Legislators and pundits have been baying for the blood of James Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence, over last week’s revelations of wide-ranging NSA surveillance. But the next person on their hit-list could be someone even Washington doesn’t know too well. Meet Rajesh [Raj] De, the general counsel for the US National Security Agency, and the lawyer with perhaps the biggest influence on the Obama administration’s approach to large-scale surveillance.
De is a publicity-shy policy wonk. What makes him so influential is that as well as having been a lawyer in private practice, he has worked for the Senate Homeland Security Committee, held a senior policy job at the Justice Department, and—before leaving for the NSA a year ago—was deputy staff secretary and then staff secretary at the White House, the latter a coveted position in which De reviewed “every single piece of paper before it goes to President Obama.”
And, as this lengthy Feb. 27 speech indicates, De is insistent that the NSA is doing nothing wrong. In the speech—worth reading in full as a window into the intelligence establishment’s mindset and view of itself—he contends that the NSA is overly diligent when it comes to legally and properly conducting surveillance in the United States and around the world. His job is all the harder because NSA is also being buffeted, he says, by enormous and rapidly changing threats on the one hand—and legal and technical challenges on the other, thanks to the explosive growth in many forms of communications technology.