7 December 1999. Remember "electronic Pearl Harbor," oft chanted by perps fearing what the hell is going on outside their Secure Housing Units. Thanks to DM for letters below.


The Washington Post, December 7, 1999; Page A30

NSA Obeying the Law

In his Nov. 14 Outlook article, "Loud and Clear," James Bamford wrote that he is "certain that NSA is not overstepping its [legal] mandate," then spent the bulk of his article speculating that the agency might do so in the future.

As the general counsel of the National Security Agency, I wish to make clear that the agency does not violate the Constitution or the laws of the United States. NSA operates under the eyes of Congress, the executive branch and the judiciary, and an extensive oversight system regulates and limits its activities.

Mr. Bamford wrote that the laws regulating NSA's activities need to be updated in light of the communications revolution, but the laws are based on the Fourth Amendment and do not need to be changed every time technology changes.

Mr. Bamford said that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act's provisions regarding the interception of "wire or radio communications" are inapplicable because the communications involved have changed from telephone to e-mail, fax or cell phone. This is false. The privacy protections remain applicable.

Mr. Bamford also suggested that NSA uses foreign countries to conduct surveillance that NSA is prohibited from conducting. That activity has been prohibited since 1978. NSA does not ask other countries to do what it is prohibited from doing.

Mr. Bamford also incorrectly said that NSA "stonewalled" a request for documents by the House Intelligence Committee. Discussions between the committee and my office focused on the proper balance between the committee's need to conduct oversight and the need to give sound legal advice to NSA employees. But there was no intent to withhold the substantive information requested by the committee, and, as Chairman Porter Goss has publicly noted, NSA is currently providing documents responsive to the committee's requests.

NSA obeys the law; Mr. Bamford's speculations serve only to fuel the fires of uninformed debate.

Fort George G. Meade, Md.

The writer is general counsel of the National Security Agency.


The Washington Post, December 3, 1999; Page A40

Checking Up on the NSA

James Bamford [Outlook, Nov. 14], in his expose of the National Security Agency's worldwide eavesdropping network, points out that he really doesn't believe the NSA is a bad guy. From his privileged demi-insider position, he can be "certain that the NSA is not overstepping its bounds." He just wants to protect us from what might happen if the NSA decides to break or evade laws. After all, back in the old days the agency had acted "as though the laws which applied to the rest of government did not apply to it."

As one who was involved during the Church-Pike episode in the '70s, I would point out that the NSA appeared both publicly and in closed session before Congress and demonstrated that it had every respect for the laws of this country. It took extraordinary internal measures to meet the requirements of Congress then and adopt a course of cooperation with the select committees on intelligence, which were created thereafter. Even as an outsider now, I cannot believe that the NSA would even tell Congress to "take a hike" or any like denial.

Mr. Bamford is correct in observing that our rights to privacy are at risk, but he is crying out at the wrong wolf.

New Carrollton

The writer was an NSA official from 1951 to 1980.

Date: Tue, 7 Dec 1999 12:52:18 -0400
To: declan@well.com
From: David Sobel <sobel@epic.org>
Subject: Re: FC: NSA counsel says agency does not do illegal spying

>  NSA obeys the law; [. . .]
>  Fort George G. Meade, Md.
>  The writer is general counsel of the National Security Agency.

But how do they INTERPRET the law?  That's precisely the issue that NSA dodged earlier this year when the House Intelligence Committee sought internal NSA legal memoranda addressing the Agency's authority to conduct surveillance in new communications media.  NSA stonewalled the committee.

EPIC filed suit last week seeking the public disclosure of those memoranda (see press release).  This is clearly an issue of great public interest that can't be left to the off-hand assurances of NSA officials.

- David