By Melissa Clyne
Former U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey says the recommended changes to National Security Agency surveillance programs by a presidential commission are unnecessary and will only hinder the NSA’s ability to protect the nation.
The five-member panel made up of intelligence and legal experts appointed by President Barack Obama recommended last week that massive phone and internet records collected by the NSA should be held by a private consortium or with the companies from which the information was acquired. If the NSA felt compelled to access the data, it would be required to obtain a court order.
“In other words, if investigators want to check a telephone number they should be required to scurry around to each individual provider — AT&T, Verizon etc. — to run the check, possibly against data bases that are inconsistently arranged, with consequent loss of time and efficiency,” Mukasey writes in op-ed piece for The Wall Street Journal.
Calling it “an experiment,” that could seriously damage an important program designed to target terrorist communications and activities, he says there is simply no justification for it because the panel found no violations of privacy rights during its review.
“The panel’s investigation of the National Security Agency found — as the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court found before them — that the occasional unintentional violations of guidelines were stopped once they were detected,” he writes.
Mukasey also mocks critics of the NSA’s collection of phone and Internet communications who contend the agency could use the information to profile individuals or or gather sensitive personal information.
“No evidence suggests that any such thing has been proposed or done, and indeed the 22 people at NSA who have access to the data are forbidden to use metadata in any fashion other than to run it against suspect telephone numbers,” he says.
Mukasey also takes issue with the recommendation that U.S. intelligence operations should not target non-U.S. persons outside of the United States based solely on their political or religious views. He says that could in some cases prevent the targeting of groups and individuals who declare as a “religious obligation to kill Americans.”
The president has yet to sign off on any of the recommendations contained in the commission’s report.
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