- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 18, 2013

Republicans Rand Paul and Peter T. King sparred Sunday over the National Security Agency’s domestic-surveillance program, illustrating the party’s divide on the federal government’s monitoring of private data in the interest of national security.

Appearing on “Fox News Sunday,” Sen. Paul of Kentucky criticized President Obama for allowing a lack of independent scrutiny over the agency, saying the Supreme Court should examine the constitutionality of NSA data-collection protocols.

“You know, I think that the president fundamentally misunderstands the constitutional powers,” Mr. Paul said. “The checks and balances come from independent branches of government. So he thinks if he gets some lawyers together from the NSA and they do a PowerPoint presentation and they tell him everything is OK, that the NSA can police themselves.”

Rep. King of New York blasted the senator’s comments.

“That was just a grab bag of misinformation and distortion coming from him,” said Mr. King.

A May 2012 audit that was not released to the public found that the NSA committed nearly 3,000 violations of Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court rules, according to a Friday report in The Washington Post.

“[Mr. Paul] says there’s billions of phone calls being collected. It’s not even true, but let’s assume he’s being right for once — billions of phone calls being collected. You juxtapose that with 2,800 violations, which were self-reported by the NSA, which do not violate anybody’s rights,” Mr. King said.

Of those 2,800 violations, he said, 1,900 involved noncitizens. “No Americans’ rights were violated with that,” Mr. King said.

“If you have a 99.99 percent batting average, that’s better than most media people do, most politicians do,” Mr. King said. “I have tremendous respect for Gen. [Keith B.] Alexander and the whole NSA. This whole tone of snooping and spying we use … it’s really a smear and a slander of good, patriotic Americans.”

But other lawmakers say the new details about NSA snooping are troubling.

Had the details come to light earlier, last month’s unsuccessful House vote to defund the program might have gone the other way, according to one legislator who was part of the effort.

“We only needed seven votes to switch and I think there were at least seven, probably more like 20 to 30, who had their concerns about the program but were prepared to give the intelligence agencies the benefit of the doubt,” Rep. H. Morgan Griffith, Virginia Republican, told The Washington Times last week after news of the NSA rules violations broke.

Democrats have recently weighed in against the NSA privacy violations. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, said last week that she found media reports on the NSA audit “extremely disturbing.”

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, Connecticut Democrat, called for a special advocate to serve as a watchdog for constitutional issues.

“The problem — and there is a real problem — is with the system. It is a black box,” Mr. Blumenthal said on “Fox News Sunday.” The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court “is a secret tribunal, issuing secret opinions, making secret law and a lot of it completely unavailable to members even of the foreign intelligence committee.”

Mr. Paul said he wanted to see congressional hearings on the NSA privacy issues when Congress returns from recess after Labor Day.

“I think [the NSA] got most of the terrorists or stop most of the terrorists, if not all of the plots, by good old-fashioned police work, and getting warrants and getting wiretaps on people who they were suspicious of, whom they ask a judge about,” Mr. Paul said. “And I’m not against that. I’m all for surveillance of spies, I’m just not for this gross bulk gathering of data on all Americans.”

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick J. Leahy, the chamber’s senior lawmaker, has also vowed to hold hearings.

“I remain concerned that we are still not getting straightforward answers from the NSA,” the Vermont Democrat said Friday.

• Valerie Richardson can be reached at vrichardson@washingtontimes.com.

• Shaun Waterman can be reached at swaterman@washingtontimes.com.

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