'We didn't know'
Schiff says Congress should have been briefed on high-level wiretaps
By Kevin Uhrich 11/07/2013
In a televised interview with Larry King, US Rep. Adam Schiff, a member of the House Intelligence Committee, said he and other members of Congress were not briefed on efforts to tap the phones of American allies.
Although he declined to say whether he believed President Obama knew about US intelligence operatives tapping the calls of world leaders, the Burbank Democrat insisted that the US needs to make sure its intelligence-gathering methods are consistent with its values and do not jeopardize key relationships.
Schiff also expressed disappointment in James Clapper director of National Intelligence, saying there needs to be “a meeting of the minds” between the intelligence community and members of Congress about the types of information that need to be disclosed.
Following is an excerpt of that interview, which first aired last Thursday on “Politicking with Larry King,” broadcast on RT America and Ora.tv.
LARRY KING: What do you make of this, Adam, of tapping in on foreign leaders who are our allies?
ADAM SCHIFF: Well, Larry, I’m not able to confirm or deny whether those reports are correct. If they are correct, obviously this is going to cause a major disruption, and even the perception is causing a major disruption with our allies. … I think this is something that should be briefed to Congress. If it’s going on, it’s not something that I was briefed on and I know the Senate Intelligence Committee chair feels exactly the same way, because ultimately this is a tough policy decision that should be carefully weighed because of its potential disruptive impact. Certainly there is some spying that goes on among allies, and I think that’s understood, but when you get to the level of heads of state or a personal telephone, I think there is a different expectation and as the president said, and I think quite rightly, we need to make sure our intelligence gathering is consistent with our values and is not going to jeopardize these key relationships. And so I’m looking to get to the bottom of it right now, Larry, of whether the committee was made aware of this, if it’s going on and to make sure the intelligence community has the same understanding that we on the committee do of what it means in the Intelligence Act when it requires that significant intelligence acts be briefed to Congress.
KING: What’s more [problematic] to you: That the president didn’t know about it or that he did know and didn’t tell us?
SCHIFF: Well, I think either way it’s problematic if the president was aware or he wasn’t aware of it, because it’s going to cause a major rupture with some of our allies, and I think this is something that [German] Chancellor [Angela] Merkel is taking very personally as well as others, and when you have issues like this they really need to rise to the highest because ultimately it’s a call that the president and Congress need to make about whether the risks are warranted, whether the information is so essential. I’m not going to say that it would be never appropriate to eavesdrop on a foreign leader, even one of our closest allies. There may be exceptional circumstances where that is justified. But I don’t know if that kind of analysis was done here. I don’t know how long this program exists, how long it was ongoing, so those are important questions that I think we need to get to the bottom of. But I believe, Larry that, whether the White House was aware of it or wasn’t aware of it, the problem remains the same.
KING: All right … in testimony this week, National Intelligence Director James Clapper indicated that surveillance of leaders was not significant enough to require Congress to know about it?
SCHIFF: Well, I had a fairly heated exchange over this very topic yesterday, because I think, plainly, it is the kind of significant intelligence activity that must be briefed to Congress. In any area, any analogous area of covert action where the administration wants to undertake a covert action, and there’s the possibility that covert action could blow back on us if it was discovered; those are things that are routinely briefed to the intelligence communities, and for good reason. But this similarity was received, you know, very much manifest right now, so that’s precisely the kind of thing that should be briefed to the committees and I wasn’t confident with the answer I got from the director yesterday, that the intelligence community sees it the same way as very specifically, “Would the tapping of a foreign leader be a significant intelligence activity that would be require to be reported?” and I got a less than fair answer to that, so I think we need to have a meeting of the minds between the intelligence community and the Congress about just what ought to be disclosed, and I think Sen. [Dianne] Feinstein is going down exactly the right path, which is to dramatically lower oversight on some of our foreign operations because, Larry, we have a lot greater transparency and perspective at least from an oversight point of view on what goes on domestically. We also have to safeguard the FISA court … But in terms of overseas operations, those operations that are conducted under an executive authority, called Twelve-Triple-Three [Executive Order 12333, signed on Dec. 4, 1981, by President Ronald Reagan, giving the president and the National Security Council sweeping surveillance powers], we need to do a much better job of oversight.