FBI Director Says Surveillance Programs Operated Legally

FBI Director Robert Mueller said Thursday that the National Security Agency’s phone record collection and PRISM surveillance programs operated in full compliance with the law and are instrumental in combating terror threats — so instrumental that had they existed in 2001, they may have prevented the September 11 terror attacks.

Appearing before the House Judiciary Committee, Mueller urged that cyber threats “may well eclipse the terror threat in years to come.” He acknowledged the public’s expectation that the intelligence community protects its privacy interests, saying that the phone record collection program only applies to metadata and that the FBI has “no authority to get content.”

“The legality has been assured by the Department of Justice,” Mueller said. “The FISA court has ruled on these two programs.”

Mueller further argued that had the phone metadata collection program existed in 2001, the agency may have been able to trace hijacker Khalid al-Mihdhar’s web of contacts and possibly impede the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. His statement echoed NSA Director Army Gen. Keith Alexander’s remarks before a Senate committtee on Wednesday, asserting that metadata could have tracked the hijack teams.

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Catherine Thompson is a senior editor for Talking Points Memo in New York City. She came to the site in 2013 and reported on national affairs. Previously, she worked as a research assistant to investigative reporter Wayne Barrett. She can be reached at catherine@talkingpointsmemo.com.
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