Security Conundrum lecture series to end with view from Congress and the courts

Mark Udall, the former U.S. senator who has fought government spying on U.S. citizens, will speak on campus April 2, as part of Stanford's Security Conundrum lecture series.

Former U.S. Sen. Mark Udall gained notoriety for his vocal opposition to National Security Agency surveillance programs in the wake of the Edward Snowden disclosures of June 2013.

U.S. Senate Photo StudioMark Udall

Former U.S. Sen. Mark Udall

Before losing his seat in the mid-term elections last year, the senior senator from Colorado had become one of the staunchest critics of the U.S. spy agency for conducting massive, warrantless data grabs on millions of Americans without their knowledge.

Even before the Snowden leaks, Udall had warned on the Senate floor in 2011 that the Patriot Act was being interpreted in a way to allow domestic surveillance activities that many members of Congress and the American public do not understand.

"Americans would be alarmed if they knew how this law is being carried out," he told fellow senators before he introduced amendments to the Patriot Act that would have secured tougher privacy mechanisms. The act was renewed without the amendments.

Udall – who served on the Senate's Intelligence and Armed Services committees – will be in conversation with Center for International Security and Cooperation Co-Director Amy Zegart Thursday, April 2, at 7:30 p.m. in CEMEX Auditorium as part of Stanford's Security Conundrum lecture series. The event is open to the public but an RSVP is required by 5 p.m. April 1.

The special series has brought together nationally prominent experts this academic year to explore the critical issues raised by the NSA's activities, including their impact on security, privacy and civil liberties. The series ends April 10 with a public conversation with Judge Reggie Barnett Walton, former presiding judge of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, known as the FISA court.

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 empowered the FISA court to oversee government requests for surveillance of foreign intelligence agencies. During its existence, the court has granted more than 30,000 warrants; it has denied only 11.

Walton, in conversation with Stanford Law School Professor Jenny Martinez, will explain the role that the secretive institution attempts to play in maintaining the balance between civil liberties and national security.

"We're delighted to end the Security Conundrum series with a view from Congress and the courts," said Zegart, who is also a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution. "Holding serious campus-wide conversations about issues of national importance is an essential part of the Stanford experience."

Zegart said CISAC and Hoover would conduct a similar series on international cybersecurity challenges in the coming academic year.

Udall, the third speaker in the series, also advocated for the declassification of the Senate Intelligence Committee's study on the CIA's enhanced interrogation program. The post-9/11 program allowed the government to ship suspected terrorists to secret overseas prisons and subject them to waterboarding and other torture techniques.

Gen. Michael Hayden, the former director of the NSA and CIA who has defended the government surveillance programs, kicked off the Security Conundrum series in October. In that talk, he said the metadata collection "is something we would never have done on Sept. 9 or Sept. 10. But it seemed reasonable after Sept. 11. No one is doing this out of prurient interests. No – it as a logical response to the needs of the moment."

The second speaker in the series, journalist Barton Gellman, gave a detailed account of his relationship with former NSA contractor Snowden and how he worked with him to reveal the details of the NSA's global and domestic surveillance programs.

One of the first Snowden revelations, Gellman said, was the top-secret PRISM surveillance program, in which the NSA tapped into the servers of nine large U.S. Internet companies, including Google, Microsoft, Yahoo and Facebook. Snowden said he believed the extent of mass data collection on American citizens was far greater than what the public knew.

The PRISM program allows the U.S. intelligence community to gain access from the tech companies to a wide range of digital information, including audio, video chats, photographs, emails and stored data, that enables analysts to track foreign targets. The program does not require individual warrants, but instead operates under the broad authorization of the FISA court.

"I asked him very bluntly, 'Why are you doing this?'" Gellman said of Snowden.

"He gave me very persuasive and consistent answers about his motives. Whatever you think of what he did or whether or not I should have published these stories, I would claim to you that all the evidence supports his claim that he had come across a dangerous accumulation of state power that the people needed to know about."