Statement of Principles

Since Edward Snowden fled to Russia, leaking sensitive information to selected press outlets, we have watched an uneven debate within the United States and in foreign countries about America’s intelligence programs. Snowden’s leaks undermine the safety of Americans and our allies. The perception that communications surveillance programs have not helped prevent terrorist attacks is wrong and reflects a profound misunderstanding of how intelligence is gathered and used.

Intelligence does not work as it is portrayed in films—a single agent does not make a startling discovery that leads to dramatic, last-minute success. Success is the product of the efforts of teams of dedicated individuals from many agencies, using many tools and techniques, and working together to assemble fragments of data from many sources into a coherent picture. This kind of analysis is not a retrospective investigation, nor can it be limited to “known terrorists” as some have suggested. The intent of intelligence is to illuminate the unknown and prevent surprise. Assertions that a collection program contributes nothing because it has not singlehandedly prevented an attack show a lack of understanding as to how the United States conducts intelligence activities and analysis to prevent harmful acts or attacks against the America and its allies.

The individuals below strongly believe that intelligence, guided by rule of law, plays an irreplaceable role in America’s security. While not all intelligence actions can be made public, all must be fully subject to oversight by Congress and, where appropriate, the courts, and the goals, principles, and responsibilities of the intelligence community should be debated publicly. This is essential for democracy and for maintaining the trust of the American people. To provide a meaningful framework for public debate on domestic surveillance and foreign intelligence, we offer the following principles, not to end discussion, but to structure a more thoughtful one.

Read Balancing Security and Civil Liberties: Principles for Rebuilding Trust in Intelligence Activities