Sen. Ron Wyden Vows to Block NSA Nomination Until Agency Answers Questions on American Surveillance

Sen. Ron Wyden Vows to Block NSA Nomination Until Agency Answers Questions on American Surveillance
Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) participates in a Senate Finance Committee hearing in Washington, on March 22, 2023. (Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)
Katabella Roberts

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) has vowed to block a vote confirming Lt. Gen. Timothy Haugh to serve as director of the National Security Agency (NSA) until the NSA answers “basic questions” regarding whether or not it is surveilling Americans, including their location data and web-browsing records.

The senator said in a Nov. 30 press release that the Defense Department has refused to release important information regarding the alleged personal data purchasing, despite the government having already acknowledged that such information is not classified.

Mr. Wyden—the longest-serving member of the Senate Intelligence Committee—said that until the agency hands over the information, he will block a vote confirming President Joe Biden’s nomination of Mr. Haugh, who currently serves as deputy commander of United States Cyber Command, to serve as the new director of both Cyber Command and the NSA.

“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,” he said in a statement placed in the Congressional Record.

Mr. Wyden highlighted Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), a controversial piece of legislation enacted by Congress in 2008.

Section 702 of the act allows for targeted intelligence collection of “specific types of foreign intelligence information,” such as information concerning international terrorism or the acquisition of weapons of mass destruction, of non-United States persons who are located outside of the country.

Debate Over Extention

However, while the law states that targets must be “non-United States persons reasonably believed to be located outside the United States,” it notes that Congress has “always recognized that such targets may send an email or have a phone call with a United States person.”

For this reason, the legislation also allows for information and data to be collected on Americans, without a warrant, if they have ever had any interaction with the targeted foreigners, such as if they send an email or have a phone call with the targeted individual.

Lawmakers are currently debating a short-term extension of the act, which is set to expire at the end of this year.

However, both Republicans and Democrats remain split on the legislation due to a string of alleged abuses against American citizens.

Supporters, including U.S. intelligence officials, argue Section 702 has served as a useful tool in combatting terrorism and protecting national security, and note that intelligence agencies must make a case to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, the primary watchdog of FISA, in order to surveil American citizens under FISA.

A man types on a computer keyboard, on Feb. 28, 2013. (Kacper Pempel/Reuters)
A man types on a computer keyboard, on Feb. 28, 2013. (Kacper Pempel/Reuters)

Alleged FISA Abuses

However, opponents have pointed to multiple instances of compliance issues and abuses of the legislation, including reports that the FBI had used the foreign intelligence tool 3.3 million times in 2021 against American citizens, without having first gained a warrant or court approval.

The agency has also reportedly used the FISA Act to spy on an unnamed person who was a sitting member of Congress at the time the query took place.

“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,” Senator Wyden said.

Mr. Wyden went on to state that he received an unclassified memo from the Defense Intelligence Agency in January 2021 revealing that it was “purchasing, retaining, and using location data revealing the movements of Americans.”

He complained that the Department of Defense has refused to identify which other agencies within the Department are buying Americans’ personal data, including their location data and web browsing records, despite him pressing them to do so.

Until the NSA discloses whether it is buying Americans’ location data and web browsing records and answers his questions, Senator Wyden intends to place Mr. Haugh’s nomination on hold, he concluded.

In the meantime, Gen. Paul Nakasone, the current head of the NSA and Cyber Command, will continue to serve in the role, despite his four-year term expiring.

A spokesperson for the National Security Agency declined to comment when contacted by The Epoch Times.