- The Washington Times - Friday, August 16, 2019

The White House sought this week to permanently reauthorize the U.S. National Security Agency’s ability to access the telephone records of Americans.

Daniel R. Coats, President Trump’s outgoing director of national intelligence, made the request in a letter sent to lawmakers on the eve of his resignation taking effect Thursday.

Addressed to the top members of the Senate Judiciary Committee and Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and first published by The New York Times,  the letter recommended that Congress make permanent provisions of the USA Freedom Act set to expire in December, including language that allows the NSA to collect data about domestic telephone calls and texts.

Implemented following the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, the NSA’s program for collecting domestic call detail records was operated in secret for more than a decade before being exposed in 2013 by Edward J. Snowden, a former intelligence contractor who leaked classified agency documents to the media.

The program was subsequently reformed under the USA Freedom Act in 2015, which effectively banned the NSA’s warrantless, bulk collection of Americans’ phone records and replaced it with a new, narrowly tailored mechanism that will sunset at the end of the year unless reauthorized.

Mr. Coats confirmed previous reports that the program was quietly put on hold prior to expiring, but he said that it is nonetheless worthy of being relaunched.

The National Security Agency has suspended the call detail records program that uses this authority and deleted the call detail records acquired under this authority. This decision was made after balancing the program’s relative intelligence value, associated costs, and compliance and data integrity concerns caused by the unique complexities of using these company-generated business records for intelligence purposes,” Mr. Coats wrote.

“However, as technology changes, our adversaries’ tradecraft and communications habits will continue to evolve and adapt. In light of this dynamic environment, the Administration supports reauthorization of this provision as well,” he added.

Questions about the status of the NSA’s program emerged earlier this year after Luke Murry, a national security adviser to House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, California Republican, said during an interview that it had been quietly shelved several months earlier.

Bipartisan members of the House and Senate have since introduced proposals to officially terminate the program.

Mr. Coats, 76, represented Indiana in the U.S. Senate prior to serving as Mr. Trump’s director of national intelligence. He announced last month that he would resign Aug. 15.

The letter was sent to the intelligence committee’s chairman, Sen. Richard Burr, North Carolina Republican, and the panel’s top Democrat, Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, in addition to the Judiciary Committee’s chair, Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, and that panel’s ranking Democrat, Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California.

Representatives for Mr. Warner and Ms. Feinstein confirmed the senators received the letter but did not immediately comment on its content. Spokespeople for the other senators did not immediately respond to similar inquiries.

Mr. Coats has been succeeded by Joseph Maguire, a former U.S. Navy vice admiral appointed acting director of national intelligence by Mr. Trump.

“I look forward to working with my colleagues across the [intelligence community] to counter the threats of today and posture the community for the future,” he said in a statement Friday.

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