Outgoing National Security Agency deputy director John C. Inglis tells National Public Radio that the spy agency would welcome the creation of a public advocate position to take part in Foreign Intelligence Surveillance (FISA) Court deliberations as a check against NSA requests. Inglis, who is retiring after being the number 2 man in the agency for seven years says that an advocate for the constitutionality of requests to be included would be fine as long as it doesn't impede the expediency of the NSA's activities.
"So, let's say that I'm authorized to target the head of al-Qaida worldwide and I'm actively doing that," he continued. "I'm trying to figure out what communication services — selectors — that person is using. If at every moment in time somebody had to authorize me to put the next selector on — 'He just changed his email address, can I put that on?' — if that's where the advocate stands in, that's operationally not terribly efficient."
"But if there's going to be some novel interpretation of the law — if there's going to be some authority that's going to be applied as an extension of the law [that] might say, 'I've got a different view,' we'd welcome that."
The NSA would also be okay with a public advocate's presence in the room each time it seeks a warrant, according to Inglis – if the process can be made "operationally efficient." The creation of a public advocate position was one of the recommendations that came out of the President's Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies. The recommendations followed former NSA contractor Edward Snowden's leaks about the agency's surveillance programs.
Inglis did not dispute an estimate that the agency had examined electronic communications more than 44 million times in 2012, but he did say that this fact does not mean the NSA spied on 44 million people, since many targets of surveillance use multiple phone numbers or email accounts, which the agency examines multiple times.
"A particular terrorist might have dozens … hundreds of these selectors," he said.
You can check out a transcript of the Inglis interview on NPR.