Sen. Ron Wyden is preventing the appointment of a new National Security Agency director because the spy unit won’t answer whether it’s buying Americans’ data.
The Oregon Democrat has famously tussled with the intelligence community over concerns about warrantless surveillance of U.S. citizens, and he’s blocking Air Force Lt. Gen. Timothy Haugh‘s nomination until the senator gets answers.
“The American people have a right to know whether the NSA is conducting warrantless domestic surveillance of Americans in a manner that circumvents the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution,” Mr. Wyden said in a statement. “Particularly as Congress is currently debating extending Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, Congress must be able to have an informed public debate about the scope of the NSA‘s warrantless surveillance of Americans.”
FISA’s Section 702 lets the government snoop on foreigners outside the U.S., and a key provision expires at the end of this month unless Congress acts. Concerns that U.S. officials have abused the spy powers to snoop on Americans have sparked debate on Capitol Hill about whether to change the policy.
Mr. Wyden has proposed overhauling the spying powers, joining a bipartisan coalition seeking to force intelligence agencies to obtain a warrant to look through Americans’ communications.
The bipartisan leadership of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, which has oversight of the NSA, favors a different plan to renew the spy powers without requiring the FBI to obtain a warrant, according to reports.
The information sought by Mr. Wyden would hamper efforts to maintain the spy powers without requiring a warrant. He would be exposing a fuller picture of American officials’ alleged domestic surveillance.
The intelligence community disclosed this year that it amassed troves of Americans’ personal information from businesses gathering data from cars, phones and other internet-connected devices.
Details of the spies’ process for acquiring commercially available information were revealed in a report from a panel established by the Director of National Intelligence.
The panel urged the government to rethink its data acquisitions, and its report was released publicly in June in response to a request from Mr. Wyden.
The report showed how the government works with private industry to access people’s data. For example, the FBI worked with the company ZeroFox for social media alerting while the U.S. Navy teamed with the analytics firm Sayari for access to a database on what it called U.S.-sanctioned actors.
The report said the NSA adopted a policy in 2021 that requires it to conduct assessments for data acquisitions to determine if Americans’ data is included. The panel’s report said the NSA aims to reduce the collection of Americans’ information before acquiring data.
“It is clear that NSA would prefer to filter out unnecessary [information on Americans] before collection, a laudable goal,” the report said.
It’s not clear to Mr. Wyden. The senator said he requested yes or no answers regarding whether the NSA purchased location data and web browsing records of Americans, and intelligence officials refused to answer.
President Biden selected Lt. Gen. Haugh in May to take the helm of the NSA and U.S. Cyber Command.
Army Gen. Paul Nakasone has remained in charge of NSA and cyber command and told reporters in September he will lead both agencies until a successor is in place.
The NSA did not respond to a request for comment on Friday.