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Congress must protect our servicemembers by reauthorizing Section 702 

Collection law aided removal of al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, DOD official says

Ronald S. Moultrie testifies before the Senate Armed Services Committee during his nomination hearing to be undersecretary of defense for intelligence and security on May 11, 2021.
Ronald S. Moultrie testifies before the Senate Armed Services Committee during his nomination hearing to be undersecretary of defense for intelligence and security on May 11, 2021. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call)

Our military commanders require intelligence to stay ahead of our adversaries, visualize the battlespace, anticipate emerging threats and develop contingencies. Intelligence allows us to reduce and mitigate risk and ensure that those who put themselves in harm’s way are best positioned to accomplish the mission and return home safely. Intelligence saves lives. 

This is why we need Congress to swiftly reauthorize a vital intelligence collection law before it expires in December: Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or “FISA.” Section 702 is a distinctive and essential provision of U.S. law. It allows, under federal court supervision, intelligence collection on non-U.S. persons located abroad who use U.S. communications services and whose communications are assessed by the U.S. intelligence community to have foreign intelligence value. Since its initial enactment in 2008, Congress has reauthorized Section 702 multiple times with bipartisan support; presidents of both parties have signed it into law. But, unless Congress acts, it will expire in December. 

Day in and day out across the Department of Defense, intelligence reports based upon Section 702 collection contribute to protecting American servicemembers and enabling our military to execute its missions. Today, our warfighters depend on intelligence reporting using collection obtained pursuant to Section 702 to provide critical insights on the battlefield, including the current crises in Europe and the Middle East. If this authority expires, we will lose vital insights that are needed at every level of government, from the commander in chief to our men and women on the front lines. More than half of the articles in the President’s Daily Brief, or PDB, rely on information collected using Section 702 authority. Section 702’s expiration would severely limit the quality, accuracy and degree to which the U.S. intelligence community can deliver critical threat reporting and intelligence to policymakers on a daily basis, including the president. 

As China seeks to challenge the United States both economically and militarily and continues to disregard the rules-based international order, intelligence reporting using Section 702 collection provides the Department of Defense essential insights into Chinese threats, ranging from intellectual property theft and cyber intrusions to brazen and unsafe encounters with our fighter jets. 

Though we seek to prevent and deter conflict, we are better prepared for any possibility because of the unique insights into China and its military capabilities that this collection provides. Information acquired through Section 702 authority also informs DOD’s interagency partners of insights that enable them to prevent chemicals produced in China from becoming fentanyl that devastates American communities. 

Allowing Section 702 to lapse would undermine our ability to address this complex challenge of managing competition while avoiding and preventing conflict.

Intelligence reporting sourced to information collected pursuant to Section 702 is also integral to the Department of Defense’s support to Ukraine’s efforts to defend its sovereignty. Intelligence derived from Section 702 collection has helped to uncover evidence of Russian atrocities in Ukraine, including the murder of noncombatants, the forced relocation of children from Russian-occupied Ukraine to the Russian Federation, and the detention of refugees fleeing violence by Russian personnel. 

This insightful intelligence enables our nation to confidently and accurately describe Russia’s atrocities to the international community. Put simply, intelligence provided by Section 702 has enhanced our ability to facilitate international commitments and cooperation in support of Ukraine’s stand against Russian aggression. Congress’s support of Section 702 will enable this invaluable intelligence to continue to serve as a force multiplier for our servicemembers and for our nation’s overall support to Ukraine. In contrast, if Congress were to allow Section 702 to expire, our ability to rally allies and partners to Ukraine’s defense would be degraded. 

Section 702 played a critical role in the Department’s focused efforts to deal ISIS and al-Qaida lasting defeat over the last two decades. Since our withdrawal from Afghanistan, intelligence reporting based on Section 702 collection has enabled us to continue our counterterrorism fight in the Middle East, including by contributing to the successful removal of al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri and ISIS emir Haji Abdullah in 2022. Even now, amid the Israel-Hamas conflict, Section 702 intelligence plays a key role in helping Israel defend its sovereignty while protecting U.S. citizens and noncombatants in the region.

Section 702 is absolutely essential to our policymakers and, perhaps most importantly, to the safety of our military forces and civilian personnel operating in harm’s way. That is why we at the Department of Defense are calling on Congress to ensure that this essential intelligence collection authority does not expire in December. 

We tremendously appreciate Congress’ support of the department’s intelligence activities and urge members to reauthorize Section 702 in a manner that fully supports our personnel. Without Section 702, our servicemembers will be at greater risk, and our country will be more vulnerable. Section 702 is vital not just to protecting the nation, but to protecting those who protect us all.

Ronald S. Moultrie has been the undersecretary of defense for intelligence and security since June 1, 2021. His career in the Defense Department and intelligence community spans over 36 years.

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