Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and the National Security Agency have released three documents outlining the nature and the extent of improper surveillance of Americans from 2008 until 2011. Once again the intelligence community finds itself on the defensive, explaining poor past performance only after a leak has put them under the microscope. I firmly believe that these programs are vital to America’s national security. I firmly believe that the leadership of the community has gone through extraordinary steps to insure that these programs comply with American law and protect individual civil liberties. But it is obvious that the community has been totally ineffective in explaining in an open and a forthright manner these programs and the protections built into them. They knew this information was going to come out but did nothing to preempt it. Their inability to manage an effective and credible response to the Snowden leaks jeopardizes America’s security.
Many in Congress (and in the public) have continued to defend the NSA and these programs. I supported them from 2004 when I became chairman of the House Intelligence Committee until the day I left Congress in 2011. But it wasn’t always easy. Many times the biggest threat to the programs was the intelligence community’s unwillingness to be proactive in telling Congress when things broke down. Eventually Congress would get the information, but sometimes it was like pulling teeth, a slow and very painful process for both sides. It always lessened the credibility of the community. The American public is now experiencing the same behavior by the community, with a steady drip, drip, drip, of leaks, some of which are nothing more than half-truths that have been sensationalized and taken totally out of context.
Regardless, if America loses the ability to use these legal and effective tools the intelligence community will have no one to blame but itself. They can’t blame Snowden; they can’t blame Congress; they can’t blame the bloggers. Rather than being proactive, they look weak and insecure by being totally reactive. A weak and defensive posture is making them lose credibility with the American people. An intelligence community that loses the support of the American people will be unable to do its job, and that’s their fault. I hope the leadership in the community steps up and begins to recognize the challenge it faces and puts in place a strategy to again earn the trust and respect of the American people.
— Pete Hoekstra is a former U.S. congressman from Michigan.