Washington—Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) spoke at today’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on oversight of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA. Her remarks follow:
“I believe maybe only Senator Hatch was on the Intelligence Committee in 2001. In midyear, the DCI, whose name was George Tenet, came in to meet with us, and what he said was that he predicted that, within three months, there would likely be an attack on this country.
He didn’t know what, he didn’t know when, he didn’t know how. As a matter of fact, I went on—my staff just received—CNN on July 1, 2001, and said this: “There is a major possibility of a terrorist incident within the next three months.” That’s a direct quote from what I said.
Then something took place, which I thought could never take place in this country, and that’s 9/11. I never believed there could be training schools for pilots who would teach people how to fly, but not to land, in this country.
I never thought our visa system was so weak that they could admit terrorists to this country. But I was totally wrong.
The event happened, and it was catastrophic for people, for this nation, for our standing, but most importantly because of the death and destruction that it brought about this country.
And then we learned that there were stovepipes, and our intelligence was inadequate, and we couldn’t collect enough data. And then we learned that there was a man by the name of Khalid al-Mihdhar, one of the group in San Diego.
I believe that if this were to happen again, with this program and other programs working in combination, we have an opportunity to pick that up. Absent these kinds of technological programs, we do not have an opportunity to pick that up.
This is a very hard culture to meet with human intelligence. It’s a different culture, the language is different, there are many dialects, the groups are tight. It is very difficult to permeate them.
So our great strength today, ladies and gentlemen, in protecting this homeland, is to be able to have the kind of technology that’s able to piece together data while protecting rights.
I listened to this program being described as a surveillance program. It is not. There is no content collected by the NSA. There are bits of data—location, telephone numbers—that can be queried when there is reasonable, articulable suspicion. [Note: NSA does not collect locational information under Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act.]
If it looks like it’s something for an individual in this country, it then goes to the FBI for a probable cause warrant, and a full investigation takes place.
I so regret what is happening. I will do everything I can to prevent this program from being cancelled out. There’s going to be a bill in my committee to do it, there’s a bill in this committee to do it.
And, unfortunately, very few of us sat on that committee, when George Tenet came in, in June of 2001, and said we anticipate a strike, but we don’t know what, we don’t know where, we don’t know when.
That can never be allowed to happen in the United States of America again.
And that’s the basis for this program. It is legal. We are looking at increased transparency. We are looking to make some changes in it. But we are not looking to destroy it.
To destroy it is to make this nation more vulnerable. I just wanted to say that. I had to say it. Thank you.”