Jun. 13, 2013 By JOHN T. BENNETT – Defense News
WASHINGTON — Congress is unlikely to overhaul the US intelligence community after a Booz Allen Hamilton employee disclosed several highly classified national security programs, says one key senator.
Asked Thursday morning by Defense News whether Congress should overhaul the intel community to limit the number of private-sector contractors with access to key anti-terrorism programs, Sen. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, the top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, replied: “I don’t think so.”
“Not right now,” Chambliss said. “Nothing indicates that we should, from what I’ve seen.”
Still, lawmakers could do some tinkering at the edges of defense and intelligence contractor policies.
After a classified briefing from NSA and other officials for all senators, Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., told reporters that lawmakers are crafting legislation to limit private contractors’ access to the nation’s most classified data.
“We will certainly have legislation which will limit or prevent contractors from handling highly classified technical data. And we will do some other things,” Feinstein said.
It was not immediately clear how such legislation would impact contracting firms’ business.
Lawmakers have been huddling publicly and behind closed doors all week with National Security Agency Director Gen. Keith Alexander, trying to better understand the two anti-terrorism programs that were made public by former CIA and Booz Allen Hamilton employee Eric Snowden. Snowden allegedly is hiding in Hong Kong.
Senior US lawmakers want Snowden, a 29-year-old community college dropout and IT wiz, brought back to the United States and prosecuted for disclosing to reporters an NSA effort called PRISM that tracks and stores email traffic that passes through the United States — sometimes involving American citizens — and another to gather Verizon phone records.
Lawmakers say the programs should remain in place because they are too important in the fight against al-Qaida. Alexander told a Senate panel on Wednesday the programs have helped prevent “dozens” of terrorist attacks.
This week, members have called for stricter hiring guidelines by intel agencies and defense contractors. They also are mulling whether to impose stricter guidelines on the intel and defense communities to pare the number of individuals who have access to the nation’s most sensitive, and, officials say, important, anti-terrorism efforts.