on a trip to Europe.  Headley was charged with
  95. material support to terrorism based on his involvement in the planning
  96. and reconnaissance of the hotel attack in Mumbai 2008.  At the time of
  97. his arrest, Headley and his colleagues were plotting to attack the
  98. Danish newspaper that published the unflattering cartoons of the
  99. Prophet Mohammed, at the behest of Al Qaeda.  
  103. Not only has Congress been briefed on these programs, but laws passed
  104. and enacted since 9/11 specifically authorize them.  The surveillance
  105. programs are authorized by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act
  106. (FISA), which itself was enacted by Congress in 1978 to establish the
  107. legal structure to carry out these programs, but also to prevent
  108. government abuses, such as surveillance of Americans without approval
  109. from the federal courts. The Act authorizes the government to gather
  110. communications and other information for foreign intelligence purposes.
  111. It also establishes privacy protections, oversight mechanisms
  112. (including court review), and other restrictions to protect privacy
  113. rights of Americans.  
  117. The laws that have established and reauthorized these programs since
  118. 9/11 have passed by mostly overwhelming margins.  For example, the
  119. phone call business record program was reauthorized most recently on
  120. May 26, 2011 by a vote of 72-23 in the Senate and 250-153 in the House.
  121. The internet communications program was reauthorized most recently on
  122. December 30, 2012 by a vote of 73-22 in the Senate and 301-118 in the
  123. House.  
  127. Attached to this letter is a brief summary of the two intelligence
  128. surveillance programs that were recently disclosed in media articles.
  129. While I very much regret the disclosure of classified information in a
  130. way that will damage our ability to identify and stop terrorist
  131. activity, I believe it is important to ensure that the public record
  132. now available on these programs is accurate and provided with the
  133. proper context.
  137. Again, thank you for contacting me with your concerns and comments.  I
  138. appreciate knowing your views and hope you continue to inform me of
  139. issues that matter to you.  If you have any additional questions or
  140. concerns, please do not hesitate to contact my office in Washington,
  141. D.C. at (202) 224-3841.
  145. Sincerely yours,
  148.   Dianne Feinstein
  149.          United States Senator
  152. Further information about my position on issues of concern to
  153. California and the nation are available at my website,
  154. <> .  You can
  155. also receive electronic e-mail updates by subscribing to my e-mail
  156. list. Click here to sign up.
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  161. with me.
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