MONTPELIER — He might not have anything good to say about Edward Snowden, but Sen. Patrick Leahy continues to assume center stage in the national debate the exiled contractor’s leaks have fueled.
Vermont’s senior senator Friday announced he would convene yet another hearing on the National Security Agency’s surveillance programs. Leahy’s announcement came hours after the Washington Post reported on an NSA audit, supplied by Snowden, that revealed the agency had improperly obtained thousands of private communications.
The revelation prompted some harsh words for the NSA from Leahy, who said the agency has sought to veil from public view elements of a spy program about which U.S. citizens deserve more information.
“The American people rely on the intelligence community to provide forthright and complete information so that Congress and the courts can properly conduct oversight,” Leahy said in a release. “I remain concerned that we are still not getting straightforward answers from the NSA.”
As chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Leahy has long known about the NSA spying programs that the American public has only recently become aware of. While Leahy has said he thinks Snowden was wrong to release the information, he is using the outrage those leaks have provoked to push for heightened checks on the NSA’s missions.
“Using advanced surveillance technologies in secret demands close oversight and appropriate checks and balances, and the American people deserve no less than that,” Leahy said Friday.
Last year, Leahy tried to increase oversight of the NSA, and the secret court that oversees it, by requiring an audit from the inspector general and shorter expiration dates on FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance) Court allowances. In the wake of the Snowden leaks, Leahy has renewed efforts to pass those provisions.
“Now I think it’s going to have a good chance, so I’m going to go back and try again,” Leahy said during a Montpelier press conference in late June. “I’d like to have at least a broader reporting of what goes before the FISA Court.”
Leahy said his push for greater transparency is driven in part by his awareness of what it is government agencies have deemed necessary to classify.
“I’m trying to be careful what I say, because I know all these programs and I know all the classified parts of them,” Leahy said. “But I also know there’s a lot of what’s classified that could easily be made public without damaging our security.”
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