As NSA defends program, security expert says changes must be made with contractors' access

06/18/2013 01:19 PM

The Director of the National Security Agency, Gen. Keith Alexander, told the U.S. House Intelligence Committee Tuesday that surveillance programs that have recently come under public scrutiny have prevented more than 50 terrorist plots.

But a Kentucky national security expert and former FBI analyst said the system still needs reforms, especially when it comes to private contractors who get security clearance to deal with those programs even though they go through less scrutiny than government employees.

Max Wise, now a Campbellsville University political science professor, said it wasn’t a surprise to learn about the existence of the programs that collect phone and Internet data on Americans.

“It’s not the content of knowing what is in those calls that’s being collected … We’re getting into the duration of how long a call was what numbers are being called,” Wise said. (:39 in the interview) “To actually get content of that call that requires a search warrant.”

The ACLU has filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the surveillance programs, saying the collection of data is a violation of the First Amendment protections of free speech.

Wise said there needs to be a balance struck between personal civil liberty and security, but in a post 9/11 world, that balance will likely swing towards increased security.

“We hope and we trust that government is doing the right thing, but there is always that fear of when we’ve got so much data so much information that’s out there of making sure the people are doing the right thing,” Wise said.

The source behind the NSA leaked information was Eric Snowden, a contractor for the CIA and NSA who worked for Booz Allen Hamilton. Wise said that to work for the FBI, it takes a year to receive national security clearances to work with the bureau. But things changed after 9/11 and the push to quickly bring in employees to the intelligence community.

“After 9/11, we saw this with the Bush administration, was the push for contractors. And the ease of let’s get these people hired quickly — four to six months is average time to get them on board,” Wise said. “The contractors SAIC, Booz Allen, the different ones were kind of like vultures on top of government employees. I had many colleagues that would jump ship and go work for a contractor.”

As the House Intelligence Committee reviews testimony from the hearing on Tuesday with NSA Director Alexander, Wise said many of those same members in Washington have already been briefed — or had the opportunity to be briefed — on these surveillance programs behind closed doors.

“In my eyes everything was done properly in terms of checks and balances,” Wise said.


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