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Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Remarks of the President, Attorney General Bell, and Several Members of Congress on Proposed Legislation.

May 18, 1977

THE PRESIDENT. One of the most difficult tasks in a free society like our own is the correlation between adequate intelligence to guarantee our Nation's security on the one hand, and the preservation of basic human rights on the other--a freedom from unnecessary governmental intrusion, a freedom from the abuse of power by those who are charged with major responsibilities and who have major capabilities brought about by their office-and this has been a question in foreign intelligence that has escaped a solution for a long time in our country.

We've worked very closely with the congressional leaders who have been concerned about this question long before I became President. And I think it's accurate to say that this morning we will disclose, and there will be proposed for passage in Congress, legislation that will successfully resolve this inherent conflict. With very careful judicial review, with the acquisition of warrants from the judiciary, working with myself, the intelligence agencies of our Government, the Attorney General, and monitored closely by Congress, I think we'll have a mechanism in the future whereby our own country's security can be preserved, adequate intelligence can be derived, and the rights of our citizens and also foreigners in our country can be preserved.

This is a very delicate question. It's one on which almost complete unanimity has been derived between myself and the intelligence groups, Attorney General, and the Congress Members behind me. And the Attorney General will now explain in detail and introduce to you Members of Congress who will go into some depth in response to your own questions about how this achievement has been reached.

My hope is that the Congress will pass this legislation without delay. I think it will be a major step forward in our country in resolving some of the questions that cause so much dissension and so much distrust in the months gone by.

Griffin, thank you very much for letting me come out. I'll listen to some of the presentation and then I'll have to go.

ATTORNEY GENERAL BELL. Mr. President, Members of the Congress:

One of the great things that's happened in our country in the past 25 years has been the renaissance in the area of the Bill of Rights, in particularly the refurbishment of the 14th amendment by the Supreme Court in the sixties. The). say from every action there is always a reaction. And the reaction was--once we started concentrating on vindicating individual rights--was the closer examination of some of the intelligence gathering agencies of the Government and a good deal of criticism about the way some of the gathering was being carried on, particularly as it respected American citizens.

And it seems to me, it seems to the President, that one of the prime duties of the new administration and the new Congress is to restore the confidence of the American people in all of our institutions. This is nowhere more true than in intelligence gathering. And in that .capacity, we have some legislation now that's designed to bring the judiciary into the process. I think the American people trust the judiciary, and they will have more confidence in the system if we have the executive, the congressional and the judiciary all tied into the process so as to have one check the other. That is essentially what this bill, this legislation does. It brings the judiciary in where they issue the warrants and, in most instances, they check to see if true foreign intelligence is involved.

If this legislation becomes law, proposed legislation, there'll be no American citizen in the future who will ever be electronically surveilled without a judicial warrant.

And that's really the gist of the bill. It's a technical piece of legislation. It's something that is sorely needed in our country. And I want to introduce now, some of the people in the Congress who have long had an interest in this same subject, who have introduced legislation in the past, and call on each one of them to make some short remarks.

Senator Kennedy has had a deep interest in this matter for at least 2 years. And he's going to introduce a bill in the Senate. So, I want him to address us at this time. Senator Kennedy.

SENATOR KENNEDY. First of all, I want to congratulate President Carter and General Bell for the very great support and leadership that they have provided in breathing new life into the 4th amendment and protecting the liberties of the American people. I think their leadership in this important legislative achievement will be extremely helpful to us in the Senate and in the House of Representatives in insuring the passage of this legislation.

They have really built on a strong record that was made by former General Levi and by the leadership in the Senate by Senator Nelson and Senator Mathias, Senator Phil Hart, who have--over the period of the time that I've been in the United States Senate, for some 14 years-have really been the leaders in the United States Senate.

I think all Americans, particularly in recent times, have been very much aware of the abuses in the area of the right to privacy and the abuses of the electronic devices in violating the privacy of American individuals.

And I believe that this important piece of legislation can really remedy that particular abuse of the past. It will effectively guarantee to all persons as the 4th amendment prescribes, all persons, that their rights of privacy will be preserved under law. And I think that this will be an important achievement in preserving those particular liberties.

I again thank the President, General Bell, for the very strong support and leadership that they have given to us in the Senate and in the House of Representatives on this legislation.

ATTORNEY GENERAL BELL. Thank you, Senator Kennedy. Chairman Rodino of the House Judiciary Committee has had a similar interest in this legislation, and he has agreed to introduce the bill in the House. I'd like to call on him now for some remarks. Chairman Rodino.

REPRESENTATIVE RODINO. Mr. President, General Bell, Members of Congress:

I'm delighted to participate in these proceedings and to introduce the measure which I'm sure is in keeping, Mr. President, with the pledge that you made to the people when you were elected that our Government would be as decent as the people it serves. I think this is a decent piece of legislation. This is a fair piece of legislation.

And I want to commend you, Mr. President, the Attorney General, the Members of Congress, and all of those who participated in the deliberations. We've had to walk a fine line between assuring that we would be free from the abuses that we've seen in the past whereby the rights of individuals were violated, the constitutionally protected rights, and the responsibility of government to insure that it would be free from the terroristic attacks that we have seen from espionage and from the theft of information that is necessary for the security of our Nation.

I think this is really walking the fine line. And the people who have participated in bringing together this piece of legislation are to be commended for their ability to be able to recognize that the American people are looking for us in Government to assure that there is fairness, that there is decency, there is justice, even though we talk about protecting the national security.

And I want to say, Mr. President, that I'm proud to be part of this. And I hope that we readily get on to the enactment of this legislation which will conform with the 4th amendment rights of all individuals to be protected from unreasonable searches and seizures.

Thank you.

ATTORNEY GENERAL BELL. Members of the press may wonder how this group was selected. This is the Senate Judiciary Committee, a good portion of the House Judiciary Committee, and the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. Every person here has a deep interest in what we are trying to do and all, we hope, are going to join in the movement. Not all will speak, but I want to have several other speakers say something because they are sort of speaking in a representative capacity.

Senator Eastland is chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and I hope he'll give us a few words.

SENATOR EASTLAND. Mr. President, General Bell:

I think that this bill is vitally needed in this country, and I'm glad that all sides have gotten together. Some of you might know, I'm very partial to the FBI, and they tell me they are supporting this bill. Thank you. [Laughter]

ATTORNEY GENERAL, BELL. Senator Inouye was not able to be here this morning, and I'm sorry he could not be here. He wanted to be Senator Thurmond is the ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee and has a deep interest in intelligence matters, military matters, and I want to hear from him now if he'll say something.

SENATOR THURMOND. Mr. President, Mr. Attorney General, my colleagues in the Congress:

I am convinced from my service on the Armed Services Committee, the Judiciary Committee and the Intelligence Committee last year that we need legislation of this kind. There is no question that our national security demands that we collect foreign intelligence. Electronic surveillance is one of the best ways to do that.

On the other hand, we must protect the rights of citizens. Under this bill, the citizens' rights will be protected. A warrant will have to be obtained from a judge and there will have to be a showing that it is needed and then if the showing is proper, it will be granted. I join in this bill because I think it is necessary to protect our national security and that it will protect the rights of American citizens.

ATTORNEY GENERAL BELL. Thank you, Senator. Senator John McClellan from Arkansas is an expert in the Senate on criminal law, constitutional rights, and he's had a chance to look at this bill and he's with us this morning. I was not sure he would be able to be here. He came, and I appreciate it very much. Senator McClellan, we'd like to hear from you.

SENATOR McCLELLAN. Mr. President, General Bell, my colleagues:

I had the opportunity in the last Congress to cosponsor a similar bill, not identical, so I'm not a new convert to this proposition. I think it is incumbent upon the Congress to provide the executive branch of the Government, the Justice Department, with every tool under the Constitution that is needed to help protect this Government, to gather foreign intelligence, and in any other respect to enforce the laws of the land--of course, without jeopardizing in any way or trespassing upon the liberties of the citizen.

Thank you.

ATTORNEY GENERAL BELL. Thank you, Senator. Senator Birch Bayh is chairman of the Subcommittee of the Intelligence Committee on Rights of Americans. He's made a careful study of this bill. He's agreed to be a cosponsor or co-introducer, and we'd like to hear from him now. Senator Bayh.

SENATOR BAYH. Mr. President, Mr. Attorney General, my colleagues:

I think this is one of the finest examples of cooperation between the executive branch and the legislative branch I've seen since I've been in the Senate. Mr. President, I want to say to you, sir, and to the Attorney General and the Vice President, in absentia--because he's played an important role in this, too--and your respective staffs, how much those of us on the Hill who have legislative responsibility appreciate the give and take that has transpired as this bill has been put together.

The Intelligence Committee was structured in response to some of the abuses that were rather apparent. It benefits none of us to relive those abuses, but there are a lot of cynics out there wondering whether this committee is going to be any more than just the paper Senate Res. 400. Last year, we started our responsibilities in the legislative field by looking at the wiretap bill. I think the hearings brought out certain things that could improve the bill and, indeed, Attorney General Levi was cooperative with us, and I'm glad to say that this administration in some areas has gone even farther than we recommended last year.

There are still two or three areas that I think are going to be the product of give and take. But this, in my judgment, is a launching pad, the first step toward bringing our intelligence communities under a rule of law and striking that delicate balance between providing the security necessary for our country and protecting the rights of Americans.

Thank you, Mr. President.

ATTORNEY GENERAL BELL. Senator, I'm glad you mentioned the Vice President. He's out of the country, but I wouldn't want the morning to pass without saying that he worked a great deal on this joint venture that we are presenting this morning. He had a lot to do with the legislation, with drafting it, with mediating between the various groups.

Senator Charles Mathias of Maryland has worked very hard on this type of legislation last year and the year before. He honors us this morning with his presence. I'd like to call on him.

SENATOR MATHIAS. Thank you, Mr. Attorney General. It takes a lot more than just rhetoric to run a great republic like ours; it takes a lot of cooperation and coordination and understanding. And when Judge Bell was before the Senate Judiciary Committee, he promised those things. And I want to say that this bill is a delivery on that promise. He has worked very closely with our committee and with individual Members of the Senate and the House in developing this legislation.

When Senator Mansfield and I first proposed the investigation of the intelligence community back in 1974, we never thought that the investigation was an end in itself, but that it should produce reforms; it should produce remedies. And I believe that this bill is one of the remedies that we look for.

The founders of the Republic knew that you had to restrain power with law, and that's ;;'hat we proposed to do in this bill. As Thomas Jefferson, who built the colonnades around us once said, "Put not your faith in man, but bind him down with the chains of the Constitution." And I believe this bill is one of the links in that chain.

This legislation has been proposed and is often discussed as primarily a defense of citizen's rights. But I would suggest that it is a shield for those dedicated men and women who work in our intelligence community and who for a longtime have lacked the support of defined statutory guidelines. And this will give them that kind of guideline and, I think, will be a protection for them as well as for the average American citizen.

ATTORNEY GENERAL BELL. That was very well said by Senator Mathias. This will provide a shield for the dedicated men and women who gather the intelligence that we need so badly.

Senator Jake Garn of Utah is a member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and we'd like to hear from him now. Senator Garn.

SENATOR GARN. Mr. President, Mr. Attorney General:

It's been my pleasure to work on this in the past. Senator Bayh mentioned--and I happen to be ranking minority member with him on that committee--and our very first legislative effort in the Intelligence Committee was on S. 3197, which was the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. We had many weeks of negotiations within the committee. Senator Bayh and I had differences. It took a lot of give and take. We had many meetings with Attorney General Levi and unfortunately the result of our effort came too late in the session.

The bill was reported out of committee--I think a very good bill to accomplish what all of my colleagues have said today--and we ran afoul of the end of the session on October 1, and so it was not considered by the full Senate. So, I compliment the administration on renewing this effort.

I have reviewed the two bills. The President's bill is very close to the bill that Senator Bayh and I reported out of our committee last year. So, although I'm sure it will not go through in exactly the form as proposed--legislation never does--Senator Bayh and I will go through, along with the Judiciary Committee in the Senate and in the House and will expect to have some changes. But I do think they are minor difficulties that can be worked out. And I echo the sentiments of my colleagues that when this bill is passed and signed into law by the President, it will be a big step forward, because currently in the field of foreign intelligence there is no judicial warrant procedure at all. The Attorney General and the President can merely in their own determination decide that foreign intelligence is involved and get involved in electronic surveillance.

So, this will make it so that now in both domestic and foreign intelligence that the judicial warrant procedure will be necessary, and I do think we can strike that balance between necessary intelligence and protecting the rights of American citizens.

ATTORNEY GENERAL BELL. Thank you, Senator.

Congressman Kastenmeier is chairman of the subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee which will have the prime responsibility for considering and moving this legislation. I would like to call on Congressman Kastenmeier now.

REPRESENTATIVE KASTENMEIER. Thank you, General Bell, my colleagues:

As chairman of the subcommittee that dealt unsuccessfully with this piece of legislation or legislation in this field last year, I'm certainly impressed with the difficulty confronting us. It's a vexatious question, because those most interested have very different perspectives--the intelligence community, those interested in national security on one side, and those especially sensitive to civil liberties, privacy on the other. It's almost impossible to reconcile these different perspectives. And yet, as the President has said, in the national interest it is important that we have this legislation and that the judiciary, the executive branch, and the Congress all be mutually involved.

There are other sensitive questions, Presidential. powers and others, that are reflected in this legislation, which we cannot avoid. But if we do find a legislative solution, as I trust we will this year, it will, I think, unlock the problems we have in a number of other related areas of legislation that enable us to achieve what the President has set out to achieve in terms of protection of citizens' rights in this country. And to that end I look forward to working on this piece of legislation.

Thank you.

ATTORNEY GENERAL BELL. Congressman McClory is the ranking minority member of the House Judiciary Committee. I'd like to call on him now.

REPRESENTATIVE McCLORY. Thank you, General Bell. Mr. President, my colleagues:

I don't know whether you want me on this program or not. I rather like the 1968 legislation we had, which vested in the President and the Attorney General the authority to authorize wiretaps in national security cases. I think the primary responsibility does have to rest on the President and the executive and, on the other hand, I feel strongly that the intelligence community needs some substantial reforms.

As the ranking member on the House Committee on Intelligence, I recognize the need for these reforms. I would say on the other hand that we have the best intelligence capability in the world, the best intelligence agencies. The abuses in my opinion have been very, very few. And the successful and effective and honorable and decent operations have been many.

I don't know whether we should permit the judiciary to interpose itself between the President and the right to conduct surveillance on foreign intelligence agents. And I know that we will take a very close look at this--protect the rights of individual Americans consistent with the needs of our national security. And I do expect to work closely with Chairman Rodino and Mr. Kastenmeier to effectively bring to the floor of the House a bill on this subject which will be compatible with what the needs of our Nation are and the needs of all of its citizens.

ATTORNEY GENERAL BELL. Thank you, Congressman. Our last speaker will be Senator Hathaway from Maine, a member of the Senate Select Committee on Foreign Intelligence. As I've said, Senator Inouye could not be here this morning, and I've asked Senator Hathaway if he'd say something on behalf of Senator Inouye and the Committee.

SENATOR HATHAWAY. Thank you very much, Mr. Attorney General. The Attorney General said at the outset that not everybody is going to speak here, but I don't think we missed more than two or three. Ladies and gentlemen, I simply want to assure you that although all of us here have had the opportunity last year when a similar bill was before our respective committees to go over this in great detail--the administration studied it in great detail--it will still be the subject of the extensive hearings where members of the public will be able to come in and comment upon the bill. It's an extremely important matter. We value the input from the public and we intend to go over the matter with a fine-toothed comb in the committees and on the floor so that we can assure that the rights of the Americans are protected. Thank you.

ATTORNEY GENERAL BELL. Well, that concludes our meeting this morning. We have a number of people from the intelligence community here and a lot of other people from the House and Senate, but we won't take the time to introduce all of them. We thank you very much for coming, and I know the President appreciates it. And I appreciate it. Thank you.

Note: The President spoke at 9: 30 a.m. in the Rose Garden at the White House.

Jimmy Carter, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Remarks of the President, Attorney General Bell, and Several Members of Congress on Proposed Legislation. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/244373

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