Mr. President, the National Security Agency continues its indiscriminate collection of a massive number of phone records about Americans under section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act. I have said over and over again that as a nation we have long needed to have the national conversation about bulk collection that is now underway, and the section 215 program should have been declassified long before it was.
I wish to make very clear, as I have said before, I do not condone the way this or other highly classified programs were disclosed. I am deeply concerned about the potential damage to our intelligence-gathering capabilities, our foreign relationships, and national security.
I am also deeply concerned that one person with a security clearance can wreak this much havoc. According to the New York Times, Edward Snowden accomplished his heist of extraordinarily sensitive information about NSA activities with ``inexpensive and widely available software''; in other words, software that any one of us could get. He didn't even execute a particularly sophisticated breach. He did not, apparently, face a particularly complex technological challenge while removing these sensitive documents from the NSA trove. Yet he pulled off what the Director of National Intelligence James Clapper recently called ``the most massive and most damaging theft of intelligence in our history.''
I continually ask the leaders of our intelligence community: What are you doing to stop this from happening again? I have learned that the NSA has devoted substantial resources to fixing the faults that allowed this to happen, has taken some steps to address them, and has identified a range of other actions that need to be taken. But one has to ask, especially in the wake of the Private Manning leaks, how could the NSA have allowed this to happen in the first place.
I say this not to beat up on the NSA. I know we have highly dedicated, patriotic men and women working there, and I applaud them for their service to their country. But when I hear their leadership ask us to trust that they will keep our information safe and that we should have faith in its internal policies and procedures, one has to ask: Is this accurate?
This is the same NSA that first told us that the section 215 program was essential to national security. They talked in speeches around the country that it thwarted dozens of plots. But then when they were asked questions in a congressional hearing specifically about it, that number went from in the fifties down to possibly one. The primary defense of the NSA's bulk collection program now appears to be the program is more of an insurance policy than anything else. But now even that new defense of the program has been called into question.
The Washington Post has reported that under this program the NSA collects less than 30 percent of domestic phone records. The Wall Street Journal says the number is less than 20 percent. These estimates are consistent with the public copy of the President's Review Group report, which cautioned against placing too much value on this program as a tool to rule out a domestic connection to a terrorist plot; thus, the so-called insurance policy. The Review Group report tells us it is precisely because--although the program is unprecedented in scope--it still covers only a percentage of the total phone metadata held by service providers.
It appears to this Senator that the intelligence community has defended its unprecedented, massive, and indiscriminate bulk collection by arguing that it needs the entire ``haystack'' in order for it to have an effective counterterrorism tool--and yet the American public now finds out they only have 20 to 30 percent of that so-called haystack.
These revelations call even further into question the effectiveness of this program.
Although the program is ongoing, some preliminary and positive changes are underway. Just last week, the Director of National Intelligence announced that the FISA Court has approved procedures under which the government will seek approval by a FISA Court judge before querying these phone records--absent a true, almost instantaneous kind of an emergency. The President has directed the Attorney General and the Director of National Intelligence to develop alternatives to the section 215 phone records program and report back to him at the end of next month. That is progress but only some progress. It is not enough. It is not going to be enough to just reform the government's bulk phone records collection program.
The program, as expensive and extensive as it is, has not proven effective. But beyond that, it is not worth the massive intrusion on the privacy of the American people--of the good, law-abiding men and women in what is supposed to be the greatest democracy on Earth.
Congress should shut it down. We should enact the bipartisan, bicameral USA FREEDOM Act. Then Congress has to examine carefully--and to the extent possible publicly--the security breach that led to these revelations in the first place.
The Senate Judiciary Committee has had a number of hearings on this issue. We are going to continue working on these issues at a hearing this week with the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board--yet another voice concluding that the section 215 program should not continue. If the NSA is to regain the trust of the American people, it has to spend less time collecting data on innocent Americans and more time keeping our Nation's secrets safe.
I yield the floor.
I will suggest the absence of a quorum. Is time being divided?