National intelligence and law enforcement agencies need to be able to dig deeper into private telecommunications records so the United States can act more aggressively against terrorists, U.S. Sen. Richard Burr said in Raleigh on Thursday.
Burr, who is chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, was invited to talk about security as part of a speakers series at a downtown highrise.
Burr will be running for re-election in 2016 in a campaign that has attracted early attention for its lack of Democratic opponents. But Burr said he was not campaigning yet and would not begin until the Senate is out of session next year.
He told the audience of about 150 that the FBI has arrested more than 67 people in the United States on terrorism-related charges, including about 11 around the country in the weeks leading up to the Fourth of July this year. He said the FBI has active terrorism investigations in every state. He praised the agency for transitioning into one that has learned how to confront threats. But he said agents need more help.
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“We continue to have this national debate about what tools we’re going to allow law enforcement to use to be in front of terrorism,” Burr said. “I happen to be one who gives a little more leeway to use more tools, not less.”
When provisions authorizing the collection of bulk phone data expired earlier this year, Burr unsuccessfully tried to extend them for two years. A law was enacted in June that imposed new limits on the government’s use of so-called metadata.
Burr said Thursday that the intelligence community needs to have access to that level of information, which he noted has been described as searching for a needle in a haystack.
We have to find the needle, and they’ve just taken away our haystack.
U.S. Sen. Richard Burr
“We still have the same task: We have to find the needle, and they’ve just taken away our haystack,” he said. “Now we’ve got to find the needle somewhere.”
The president’s approach to confining terrorism to the Middle East has been insufficient, he said. Those organizations are recruiting more fighters than the U.S. can kill, he said.
“I would suggest to you from an international standpoint, the war on terrorism will not be won until we change our strategy in this country,” he said.
Burr also wove economic security into his talk, hosted by City Club Raleigh, a private business club.
He emphasized the importance of North Carolina’s universities in providing an educated workforce that will still be relevant 20 or 30 years from now, and in helping private enterprise grow.
“We’ve got to figure out what the new version of Research Triangle Park and collaboration looks like,” he said. “I’m not sure what it is, but it’s incumbent on us North Carolinians to figure out what that transition should look like.”
Talking to reporters beforehand, Burr said he will be putting a campaign in place for the 2016 elections, but he wouldn’t be out campaigning until the lawmking session ends and he returns to North Carolina. Congress is currently on its summer recess.
Asked about the lack of Democrats lining up for the primary, Burr said he hopes that’s a reflection of how voters think he has done his job for the past 21 years in Congress. Winning statewide office as a Republican in North Carolina requires support from Democrats and independents, he noted.
The real challenge, he said, is financial. It costs too much to run these days unless a candidate is fully committed.
“The truth is I don’t think you can make the claim anymore that you can run for office and lose because that positions you for the future,” Burr said. “That’s a transition we’ve seen from 15, 20 years ago. In today’s model it doesn’t work. I think the Republican primary for president right now is a great example where that just doesn’t fly.”