Senators to Question FBI Nominee on Spying Programs

Comey is expected to be asked about the controversial National Security Agency surveillance programs disclosed by former Pentagon contractor Edward Snowden.

Lawmakers on a U.S. Senate panel tomorrow are expected to question President Barack Obama’s nominee to run the Federal Bureau of Investigation on national-security surveillance programs and other issues.

Members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, headed by Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., are scheduled to meet Tuesday on Capitol Hill for the nomination hearing of James Comey, who was tapped by the White House to succeed Robert Mueller as director of the FBI.

The event is likely to be widely attended and cover a range of topics, including the National Security Agency surveillance programs disclosed by former Pentagon contractor Edward Snowden, who remains in a Moscow airport after fleeing the U.S. and Taiwan.

Snowden is wanted by the U.S. after leaking information about classified NSA programs known as PRISM and Upstream, which allow officials to capture e-mails and other digital information on potential threats from tech companies such as Google Inc. and fiber-optic cable networks.

Comey is being nominated to serve a decade-long term. From 2003 to 2005, he was deputy attorney general at the Justice Department during the George W. Bush administration. In 2004, he urged then-Attorney General John Ashcroft not to renew the government’s domestic surveillance program.

In announcing the nomination, Obama touted Comey’s law-enforcement roots. The grandson of a patrolman who later led the Yonkers Police Department, Comey helped bring down the Gambino crime family as a young prosecutor in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Manhattan, Obama said in his remarks.

“Jim is exceptionally qualified to handle the full range of challenges faced by today’s FBI — from traditional threats like violent and organized crime, to protecting civil rights and children from exploitation, to meeting transnational challenges like terrorism and cyber threats,” Obama said.

During the hearing, Leahy will probably ask Comey for his thoughts on legislation the senator introduced last month to curb the government’s ability to spy on Americans under amended provisions of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 and the USA PATRIOT Act of 2008.

“It’s certainly fair game and it’s something on his radar,” a committee aide told Military.com.

The bill, called the FISA Accountability and Privacy Protection Act of 2013, “will improve the privacy protections and accountability provisions associated with these authorities,” Leahy said last month in a release announcing the legislation.

S.1215 would end some surveillance efforts more than two years early in June 2015, impose additional standards on authorities and make public information about the government’s requests and their impacts on personal privacy, according to the release.

Co-sponsors include Sens. Mark Begich, D-Alaska; Richard Blumenthal, D-CT; Mike Lee, R-Utah; Jeff Merkley, D-Ore.; Jon Tester, D-Mont.; Mark Udall, D-Colo.; and Ron Wyden, D-Ore.

Also watch for Comey to field questions about the detention of suspected terrorists at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay and white-collar crime. “You will see a little bit of everything,” the aide said. “The questions will be very wide-ranging.”

The committee may hold a vote on his nomination in about two weeks — after Comey submits for the congressional record written responses to members’ questions, the aide said.

About the Author

Brendan McGarry
Brendan McGarry is the managing editor of Military.com. He can be reached at brendan.mcgarry@military.com. Follow him on Twitter at @Brendan_McGarry.