Capitol Hill, criminals and terrorists, FBI, House Judiciary panel, James Rosen, john conyers jr, judiciary panel, Libya, politics, Robert Mueller, September 11 2001, snooping, surveillance programs, testimony
Published June 13, 2013
Following revelations about the federal government’s surveillance programs, FBI Director Robert Mueller defended the government’s collection of millions of U.S. phone records, emails and other information that people transmit online as vital to the nation’s national security. Mueller told a House Judiciary panel Thursday that law enforcement must stay “a step ahead of criminals and terrorists” while still heeding Americans’ civil liberties.
Early in the hearing, Mueller tried to make the case for the National Security Agency surveillance programs and said that law enforcement “must stay a step ahead of criminals and terrorists” while still heeding the civil liberties of Americans.
Mueller, who is stepping down from his post in September, says that if the metadata collection program had been in place before the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, they would have identified one of the 9/11 hijackers in San Diego and most likely derailed the plot.
But Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers Jr. says he was “not persuaded that the argument makes it OK to collect information on every call,” adding, that by Mueller’s interpretation, it would be “anything and everything goes” situation.
Mueller also testified that the government’s controversial surveillance programs that recently surfaced complied “in full with U.S. law and with basic rights guaranteed under the Constitution.”
The Justice Department revealed last month that it had secretly gathered emails of Fox News correspondent James Rosen and phone records of The Associated Press in an effort to crack down on leakers of classified information.
The department later acknowledged that Attorney General Eric Holder was on board with a search warrant for Rosen’s personal emails, obtained after federal officials accused him in an affidavit of being a likely criminal “co-conspirator” under a wartime law known as the Espionage Act.
Authorities also obtained phone records for Fox News lines, including those for a number that matched the number of Rosen’s parents.
In the past week, a 29-year-old contractor leaked National Security Agency documents on the agency’s collection of millions of U.S. phone records and the NSA’s collection of emails and other information that people transmit online to and from foreign targets.
That has touched off a national debate over whether the Obama administration, in its efforts to thwart terrorism, has overstepped by using intrusive surveillance methods.
Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., the committee’s chairman, said when it comes to national security leaks, it’s important to balance the need to protect secrecy with the need to let the news media do their job.
“Over the past few years, we have witnessed troubling national security leaks and have learned that the Obama administration seems to be bending the rules in place that protect the freedom of the press in its investigations,” Goodlatte said in a statement.
On Benghazi, Republicans accuse the administration of misleading the public about an act of terrorism in the heat of the presidential campaign by saying the Sept. 11, 2012, assaults on the U.S. diplomatic post grew out of spontaneous demonstrations over an anti-Muslim video. In the immediate aftermath, U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice described it as a “horrific incident where some mob was hijacked, ultimately, by a handful of extremists.” The White House says Rice reflected the best information available while facts were still being gathered.
Goodlatte said the committee planned to find out more about the status of what the congressman called the FBI’s “stalled investigation” in Libya.
“Unfortunately, it seems the Obama administration’s mischaracterization of the terrorist attacks angered the Libyan government, which hampered the FBI’s ability to conduct a thorough investigation,” he said.
GOP lawmakers also have questioned why the military couldn’t get aircraft or troops to Benghazi in time to thwart a second attack after the first incident that killed U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens. Four Americans, including Stevens, died in the attacks that took place several hours apart.
Regarding the Boston Marathon bombings, committee members want to know whether there was a breakdown in information-sharing between federal agencies, preventing the FBI from thwarting the explosions that killed three people and injured more than 260.
Russia’s internal security service, the FSB, sent information to the FBI about now-deceased bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev in 2011. The Russians told the FBI that Tsarnaev, an ethnic Chechen Russian immigrant living in the Boston area, was a follower of radical Islam and had changed drastically since 2010. Because of a subsequent FBI inquiry, Tsarnaev’s name was added to a Homeland Security Department database called TECS that is used by U.S. officials at the border to help screen people coming in and out of the U.S.
In January 2012, Tsarnaev traveled to Russia and returned to the U.S. in July. Three days before he left for Russia, the TECS database generated an alert on Tsarnaev. That alert was shared with a Customs and Border Protection officer who is a member of the FBI’s Boston joint terrorism task force. By that time, the FBI’s investigation into Tsarnaev had been closed for nearly six months because the FBI uncovered no evidence that he was tied to terror groups.
Tsarnaev died after a shootout with police four days after the April 15 bombings. His brother, Dzhokhar, was charged in the bombings and is recovering from gunshot wounds at a federal prison hospital in central Massachusetts.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.