The Senate Intelligence Committee appears to be moving toward swift passage of a bill that would “change but preserve” the once-secret National Security Agency program that is keeping logs of every American’s phone calls, Senator Dianne Feinstein, the California Democrat who leads the panel, said Thursday. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/27/us/politics/senators-push-to-preserve-nsa-phone-surveillance.html?ref=us
Ms. Feinstein, speaking at a rare public hearing of the committee, said she and the top Republican on the panel, Senator Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, are drafting a bill that would be marked up — meaning that lawmakers could propose amendments to it before voting it out of committee — as early as next week.
After the existence of the program became public by leaks from the former N.S.A. contractor Edward J. Snowden, critics called for it to be dismantled. Ms. Feinstein said her bill would be aimed at increasing public confidence in the program.
A rival bill drafted by skeptics of government surveillance, including two members of the committee, Senators Ron Wyden of Oregon and Mark Udall of Colorado, would ban the mass call log collection program.
That more extensive step is unlikely to pass the committee. Ms. Feinstein contended that “a majority of the committee” believed that the call log program was “necessary for our nation’s security.”
Ms. Feinstein said her bill with Mr. Chambliss would also require Senate confirmation of the N.S.A.’s director. At the same time, it would expand the N.S.A.’s powers to wiretap without warrants in the United States.
The N.S.A. has deemed itself to have broken rules about surveillance in the United States. Those incidents were identified in a May 2012 audit leaked by Mr. Snowden.
The rival Wyden and Udall proposal would ban the N.S.A. from warrantless searches of Americans’ information in the vast databases of communications it collects by targeting noncitizens abroad. And it would prohibit, when terrorism is not suspected, systematic searches of the contents of Americans’ international e-mails and text messages that are “about” a target rather than to or from that person.
The senators on the Intelligence Committee used the hearing on Thursday to largely defend the programs and criticize the disclosures.
Officials have struggled to identify terrorist attacks that would have been prevented by the call log program, which has existed in its current form since 2006. The clearest breakthrough attributed to the program was a case involving several San Diego men who were prosecuted for donating several thousand dollars to a terrorist group in Somalia.
Mr. Wyden pressed General Alexander about whether the N.S.A. had ever collected, or made plans to collect, bulk records about Americans’ locations based on cellphone tower data.
General Alexander replied that the N.S.A. is not doing so as part of the call log program, but that information pertinent to Mr. Wyden’s question was classified.