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DCI Statement on Allegations About SIGINT Activities


Statement by Director of Central Intelligence George J. Tenet
Before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence
(as prepared for delivery)

April 12, 2000

Mr. Chairman, I am here today to discuss allegations about SIGINT activities and the so-called Echelon program of the National Security Agency with a very specific objective: To assure this Committee, the Congress, and the American public that the United States Intelligence Community is unequivocally committed to conducting its activities in accordance with US law and due regard for the rights of Americans.

Intelligence agencies normally do not, and should not, publicly reveal sensitive details about their operations. For this reason, signals intelligence—or SIGINT—activities may not be known or understood by the public at large. Their limits are well known to the members of this committee but, like me, you too cannot speak publicly as much as you would wish. As the Director of Central Intelligence with overall responsibility for establishing requirements and priorities for the collection of intelligence vital to our national security, I understand that the Intelligence Community must have the confidence of the American public to ensure we have an aggressive intelligence capability. I also know that our foreign allies have to be reassured that their trust in us is justified and that our relationships are beneficial from their perspectives.

There have been recent allegations that the Intelligence Community through NSA has improperly directed our SIGINT capabilities against the private conversations of US persons. That is not the case.

There is a rigorous regime of checks and balances which we—the CIA, the NSA and the FBI—scrupulously adhere to whenever the conversations of US persons are involved—directly or indirectly.

We do not collect against US persons unless they are agents of a foreign power, as that term is defined in law. We do not target their conversations for collection in the United States unless a FISA [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act] warrant has been obtained from the FISA court by the Justice Department. And we do not target their conversations for collection overseas unless Executive Order 12333 has been followed and the Attorney General has personally approved collection.

There also have been allegations that the Intelligence Community is conducting industrial espionage to provide unfair advantages to US companies. I recognize that it is standard practice for some countries to use their intelligence services to conduct economic espionage, but that is not the policy or practice of the United States. If we lose the confidence of the American people because they think we are violating their privacy rights, or if we were to violate the trust of our allies and steal their business secrets to help US companies increase their profits, we would put your support for our SIGINT programs in jeopardy, and risk losing our eyes and ears—as well as US influence—around the world. I cannot afford to let that happen.

For this reason, I welcome the opportunity, in the face of provocative allegations about NSA that have attracted national and international attention, as well as legitimate congressional interest, to allay concerns that have arisen in recent months about the conduct of SIGINT activities. I will say a few words, then turn to NSA Director General Hayden so that he can address more specifically the system under which NSA operates and some of the specific questions that have been raised.

As you know, signals intelligence is one of the pillars of US intelligence. Along with our other intelligence collection activities, we rely on SIGINT to collect information about the capabilities and intentions of foreign powers, organizations, and persons to support the foreign policy and other national interests of the United States. SIGINT is critical to monitoring terrorist activities, arms control compliance, narcotics trafficking, and the development of chemical and biological weapons and weapons of mass destruction. We could not monitor regional conflicts affecting US interests or assess foreign capabilities and protect our military forces and civilian personnel overseas as effectively without SIGINT.

As DCI, I am responsible for ensuring that requirements for intelligence collection are clearly established and assigned to appropriate Intelligence Community elements for action. I look to my Assistant Directors of Central Intelligence for Collection and for Analysis and Production to help ensure that SIGINT collection is addressing and satisfying high priority intelligence needs. NSA and an interagency process under my overall cognizance specifically address intelligence needs identified by the policy community, military commands, and the Intelligence Community. This long-standing process and the regular review of proposed activities help ensure that SIGINT collection and reporting is consistent both with approved needs and with US laws and policies to protect personal privacy and the rights of US persons.

We conduct SIGINT to protect US national security and the lives of Americans. Our targets are foreign. There are, as you know, some special circumstances recognized in the law in which collection on Americans is permitted. US persons, both individuals and companies, who engage in activities on behalf of foreign powers, terrorist groups, and others working against the US are of great concern to us. General Hayden will explain in more detail how NSA can lawfully obtain such information.

I can assure this Committee that the Intelligence Community adheres to a strict legal regime for approval, implementation, conduct, minimization and use, which involves the General Counsels Offices of each of the Agencies involved as well as the Attorney General herself. We protect the rights of Americans and their privacy; we do not violate it.

With respect to allegations of industrial espionage, the notion that we collect intelligence to promote American business interests is simply wrong. We do not to target foreign companies to support American business interests.

  • First, our business is to gather information vital to the national defense and foreign policy of the US. Other departments and agencies in the US have the responsibility to assist US business interests. Our valuable resources are directed elsewhere.
  • Second, if we are to maintain good relations with our allies, they have to know they can trust us not to become involved in missions that are not directly related to national security. That is important for us, and it is important to them as they justify their cooperation with us to their own people.
  • Third, if we did this, where would we draw the line? Which companies would we help? Corporate giants? The little guy? All of them? I think we quickly would get into a mess and would raise questions of whether we are being unfair to one or more of our own businesses.

Of course, SIGINT does provide economic information that is useful to the United States Government. It can provide insight into global economic conditions and trends and assist policymakers in dealing with economic crises. On many occasions, it has provided information about the intentions of foreign businesses, some operated by governments, to violate US laws or sanctions or to deny US businesses a level playing field. When such information arises, it is provided to the Treasury Department, the Commerce Department, or other government agencies responsible for enforcing US laws. The Intelligence Community is just not in the business of conducting industrial espionage, and is not working on behalf of US companies to provide them unfair advantage.

Finally, there are mechanisms inside and outside NSA that oversee signals intelligence activities. SIGINT is conducted pursuant to procedures approved by the Attorney General. Intelligence officers are required to report violations of law to the Attorney General through their department and agency heads. By Executive order, the General Counsels and Inspectors General of the Intelligence Community are required to report to the President's Intelligence Oversight Board activities they have reason to believe may be unlawful or contrary to Executive order or Presidential directive. Violations of law also must be reported to Congress. As you will hear, NSA and the Department of Defense have processes in place to implement these requirements. Moreover, as you know, I take very seriously my obligation to keep the intelligence committees fully and currently informed of intelligence activities and violations of law that come to my attention.

My remarks today are intended to give the American people a meaningful context for what we do, why we do it, and how we try to ensure at all times that we do it legally, ethically, and responsibly. There can be no reasonable doubt that the conduct of properly controlled and lawful foreign intelligence activities is vital to US national security interests. We in the Intelligence Community prize our Constitution and liberties no less than other citizens, and we take very, very seriously our obligations under the law to guard against misuse. Let me now turn to General Hayden.

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Posted: Apr 03, 2007 08:58 PM
Last Updated: Jun 20, 2008 08:19 AM