Return to Transcripts main page


Live Coverage as NSA Director Rogers and FBI Director Comey Testify Before Congress. Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired March 20, 2017 - 10:30   ET


ADMIRAL MICHAEL S. ROGERS, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL SECURITY AGENCY: And I'm glad to be able to describe here today how we are working together to help protect the nation and our allies to include providing a better understanding of Russian intentions and capabilities.


In light of the I.C. assessment and findings, I welcome your investigation into overall Russian activities targeting the previous U.S. elections. NSA continues to employ rigorous analytic standards, applying them in every aspect of our intelligence reporting.

Our analysts have consistently proven to be reliable and thorough in their technical and analytic efforts and providing our policymakers and warfighters with SIGINT ammunition to make informed decisions to protect our nation's freedom and ensure the safety of its citizens. They are diligently continuing to monitor for additional reflections of Russian targeting of U.S. systems and those of our friends and allies around the world to share that information with our I.C. colleagues and foreign counterparts and to share that information with our I.C. colleagues and foreign counterparts and to produce unbiased, unprejudiced and timely reporting of SIGINT facts in their entirety.

I look forward your questions. Thank you, sir.


Director Comey, you're recognized for five minutes.

JAMES COMEY, FBI DIRECTOR: Mr. Chairman, Ranking Member Schiff, members of the committee, thank you for including me in today's hearing. I'm honored to be here representing the people of the FBI.

I hope we have shown you through our actions and our words how much we at the FBI value your oversight of our work and how much we respect your responsibility to investigate those things are important to the American people. Thank you for showing that both are being taken very seriously.

As you know, our practice is not to confirm the existence of ongoing investigations, especially those investigations that involve classified matters, but in unusual circumstances where it is in the public interest, it may be appropriate to do so as Justice Department policies recognize. This is one of those circumstances.

I have been authorized by the Department of Justice to confirm that the FBI, as part of our counterintelligence mission, is investigating the Russian government's efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election and that includes investigating the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government and whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russia's efforts. As with any counterintelligence investigation, this will also include an assessment of whether any crimes were committed.

Because it is an open ongoing investigation and is classified, I cannot say more about what we are doing and whose conduct we are examining. At the request of congressional leaders, we have taken the extraordinary step in coordination with the Department of Justice of briefing this Congress' leaders, including the leaders of this committee, in a classified setting in detail about the investigation but I can't go into those details here. I know that is extremely frustrating to some folks. I hope you and the American people can understand. The FBI is very careful in how we handle information about our cases and about the people we are investigating.

We are also very careful about the way we handle information that may be of interest to our foreign adversaries. Both of those interests are at issue in a counterintelligence investigation. Please don't draw any conclusions from the fact that I may not be able to comment on certain topics. I know speculating is part of human nature, but it really isn't fair to draw conclusions simply because I say that I can't comment.

Some folks may want to make comparisons to past instances where the Department of Justice and the FBI have spoken about the details of some investigations, but please keep in mind that those involved the details of completed investigations. Our ability to share details with the Congress and the American people is limited when those investigations are still open, which I hope makes sense.

We need to protect people's privacy. We need to make sure we don't give other people clues as to where we're going. We need to make sure that we don't give information to our foreign adversaries about what we know or don't know. We just cannot do our work well or fairly if we start talking about it while we're doing it. So we will try very, very hard to avoid that, as we always do.

This work is very complex and there is no way for me to give you a timetable as to when it will be done. We approach this work in an open-minded, independent way and our expert investigators will conclude that work as quickly as they can but they will always do it well no matter how long that takes.


I can promise you, we will follow the facts wherever they lead. And I wanna underscore something my friend Mike Rogers said, leaks of classified information are serious, serious federal crimes for a reason... (AUDIO GAP)

COMEY: ... they should be investigated and where possible prosecuted in a way that reflects that seriousness so that people understand it simply cannot be tolerated.

And I look forward to taking your questions.

NUNES: Thank you, Director Comey.

Admiral Rogers, first I wanna go to you. On January 6th, 2017, the intelligence community assessment assessing Russian activities and intentions in recent U.S. elections, stated that the types of systems Russian actors targeted or compromised were not involved in vote tallying.

So my question as of today, Admiral Rogers, do you have any evidence that Russia cyber actors changed vote tallies in the state of Michigan?

ROGERS: No I do not, but I would highlight we are a foreign intelligence organization, not a domestic intelligence organization. So it would be fair to say, we are probably not the best organization to provide a more complete answer.

NUNES: How about the state of Pennsylvania?

ROGERS: No, sir.

NUNES: The state of Wisconsin?

ROGERS: No, sir.

NUNES: State of Florida?

ROGERS: No, sir.

NUNES: The state of North Carolina?

ROGERS: No, sir.

NUNES: The state of Ohio?

ROGERS: No, sir.

NUNES: So -- so you have no intelligence that suggests, or evidence that suggests, any votes were changed?

ROGERS: I have nothing generated by the national security industry, sir.

NUNES: Director Comey, do you have any evidence at the FBI that any votes were changed in the states that I mentioned to Admiral Rogers?

COMEY: No. NUNES: Thank you. Admiral Rogers, I know that there was a leak of information regarding Director Clapper and Former Secretary of Defense Carter, were looking at relieving you of your -- of your duty.

Are you aware of those stories?

ROGERS: I'm aware of media reporting to that.

NUNES: And those stories were leaked as soon as you had visited with President-elect Trump. Is that correct?

ROGERS: Yes sir, I was asked if I would be prepared to interview with the Trump administration for a position, which I did.

NUNES: Did the leak of that information at all -- at all impact your ability and your assessment that you did for the intelligence community's assessment on January 6th?

ROGERS: No sir, if I spent time in this job worrying about un- sourced media reporting, I'd never get any work done.

NUNES: Thank you, Admiral.

Director Comey, I remain extremely concerned about the widespread illegal leaks that you just referenced in your -- in your testimony. Just for the record though, I wanna get this on the record.

Does the unauthorized disclosure of classified information to the press violate 18 USC 793, a section of the Espionage Act that criminalizes improperly accessing handling or transmitting national defense information?


NUNES: Would an unauthorized disclosure of FISA-derived information to the press violate 18 USC 798, a section of the Espionage Act that criminalizes the disclosure of information concerning the communication and intelligence activities of the United States?

COMEY: Yes, in addition to being a breach of our trust with the FISA Court that oversees our use of those authorities.

NUNES: Thank you, Director.

At this time, I'm gonna yield to Mr. Rooney, who chairs our NSA cyber committee, for questions.

REP. TOM ROONEY (R), FLORIDA: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

I'd like to direct my questions, first and foremost, to Admiral Rogers to convey my thanks to the many men and women for their dedication at the NSA for keeping our country safe. As well as I want to talk about the recent media stories, it may have led to confusion in the public about what the NSA is and is not legally collecting in. And the safeguards the NSA has put into place to protect personal data. So I'd like to clarify is the chairman of the subcommittee on the NSA, I recently got to meet your deputy admiral last week out at the NSA and we visited and spoke of some of these things. And what -- what we can talk about your today publicly, if you could go into, if you can't, you can't. But I think that this is important for the people in the room and -- and listening outside understand.

Is it true that the NSA would need a court order based on probable cause to conduct electronic surveillance on a U.S. person inside the United States?

ROGERS: Yes sir.

ROONEY: And just to be clear, the section of the FISA that is expiring later this year, that's 702, which will be talking about a little bit, cannot be used to target U.S. persons or persons in the United States, is that correct?


ROGERS: Yes sir.

ROONEY: Section 702 focuses on non-U.S. persons outside the United States, primarily correct?

ROGERS: Yes sir.

ROONEY: Do you believe that the section 702 is important and valuable for U.S. national security?

ROGERS: Yes sir.

ROONEY: So it's safe to say that without having this tool, it would be a threat to our national security?

ROGERS: It would significantly impact my ability to generate the insights that I believe this nation needs.

ROONEY: In the media, there's a lot of reporting about something called incidental collection. Can you talk about what incidental collection is?

ROGERS: Yes sir. Incidental collection is when we are targeting a valid foreign target, for example, in the course of that targeting we either get a reference to a U.S. person or suddenly a U.S. person appears as part of the conversation. That's what we call incidental collecting.

ROONEY: And -- and what you do when it went something like that happens, if there's a U.S. person part of an incidental collection, what kind of safeguards are put in place to make sure that...

ROGERS: So it depends specifically on the legal authority that we're using to execute the collection in the first place. But in broad terms, realizing again, it varies little bit by the specific authority that we're using to conduct the collection. We step back and we ask ourselves first, are we dealing with a U.S. person here? Is there something that we didn't expect to encounter that we've now encountered?

We'll ask ourselves what leads us to believe that it is a U.S. person. If we come to the conclusion that it is a U.S. person and we ask ourselves are we -- are we listening to criminal activity, are we seeing something of imminent threat or danger, for example, or are we just receiving something that has nothing to do with any of our valid collection authority? Based on that, we'll then take a series of actions.

In some case, we will just purge the collect, make no reporting on it, not retain the data. It's incidental collection, it has no intelligence value and it wasn't the purpose of what we were doing. In some cases then if we believe that there is intelligence value, for example, whether it's a reference to a U.S. person, as an example in a scenario.

In our reporting then we will mask the identity of the individual. We use a phrase like U.S. person one or U.S. person two. And I would remind everyone that for our purposes, U.S. person is defined very broadly. That is not just a U.S. citizen, that is a U.S. corporation, that is a ship or aircraft that is registered in the United States, that is an internet protocol address, for example.

So it's not just a particular individual, if that makes sense. The term for us is much broader because designed to ensure our protections of U.S. persons.

ROONEY: And this -- the procedures and protections you talked about are required and approved by the FISA court, is that correct?

ROGERS: Yes sir, and the attorney general.

ROONEY: And you mentioned in your opening statement that for that kind of information to be disseminated outside of your agency and the NSA that that dissemination would be strictly on a need-to-know basis, is that -- is that correct?

ROGERS: We use two criteria; is there a need to know in the course of the person or group that is asking for the identification, is there a valid need to know in the course of the execution of their official duties?

ROONEY: So like, who would that be?

ROGERS: It could be another element with the intelligence community, it could be another element within NSA, it could be a military customer, for example, who's reading some of our reporting. It could be a policymaker.

I apologize, there was one other point I wanted to make, but I've lost the thread in my mind. I apologize if I jump in at a moment...

ROONEY: I'm sorry, I cut you off.

ROGERS: I'll try to make...

ROONEY: Let's get back to masking briefly.

You spoke about masking and trying to keep a U.S. person's identity concealed. And when it is disseminated, you -- we often talk about in the intelligence community about the exceptions to how -- if somebody's masks, how you unmask them. What would the exceptions to that masking be before it's disseminated?

ROGERS: So again, we use two criteria; the need to know on the person requesting us in the execution of their official duties and the second part was, is the identification necessary to truly understand the context of the intelligence value that the report is designed to generate? Those are the two criteria we use.

ROONEY: Is that identity of a U.S. person communicating with a foreign target? Is that ordinarily disseminated in a masked or unmasked form? ROGERS: No. It is normally disseminated, if we -- if we make the decision that there's intelligence value and we're going to report on it, it is normally disseminated in a masked form. I would -- again, as I said, we use a reference, U.S. person one, U.S. person two...

ROONEY: Right.

ROGERS: I would highlight, if you look at the total breadth of our reporting, reporting involving U.S. persons at all is an incredibly small subset in my experience of our total reporting.


ROONEY: Who normally in the NSA would make the decision to unmask?

ROGERS: There are 20 individuals including myself who I have delegated this authority to approve unmask requests.

ROONEY: And does the level of approval change depending on the reason for unmasking? If it was something or somebody, say, really important would that matter or could it be...

ROGERS: Not -- it's not necessarily designated in writing that way, but certainly by custom and tradition, at times requests will be pushed up to my -- I'm the senior-most of the 20 individuals. Requests will be pushed to my level, say "hey, sir, we just want to make sure that you're comfortable with this."

ROONEY: Right. So 20 people, that -- you know, what procedures or safeguards are put in place to make sure that those 20 people are not unmasking wrongly?

ROGERS: So they retrieve specific training, there are specific controls put in place in terms of our ability to disseminate information out of the databases associated with U.S. persons.

ROONEY: OK. Let's run through the exceptions quickly through a following hypothetical. If the NSA collects a communication where a target under surveillance is talking to a U.S. person, how would the NSA determine whether disseminating the U.S. person information is necessary to understanding the foreign intelligence or assess its importance?

ROGERS: So first of all, try to understand the nature of the conversation. Is this truly something that involves intelligence or a national security implication for the United States or is this just very normal, reasonable conversations, in which case we have no desire to have any awareness of it, it's not applicable to our mission.

In that case, normally we'll purge the data. We'll ask ourselves, is there criminal activity involved, is there a threat, potential threat or harm to U.S. individuals being discussed in a conversation for example.

ROONEY: If there was criminal activity involved, what would you do then? ROGERS: If when we disseminate -- if we decide we need -- if it's criminal activity, we'll disseminate the information and if the FBI or other criminal activities are on the reporting stream, in some cases I also will generate a signed letter under my signature in specific cases to Department of Justice highlighting that what we think we have is potential criminal activity, but because we are not a law enforcement or justice organization we're not in a place to make that determination.

ROONEY: OK. Based on that, again, hypothetically, if the NSA obtained the communication of General Flynn while he was communicating with the surveillance target legally, would you please explain how General Flynn's identity could be unmasked based on the exceptions that we discussed?

ROGERS: Sir, I'm not going to discuss even hypotheticals about individuals, I'm sorry.

ROONEY: If I could make reference to a Washington Post article that I have here from February 9 which states -- do you -- let me say what it is and I'll ask if you've read it or -- or -- or if you've seen it. Which states national security under Michael Flynn privately discussed U.S. sanctions against Russia with the country's ambassador to the United States during the month before President Trump took office.

Contrary to public assertions by Trump officials current and -- and former U.S. officials said. The article goes on to say that nine current or former -- former officials who were in senior positions at multiple agencies at the time of the call spoke under the condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters. Did you read this article?

ROGERS: I apologize, sir. It's not -- an article that references nine particular individual -- it doesn't necessarily ring a bell. I've certainly seen plenty of media reporting that but again, I'm not going to comment on specifics.

ROONEY: Just basically under the breath of that article, when we when we hear that nine former, current -- or current officials had spoken to the press under the condition of anonymity, and we heard our director Comey and the Chairman speak of this is a potential crime -- a serious crime -- under the Espionage Act, assuming if this article is accurate, who would have the -- who would be in a position to request the unmasking of General Flynn's identity? Would that be you?

ROGERS: I would have the authority to do that.

ROONEY: Who else would?

ROGERS: The 19 other individuals.

ROONEY: Would that include director Comey?

ROGERS: I'm talking about...

ROONEY: In the NSA...

ROGERS: ... within the National Security Agency and we're talking about NSA reporting.

ROONEY: But -- but would people like Director Comey also be able to request that?


ROONEY: And the attorney general and Director Clapper, are those type of people also on this list?

ROGERS: Again, I'm not going to -- in general, yes, they would be...


ROONEY: Generally speaking, not with regard to...

ROGERS: I'm not going to talk about...


ROGERS: ... of an individual or hypothetical scenarios.

ROONEY: Well, here's what I'm trying to get at. If -- if -- if what we're talking about is a serious crime as has -- as has been alleged, in your opinion, would leaking of an -- a U.S. person who has been unmasked and disseminated by intelligence community officials, would that leaking to the press hurt or help our ability to conduct national security matters?


ROONEY: OK. If -- if it hurts -- so this leak, which through the 702 tool, which we all agree is vital -- or you and I at least agree to that -- do you think that that leak actually threatens our national security? If it's a crime and if it's unveiling a masked person, and this tool is so important that it can potentially jeopardize this tool when we have to try to reauthorize it in a few months.

If this is used against the ability of us to reauthorize this tool and we can't get it done because whoever did this leak, or these nine people that did this leak, create such a stir, whether it be, you know, in our legislative process or whatever, that they don't feel confident that a U.S. person under the 702 program can be masked successfully and not leaked to the press, doesn't that hurt, that leak hurt our national security?

ROGERS: Yes, sir.

ROONEY: Can you think of any reason why somebody would -- would want to leak the identity of a mass person?

ROGERS: No sir, I -- I mean I have raised this directly with my own workforce over the -- over the course of the last few months to remind everyone, part of the ethics of our profession, not just the legal requirement but the ethics of our profession as intelligence professionals is we do not engage in this activity.

And I've also reminded the men and women of the National Security Agency, if I become aware of any such conduct, there is no place for you on this team. It's unacceptable to the citizens of the nation that one would engage in this.

ROONEY: Well, I think that, you know, as we move forward, obviously, you know, I think that what you're speaking of is this sacred trust that the intelligence community has with the American people and with the people that are representing them here on this dais.

And if we -- I think that it's vital that for those who break that sacred trust, if they are not held accountable whether it by the NSA internally or by the FBI through conviction or investigations/prosecution and conviction through the attorney general's office of that crime, it is very difficult for us to be able to keep that sacred trust to know that what we're doing is -- is -- is valid and what we're doing has no nefarious motivations. And -- and -- and to us to be able to keep America safe without violating the constitutional protections that we all enjoy.

Mr. Chairman, I'm not sure how much more time I have left. I just wanted to...

ROGERS: Congressman, can I make one comment if I could, I apologize.

ROONEY: Yes, sir.

ROGERS: It comes to my mind based on your question, I just wanna remind everyone and in general. FISA collection on targets in the United States has nothing to do with 702, I just wanna make sure we're not confusing the two things, here, 702 is collection overseas against non-U.S. persons.

ROONEY: Right and -- and what -- and what we're talking about here, is incidentally, if a U.S. person is talking to a foreign person that we're listening to, whether or not that person is unmasked...

ROGERS: I just wanna make sure we all understand the context, that's all.

ROONEY: Right, right, and -- and whether or not somebody in the intelligence community that we put the trust in, is going to leak that information to the press, for whatever reason. And I'm not even gonna get into the gratuitous, you know, what that reason may be.

But it's really gonna hurt the people on this committee and you all on the intelligence community, when we try to retain this tool this year. And try to convince some of our colleagues that this is really important for national security, when somebody in the intelligence community says you know what? The hell with it, I'm gonna release this person's name because I'm gonna get something out of it.

We're all gonna be hurt by that if we can't reauthorize this tool, do you agree with that?

ROGERS: Yes, sir.

ROONEY: Mr. Chairman, do I -- do I have enough time to talk about the letter the committee sent?

NUNES: Sure.

ROONEY: The committee sent to you on March 15th, a letter -- yeah, to Admiral Rogers and to Director Comey. Have you had a chance to look at this letter? I think that you've actually...


ROGERS: Yes sir, I in fact have given you a reply on the 17th.

ROONEY: Just real -- real quickly because I don't want to take up any more time. Can you give us a sense of how many unmasked U.S. persons identities were disseminated by the NSA from June 2016 to June 2017?


ROGERS: No sir. As I have indicated where the process of compiling that information. I will provide it to the committee. But until that work is done, I am not gonna comment.

ROONEY: Can you tell us whether any of those disseminations broadly were involved U.S. people relating to presidential candidates Donald J. Trump or Hillary Clinton, and their associates in 2016?

ROGERS: I won't answer until I complete the research sir.

ROONEY: Assuming that the NSA disseminated unmasked U.S. persons information relating to the Trump or Clinton campaigns, would that have been a reason for such unmasking?

ROGERS: I apologize. I don't truly understand the question.

ROONEY: Let me just move on to the next one.

Along those lines, if the NSA had wanted disseminate unmasked U.S persons information related to either the presidential campaign, who in the NSA would have approved such dissemination's?

ROGERS: Again, it would've been one of the 20 and I provided that in my initial response to the committee. I have outlined the procedures, I've outlined the specific 20 individuals.

ROONEY: Thank you, Admiral. I appreciate your -- your answers. I look forward to working with you on the subcommittee moving forward.

And Mr. Chairman, I yield back.

NUNES: Gentleman yields back.

Mr. Gowdy is recognized.

REP. TREY GOWDY (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Director Comey, we will begin on this line of questioning, then we'll finish it the next round. FISA and other similar related counterterrorism programs have been described, even this morning, as vital, critical and indispensable to our national security. And many of us on both sides of the aisle believe FISA and similar counterterrorism programs prevent terrorist attacks and save American lives.

But FISA and other surveillance programs are intentionally designed to preserve the privacy of U.S. citizens. They are intentionally designed to ensure the information is collected and used only for legitimate national security and criminal investigative purposes.

There are statutory safeguards, there are warrants based on probable calls, there is a FISA court that is involved, there are audits on the backend and we think so highly of this material. It is a felony, punishable by up to 10 years in federal prison to unlawfully disseminate it. All of this was done to make sure this information gathered remains protected as it relates to U.S. citizens.

The way I view it, Director Comey, the American people have an agreement with their government. We are going to give you the tools to keep us safe, even if it infringes on our privacy Psalm (ph). We're going to give you the tools. And government in return promises to safeguard the privacy of U.S. citizens. And when that deal is broken, it jeopardizes American trust in the surveillance program.

So let me ask you, do you agree FISA is critical to our national security?

COMEY: I do.

GOWDY: Do you agree programs like FISA were intentionally designed to safeguard the identity of U.S. persons?

COMEY: Yes, there are other -- other important elements of it but that's a primary goal, I believe.

GOWDY: It wasn't an afterthought, it wasn't an accident. These are intentional safeguards that we put in place to protect U.S. citizens, is that correct?

COMEY: Correct.

GOWDY: Do you agree much of what is learned from these programs is classified or otherwise legally protected?

COMEY: All FISA applications review by the court collection by us pursuant to our FISA authority is classified.

GOWDY: The dissemination of which is a felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison?

COMEY: Sure, dissemination -- unauthorized dissemination. GOWDY: Unauthorized dissemination of classified or otherwise legally protected material punishable by a felony up to 10 years in federal prison.

COMEY: Yes. Yes, as it should be.

GOWDY: All right.

In January of this year, the Washington Post reported, according to a senior U.S. government official, a named U.S. citizen -- and I will not use the name -- a named U.S. citizen phoned the Russian ambassador several times on December 29.

In February of this year, the Washington Post reported nine, nine current and former officials who were in senior positions at multiple agencies at the time of the call, spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters and that officials began poring over intelligence reports, intercepted communications, and diplomatic cables.


In February of this year, the New York Times reported a U.S. citizen, whose name I will not use, discusses sanctions with the Russian ambassador in a phone call according to officials who have seen a transcript of the wiretapped conversation.