Oversight Hearing on the Federal Bureau of Investigation

Location: 2141 Rayburn House Office Building

Oversight Hearing on the Federal Bureau of Investigation

Opening Statements

Statement of the Honorable John Conyers, Jr
House Committee on the Judiciary
Thursday, June 12, 2013, at 10:00 a.m.
2141 Rayburn House Office Building

As we gather today, our nation stands at a legal and political crossroads.  We are confronted with a seemingly endless war on terror that increasingly must be fought in the digital age.

I say this not only because of the recent disclosures concerning FBI and NSA surveillance programs, but because of a range of actions which have occurred since the attacks of September 11, 2001.

This is not a partisan concern.  It is one that applies both to the present Administration and to the last one. 

Nor is it a concern limited to surveillance programs.  It extends to our increasing reliance on drones to conduct foreign policy, and the government's use of  the so-called "states secrets" doctrine to avoid legal accountability.

And, yes, in no small part because of the actions of the NSA and the FBI, I fear we are on the verge of becoming a surveillance state, collecting billions of electronic records on law-abiding Americans every single day.

Exhibit A is the recent disclosure—confirmed by the Administration—that Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act is being used to engage in a nationwide dragnet of telecommunications records.

I have, along with many of my colleagues—Democrats and Republicans alike—long expressed concern that Section 215 fails to impose a meaningful limit on the government's ability to collect this type of information.  If every call is "relevant," then the relevance standard we enacted into law has little practical meaning.

Exhibit B is the total secrecy in which surveillance operates under the PATRIOT Act and FISA.  This secrecy denies Congress the opportunity to conduct meaningful oversight, and prevents the public from holding its government accountable for its actions. 

A free society can only be free if it has the informed consent of its citizens.  It is critical that the public knows how its government treats the content of its emails and telephone calls, even when it collects them by mistake. 

It is true that some members of Congress have chosen to receive classified briefings about these programs.  These briefings prohibit attendees to take notes, or even to discuss such information with anyone else.

And, with all due respect to my friends in the Administration, the mere fact that some members may have been briefed in a classified setting does not indicate our approval or support of these programs.

Indeed, many of us voted against the reauthorization of the PATRIOT Act and the FISA Amendments Act precisely because of what we learned in those classified sessions.

I agree with President Obama about the need to find a way to have a responsible conversation about these issues

But at a time when no major decision of the FISA court has been declassified, and when the Administration continues to rely on the states secret doctrine to avoid accountability in the courts, I must say that are not yet able to have that public conversation.

The only way to ensure that this critical debate will actually occur is for this Committee to achieve an appropriate balance between the need for secrecy and the need for informed debate.

One way to tell that the balance has tilted too far in favor of national security is when individuals in public service have legitimate grievances with our government—but feel that they have no recourse but to leak classified information to the press.

Although I do not condone these leaks, I believe that if we fail to address the concerns at the heart of these controversial programs there will be many more of them.

Although I have deep respect for Director Mueller, his integrity alone cannot allay our concerns.  After all, we are a nation of laws, not men.  Moreover, with all due respect, my considered judgment is that the FBI's actions are inconsistent with the requirements of the PATRIOT Act and violate the fundamental privacy of law abiding Americans.

I will finish my remarks where I began: this Congress, and in particular this Committee, stands at a crossroads.  Every day, it seems that a new part of the legal architecture put in place to fight this war on terror is exposed.

The prison at Guantanamo Bay is unsustainable.  Of the 166 men held there, 86 are cleared for transfer.  More than 100 are engaged in the third month of a hunger strike.  Nearly 2000 personnel are needed to keep the prison functioning.

Thanks in no small part to the efforts of the Chairman, we have begun to explore the legal underpinnings of the Administration's drone programs.  There is growing bipartisan unease with the notion that the executive branch can kill a United States citizen on its own determination that he poses an "imminent threat."

And so, it is my hope that over the coming weeks the Members of this Committee can come together and conduct real and meaningful oversight of these programs.  Where needed, we should pass relevant and credible legislation, just as we did on a unanimous basis after September 11.

Tomorrow morning, my colleague Justin Amash and I will introduce a bill that will address the overbreadth and impenetrability of the surveillance programs.  It is not the only proposal to address these problems.  It should not be the only response to the broader questions we face.  But it is a modest start, and I hope my colleagues will join me.

This is the time for members on both sides of the aisle to come together and help restore our nation to its proper role as a beacon for freedom and liberty around the world.

Hon. Robert S. Mueller, III, Director

Federal Bureau of Investigation


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