CIA director says France attacks highlight need for U.S. surveillance programs

By Doug G. Ware  |  Nov. 16, 2015 at 8:27 PM
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WASHINGTON, Nov. 16 (UPI) -- The chief of the Central Intelligence Agency said Monday that the terrorist attacks in Paris last week highlight the need for domestic surveillance programs like the controversial operation run by the National Security Agency.

After speaking at a research group in Washington Monday, CIA director John Brennan said the government has done a lot of "hand-wringing" over domestic intelligence programs that only makes fighting terrorism more difficult.

"Because of a number of unauthorized disclosures and a lot of hand-wringing over the government's role in the effort to try to uncover these terrorists, there have been some policy and legal and other actions that have been taken that make our ability collectively, internationally, to find these terrorists much more challenging," he said.

Brennan was answering a question about the attacks in Paris when he made the remarks.

Further, the CIA boss said he believes more attacks are in the planning stages -- making effective surveillance critical.

"It's not a surprise this attack was carried out, from the standpoint of we did have strategic warning," he said during the Center for Strategic & International Studies forum. "We knew that these plans or plotting by ISIL was underway looking at Europe in particular as a venue for carrying out these attacks."

The NSA's controversial communications surveillance program -- which allows the government to monitor phone and Internet records -- is already set to be deactivated Nov. 29, at which time it will be replaced by another operation.

In 2013, whistleblower Edward Snowden leaked classified information to news media, which was followed by national outcry over privacy concerns. Monday, Brennan said Snowden's actions helped teach terrorists how to hide from authorities.

"There has been an increase in the operational security of a number of operatives of these terrorist networks as they have gone to school on what it is that they need to do in order to keep their activities concealed from the authorities," Brennan said.

Earlier this month, NSA director Michael Rogers said at a tech conference that intelligence agencies ought to have some kind of "backdoor" access to U.S. citizens' phone records because it is such a critical terror fighting tool. That particular view was disputed by Apple CEO Tim Cook, who said citizens' privacy is paramount.

Other critics have voiced similar concerns.

"As far as I know, there's no evidence the French lacked some kind of surveillance authority that would have made a difference," ACLU deputy legal director Jameel Jaffer said. "When we have invested new powers in the government in response to events like the Paris attacks, they have often been abused."

Michael Morell, a former CIA official in President Barack Obama's administration, said Sunday that the current terror fighting strategy is not working and the government needs to do something else.

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