Try digitalPLUS for 10 days for only $0.99

Op-Eds

News Opinion Op-Eds

Review, reform, but don't reject the NSA [Commentary]

We must review and reform the National Security Agency (NSA), but we cannot reject the mission of the NSA, nor the men and women who work there.

The barrage of illegal revelations about the NSA by Edward Snowden have damaged our national security. They've eroded Americans' trust in government. Our image has been harmed abroad.

We must restore Americans' faith that our intelligence programs pass four fundamental questions: Are they constitutional? Are they legal? Are they authorized? And are they necessary?

Yes, we need to review the NSA programs rigorously and thoroughly. The president's review group on the NSA programs came out with a report in December 2013. All of these recommendations need to be reviewed swiftly and diligently by Congress, by the president and by the American people. The president has also done an internal review on the programs, as outlined in his speech Friday, and I'll be reviewing each of his recommendations closely.

Yes, we need to reform the NSA and its programs — but we need to do so responsibly and using common sense. As a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee and chairwoman of the Appropriations Committee, I have been advocating for reforms for many years.

Since 2007, I tried — but was stymied by some in the House Armed Services Committee — to require that the director of NSA be Senate confirmed to hold that person to the toughest standards of oversight and accountability. With the help of my colleague Dan Coats, an Indiana Republican, we were successful in getting that bipartisan provision included in two bills last year, plus language to require Senate confirmation of the NSA inspector general so that there is another independent whistle blower avenue for people working in the NSA.

I have also joined senators Ron Wyden, Mark Udall and Martin Heinrich, Democrats from Oregon, Colorado and New Mexico, in introducing a provision asking for additional transparency in making U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance (FISA) Court opinions more available to the public. I have supported strengthening the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, more open hearings by the Senate Intelligence Committee on FISA issues and automatic disclosure by the FISA Court of any constitutional violations in using FISA data.

We need to settle once and for all whether the FISA laws passed by Congress are in fact constitutional. In recent months there have been several contradictory legal opinions as to whether the FISA programs are constitutional. As an immediate first step, the Supreme Court should make it an urgent priority to review whether the FISA programs are constitutional. If not, then that's it.

Let's review. Let's reform. But let's not reject the men and women of the NSA, based on illegal revelations. I am proud that the NSA calls Maryland home. The country needs these patriots doing what they do. They serve in silence, without public accolades. They protect us against cyber attacks. They protect us against terrorist attacks. And the work they do is absolutely essential to protecting our warfighters in the military. In an unpredictable world, good intelligence is often our first line of defense, and it often starts with NSA's work.

I believe that the debate about FISA and the NSA is healthy and important for our democracy. Let's debate. Let's discuss whether and how our intelligence programs are constitutional, legal, authorized and necessary. If we proceed with a spirit of responsible reform rather than blame, I know that our democracy can emerge stronger in the end.

Barbara A. Mikulski is Maryland's senior United States Senator and a Democrat. She can be reached at communications@mikulski.senate.gov.

To respond to this commentary, send an email to talkback@baltimoresun.com. Please include your name and contact information.

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
Related Content
  • Wikileaks is as guilty as Snowden in NSA document scandal

    Wikileaks is as guilty as Snowden in NSA document scandal

    Edward Snowden gave the security information to Wikileaks. They decided to put it on their website. I would think they are as guilty as Mr. Snowden and should be fined or jailed for their actions. Our government should never let this happen again.

  • Could a state property tax cap stimulate Baltimore's economy?

    Could a state property tax cap stimulate Baltimore's economy?

    When Gov. Larry Hogan announced his rejection of the Red Line, an east-west rail transit line in Baltimore City, he seemed to derail the high hopes of Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and many other supporters of the $2.9 billion project. "He canceled a project," lamented the mayor, "that would have...

  • Urban America should give up on the Democrats

    Urban America should give up on the Democrats

    In my lifetime (I was born in 1950), the Democrats have had an extraordinary opportunity to run some of America's largest cities and apply their brand of liberal policies to the social and economic problems that have plagued them. Look at the history in just eight of these cities, according to...

  • Inequality of opportunity in the U.S.A.

    Inequality of opportunity in the U.S.A.

    We like to tell ourselves stories about the virtues of America, particularly as Independence Day rolls around each year. There is, perhaps, no better example than the story we tell our children that no matter your race, gender or wealth, in America you can become anything you want to be. This particular...

  • The burdens of being black

    The burdens of being black

    I was born human more than a half century ago but also birthed with the burden of being black. I discovered racial discrimination early in life. I grew up among the black poor in Hartford, where a pattern of housing segregation prevailed. One city, but separated North end and South end on the basis...

  • Partnerships improve health care in Maryland

    Partnerships improve health care in Maryland

    For decades, as health care costs continued to spiral upward and patients were stymied by an increasingly fragmented health care system, policy leaders, politicians and front-line caregivers strained to find a better way to care for people.

Comments
Loading

63°