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NSA Leak Could Prompt Re-Analysis of Data Collection

  • Pamela Dockins

Protesters rally outside the U.S. Capitol against the NSA's recently detailed surveillance programs in Washington, D.C., June 13, 2013.

Protesters rally outside the U.S. Capitol against the NSA's recently detailed surveillance programs in Washington, D.C., June 13, 2013.

Recent disclosures about how the U.S. National Security Agency collects information for top-secret surveillance programs could prompt U.S. intelligence agencies to reconsider their data-collection processes and who has access to the information.

Heritage Foundation foreign policy studies director Steven Bucci said any time there is a leak or breach of sensitive intelligence information, it triggers a complete re-examination of the intelligence-gathering process.

He told VOA's Encounter program he is certain this is the response to information leaked by former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden.

"It is not a Draconian ‘let's go out and look for heads’ kind of process. It is very much a bureaucratic let’s go through all the rules, and see who did what,” said Bucci.

He said the goal is to figure out what went wrong and prevent it from happening again.

"It’s an appropriate response for a big organization to try to figure out how they could have stopped this thing from going wrong before it happens again," he said.

Intelligence officials and some members of Congress said Snowden put America at risk when he turned over information about secret data-mining programs to The Washington Post and The Guardian newspapers.

At the time, Snowden was employed as a technology expert for Booz Allen Hamilton, a private firm working under a contract with the NSA.

Rudy de Leon, a national security vice president at the Center for American Progress and a former deputy secretary of defense, said Snowden's actions will most likely prompt government agencies and contractors to re-think who has access to what.

"I’m sure those that gave this gentleman a clearance are now going through and doing an auditing to figure out exactly what went wrong," said de Leon.

De Leon said the U.S. has checks and balances in place to ensure that government surveillance programs designed to go after terrorists do not infringe on the rights and privacy of ordinary Americans.

He said investigators will want to know what prompted Snowden to disregard these safeguards.

"I think any time an individual who is in a position of trust believes that he or she is more important than the judiciary or the legislator or the executive branch in terms of making these decision, then I think that individual has got to be questioned just in terms of upholding the duties that he agreed to take on when he went to work for this contractor," said de Leon.

Snowden's leaks about the collection of phone and Internet data, as part of the government's efforts to prevent terrorism, have triggered hearings on Capitol Hill.

At a House Intelligence Committee hearing, Congressman Dutch Ruppersberger called for changes in how workers who have access to sensitive information are monitored.

"We need to change our systems and practices and employ the latest in technology that will alert superiors when a worker tries to download and remove this type of information. We need to seal this crack in the system," he said.

De Leon said when it comes to the U.S. government's role of balancing the need to protect citizens against the need to respect their rights and privacy, "the pendulum is constantly moving."

He said Americans expect the government to find a way to balance these important priorities.

Bucci said he fears that a public backlash against intelligence data-mining will force U.S. surveillance agencies to back off too much -- a move that he says could make the U.S. more vulnerable in the long run.