13 April 2000. Thanks to DB.
The Wall Street Journal, April 13, 2000
By Neil King Jr. Staff Reporter of The Wall Street Journal
WASHINGTON -- Under attack from privacy advocates in the U.S. and Europe, the director of the National Security Agency said yesterday that his agency snoops on Americans only under rigid controls and never engages in foreign economic espionage for U.S. corporations.
Air Force Lt. Gen. Michael Hayden used an unusual open session of the House Intelligence Committee to launch another salvo in his year-long effort to defend an agency seen by many as sinister and all-powerful. European officials have accused the NSA recently of using its international eavesdropping prowess, through a system called Echelon, to spy on foreign companies and sift through every e-mail, fax or telephone call in Europe, charges the NSA calls absurd.
The American Civil Liberties Union and other groups have raised similar concerns about NSA abuses in the U.S., charging that the Echelon system could be sucking in vast quantities of information about U.S. citizens without their knowledge. Some members of Congress agree, saying the time is ripe for new legislation to monitor NSA activities.
On the European front, Gen. Hayden acknowledged that the super-secret NSA uses its network of powerful listening stations around the globe to gather economic intelligence to track concerns such as money laundering, weapons proliferation and corporate corruption. But he insisted the NSA never pursued industrial secrets or worked to enhance the profitability of U.S. business.
George Tenet, director of the Central Intelligence Agency, echoed those denials.
"I recognize that it is standard practice for some countries to use their intelligence services to conduct economic espionage. But that isn't the policy or the practice of the United States," he said.
Most of the session, though, focused on concerns that the NSA might be violating the privacy of U.S. citizens by intercepting e-mail or listening in on telephone calls. Gen. Hayden scoffed at what he called the growing number of "urban myths" surrounding the NSA, including its alleged ability to tap everything from e-mail traffic to domestic baby monitors.
He cited as an example the fact that the NSA's huge computer system at its Maryland headquarters went down for about 80 hours in January. The malfunction prevented the agency from sorting through all the information it continued to gather from around the world. "Can you imagine the capacity that would be required for us to store three and a half days of collection if . . . we're sweeping up everything in the universe?" Gen Hayden said, adding that it took only eight to 12 hours to process the backlog.
The laws governing foreign-intelligence surveillance go back to the late 1970s, and some members of Congress argue that new legislation is needed to encompass changes brought about by the Internet revolution. Both Gen. Hayden and Mr. Tenet disputed that notion. "There is a rich body of oversight that ensures that we stay within the law," Gen. Hayden said.
In the face of generally mild questioning, both men described in detail the laws that control the use of NSA assets for snooping on anyone within the U.S. To do that, the agency must prove to a special court that the eavesdropping is a matter of national security and the target is an agent of a foreign power, a spy or a terrorist. Such NSA requests, Gen. Hayden said, occur on average about six times a year.
Gen. Hayden dismissed as "simply not true" a number of other recent accusations, including the charge that the U.S. and friendly countries like Britain or Canada used one another's services to spy on their own citizens.
NSA intercepts are a key ingredient in U.S. efforts to spy on drug runners and terrorists, and the agency's eavesdropping proved crucial during the Kosovo conflict last year as well as during the intense U.S. counter-terrorist campaign in December.
(END) DOW JONES NEWS 04-12-00
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