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Interview With Rep. C.A. ‘Dutch’ Ruppersberger (D-Md.)

Ranking Member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence

Serving his sixth term in the United States House of Representatives, Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.) is the Ranking Member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. The committee has oversight of the National Security Agency (NSA), the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), and military intelligence operations, as well as myriad other government surveillance operations. First elected in 2002, Ruppersberger became the first freshman Democrat to serve on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. Ruppersberger previously had committee assignments on the Armed Services Committee, Committee on Appropriations, and Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

After delivering a keynote at the United States Geospatial Intelligence Foundation’s (USGIF’s) GEOINT 2013* Symposium in Tampa, Fla., Ruppersberger sat down with Defense Media Network’s Steven Hoarn to discuss a range of topics related to the intelligence community.


Steven Hoarn: How do you see the state of the U.S. intelligence community today?

Rep. C.A. “Dutch” Ruppersberger: There are a lot of challenges that are there. We are still strong, because of our integration. We work together, whether it’s SIGINT [signals intelligence], whether it’s HUMINT [human intelligence]. We have some very dangerous threats that are out there, whether it’s the terrorism threat, Russia/China threat. We have issues that we have to deal with.

Intelligence is clearly the best defense against terrorism, but we have to keep funding the areas that we need to have the resources to do the job. We are competing with Russia and China every day, and other countries too.


What do you think are some of the challenges?

The first thing is to educate the American public that the intelligence community is there to help them and protect them. The intelligence community is not breaking any laws, but it’s an education process. That’s why Chairman Mike Rogers [Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.)] and I introduced our bill [FISA Transparency and Modernization Act] to change the way we collect information to find terrorists that want to attack us.

He did a tremendous amount of damage. He turned his back on his country. He stole information. If he was worried about privacy, 90 percent of what he stole was military. So now China and Russia and these other countries that he has communicated with have our military secrets. This is clearly not the actions of a patriotic American who cares about his country.

The government will no longer hold bulk collection. The reason that we had that program, was after 9/11, if we had that type of program we probably would have found out that the terrorist coordinating the attack was in San Diego. So, if you want to find a needle in a haystack, the needle being the terrorist, you had to have the haystack. Now, the public are concerned because of the Snowden leaks, because of a lot of false information that has been put out there by the national media. The public are now concerned and think the government is listening to them and they are not, at all.

Now, the government will no longer have bulk data. If the intelligence community gets information about a terrorist threat, about a terrorist making contact in the United States, that information will be turned over to the FBI, who has jurisdiction in the United States. They will go to the telephone provider with an administrative subpoena and say, “we want to get on this number.” Again, no content, just strictly metadata. They will then look at that and be allowed, what we call “two hops,” to find out who’s this person calling in, who’s he talking to, and how. Then, the FBI will investigate them and determine whether there is some type of conspiracy to try to attack us in the United States.

So, you will have no more bulk collection. Not only that, the courts will oversee each transaction.  That’s very relevant too, because the courts oversee the bulk collection, but not every specific case. We will now have the courts involved. Clearly the balance is there between privacy and our ability to protect national security. You can’t have privacy without security and you can’t have security without privacy.


How much damage did Edward Snowden do to the U.S. intelligence community?

He did a tremendous amount of damage. He turned his back on his country. He stole information. If he was worried about privacy, 90 percent of what he stole was military. So now China and Russia and these other countries that he has communicated with have our military secrets. This is clearly not the actions of a patriotic American who cares about his country.

You know if he had any concerns about those issues he could have come to authorities? He wasn’t a whistleblower, because there were no laws being broken. Then turning it over to the international media and not coming to his own country. Now that he is in Russia, I hope he enjoys his life there. Based on Putin’s actions, he sure has to deal with privacy issues over there that are a lot worse than here. We do have Constitutional laws and we do follow those laws.

NSA Leaks

From left to right: Rep. Susan Brooks (R-Ind.) of the House Homeland Security Committee and Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence members Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.), Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), Ranking Member Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.), and Rep. Terri Sewell (D-Ala.) meet with members of the European Parliament in Brussels, Belgium, to listen to and discuss the concerns of allied countries over NSA programs, Dec. 17, 2013. House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence photo

We have lost many of our targets. They are now going back to couriers again and not communicating at all, other than by having individuals passing information. We know that al Qaeda is getting stronger in Yemen and in that part of the world, planning attacks. Also, with other countries too. Other countries spy on us, we spy on them.

Then, there comes an issue of getting our law passed, our CISPA law [Cyber Information Sharing & Protection Act], cosponsored by Rogers and Ruppersberger], which we passed in the House. We see these attacks coming in everyday, sometimes 3,000 attacks for one company. Yet, we can’t communicate that to the private sector. Target is a perfect example of the type of things that will keep happening, unless we pass laws that allow our intelligence community to communicate these attacks that are coming in on a regular basis.

This is why, because of the Snowden leaks and because of all the focus and information on trying to educate the American public, our country is a lot worse off today.


Director of U.S. National Intelligence James Clapper mentioned during his GEOINT 2013* Symposium keynote that smaller budgets mean that the intelligence community will “do less with less.” What do you think the impact of smaller budgets will be?

It’s going to have impact. Space is an example. People don’t understand how important space is to us – what it does for us everyday, on the ground, in information, and GPS systems. When you have less money you have to prioritize.

We are in a different phase of the type of warfare we have now than we were before, but you still have to stand strong with Russia and China. China especially, is very aggressive in space. They are spending billions of dollars and we can’t let them surpass us to make us a weaker country. We stay strong because of our freedom. We are the strongest nation in the world and that’s why we have our freedoms and liberties. You look at world history, if you don’t have strength you can be taken over. Look at Africa as a perfect example.


You mentioned the bill you are trying to pass with Rep. Rogers. How important is it for that bill to pass Congress?

Other than nuclear weapons, the second biggest threat to our country and to the world are cyber attacks. And just as an example, we know that China has been stealing close to a $100 billion from us.

This bill is very important, because if not, the program we have now – which is legal, has been upheld as legal by the Supreme Court – and our bulk data collection sunsets in 2015. June, 2015. So, what we need to do, by changing the way we do things and enlisting the public and the privacy groups, we’ve changed the way the government collects bulk data. We still need that balance between privacy, which we have in our bill, and also the issue of having the ability to protect our country from attacks.


What about those who say your bill doesn’t go far enough to end bulk data collection?

Well, I think they’re wrong. It does end bulk data collection. The government will no longer hold bulk data. We also have the Constitutional checks and balances in our bill. Every single time we make a request the court is involved. We have more checks and balances in what we do in the United States with our bill than every other nation in the world. We have both of our committees that provide oversight on this [House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and Senate Select Committee on Intelligence], we have the Justice Department, we have a special privacy group that oversees, we have the courts. There is not much more we can do.

You look at what we do on the criminal side. I used to be an investigative prosecutor. If you wanted to get a wiretap to get an organized crime figure you had to have probable cause. Probable cause is not the test, by the way, in intelligence. Intelligence is what builds to the level of probable cause. The test in intelligence is reasonable, articulable suspicion – it’s called RAS.

If the people understand and learn what’s there, they are going to see that this protects us from attacks, which we have to do, and yet it provides privacy. The government is no longer involved. You know, if the public knew how much Google and these other search engines are on them every day… They know where they shop, how long they shop, what they buy, and that’s OK. The public accepts that, especially the younger generations.

Other than nuclear weapons, the second biggest threat to our country and to the world are cyber attacks. And just as an example, we know that China has been stealing close to $100 billion from us, but there are also what we call destructive attacks that concern me greatly.

It’s been said by the media that Iran attacked the largest oil company in Saudi Arabia, called [Saudi] Aramco, that literally shut down 5,000 computers. When they shut them down they had an American flag burning. There’s an example of a destructive attack. They can attack our bank systems and we are not ready until we pass these laws that have information sharing. That’s CISPA by the way, not the bill we put in to end bulk collection.

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Steven Hoarn is the Editor/Photo Editor for Defense Media Network. He is a graduate of...