The current practices of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court are effective and don’t need to be changed, according to former FBI director Robert Mueller.
“Yes, it’s worthwhile. Metadata of telephone companies is terribly helpful,” Mueller said, speaking Tuesday morning at an American Bar Association breakfast held at the the University Club in Washington, D.C.
Mueller cited the example of the Boston Marathon bombing as evidence that bulk collection is important, saying that analysis of metadata was able to rule out potential associates of the Tsarnaev brothers. “They had additional IEDs [Improvised Explosive Devices],” Mueller said, adding that bulk collection helped prevent a second attack.
Metadata collection, he said, “is tremendously helpful in identifying contacts.”
The FISA court’s bulk metadata collection program has come under intense scrutiny in light of disclosures made by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden. Congress now has until the end of May to decide whether to reauthorize Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which allows the bulk collection program.
Legislators are working on the language for a reauthorization bill, according to Mueller. “They’re tweaking it, trying to accommodate additional concerns, like privacy,” he said.
Mueller also defended current procedures, which have been criticized for not allowing those subject to surveillance to argue in front of the FISA court. “I’m not sure you need to change what’s been in effect,” he said.
Mueller also didn’t mince words when asked about a possible plea deal for Snowden.
“He’s indicted,” Mueller said of Snowden. “He should come back and face the music.”