In his Nov. 14 Outlook article, "Loud and Clear," James Bamford wrote that he is "certain that NSA is not overstepping its [legal] mandate," then spent the bulk of his article speculating that the agency might do so in the future.

As the general counsel of the National Security Agency, I wish to make clear that the agency does not violate the Constitution or the laws of the United States. NSA operates under the eyes of Congress, the executive branch and the judiciary, and an extensive oversight system regulates and limits its activities.

Mr. Bamford wrote that the laws regulating NSA's activities need to be updated in light of the communications revolution, but the laws are based on the Fourth Amendment and do not need to be changed every time technology changes.

Mr. Bamford said that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act's provisions regarding the interception of "wire or radio communications" are inapplicable because the communications involved have changed from telephone to e-mail, fax or cell phone. This is false. The privacy protections remain applicable.

Mr. Bamford also suggested that NSA uses foreign countries to conduct surveillance that NSA is prohibited from conducting. That activity has been prohibited since 1978. NSA does not ask other countries to do what it is prohibited from doing.

Mr. Bamford also incorrectly said that NSA "stonewalled" a request for documents by the House Intelligence Committee. Discussions between the committee and my office focused on the proper balance between the committee's need to conduct oversight and the need to give sound legal advice to NSA employees. But there was no intent to withhold the substantive information requested by the committee, and, as Chairman Porter Goss has publicly noted, NSA is currently providing documents responsive to the committee's requests.

NSA obeys the law; Mr. Bamford's speculations serve only to fuel the fires of uninformed debate.


Fort George G. Meade, Md.

The writer is general counsel of the National Security Agency.