Current and former Washington officials Sunday slammed the leaker who exposed the government’s secret collection of phone records and Internet data and vigorously defended the surveillance programs as essential and life-saving tools in the war on terrorism.
The former intelligence worker accused of stealing and leaking the National Security Agency information, Edward Snowden, is a traitor — not a hero, said Rep. Mike Rogers, Michigan Republican.
The chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence was one of several Republicans who blitzed the Sunday talk shows to slam Mr. Snowden, the 29-year-old leaker believed to still be in hiding in the Chinese territory of Hong Kong.
“It goes beyond the bounds of him trying to claim that he’s a whistleblower, which he is not. A whistleblower comes to the appropriate authorities … so that we can investigate any possible claim,” Mr. Rogers said in an appearance on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “He didn’t do that. He grabbed up information, he made preparations to go to China, and then he collected it up, bolted to China.”
Mr. Snowden shook the American intelligence community earlier this month by leaking highly classified material about the NSA’s anti-terrorism programs that he stole while working as a contractor. He said he revealed information about the programs because he believes the government had crossed a line by spying on Americans.
On Sunday, the White House sent Chief of Staff Denis McDonough to defend the programs, which the NSA has said have prevented multiple attacks.
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Mr. McDonough said President Obama was at first “pretty skeptical” when he learned of the programs, but he said the president believes they are necessary to protect the American people.
“We have to find the right balance between protecting our privacy, and protecting our country from very real threats,” Mr. McDonough said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”
Mr. Rogers said the government’s collection of “metadata” is necessary and strictly limited in scope.
“They’re not listening to Americans phone calls, they’re not reading Americans’ emails,” Mr. Rogers said. “We have huge privacy protections on these things.”
Metadata from Americans swept up in the surveillance of terrorism suspects is held under careful safeguards, he said, in a “lock box” that can only be accessed if it becomes relevant to investigations.
“This is a lock box with only phone numbers, no names, no addresses in it, we’ve used it sparingly,” Mr. Rogers said.
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Still, the program’s reach is too invasive, said Sen. Mark Udall, Colorado Democrat. “I just don’t think this is an American approach,” he said on “Meet the Press.” “I don’t think collecting millions and millions of Americans’ phone calls is making us any safer.”
Two other Republicans, Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and former Vice President Dick Cheney, called for Mr. Snowden to face justice in the U.S.
“I think he has committed crimes,” Mr. Cheney said on “Fox News Sunday,” adding that he fears Mr. Snowden had an ulterior motive in choosing to go to Hong Kong.
“Well, I’m suspicious, of course,” Mr. Cheney said. “It’s not a place where you would normally go if you are interested in freedom of speech.”
Mr. Cheney said the U.S. government should be “very aggressive” with Hong Kong about getting Mr. Snowden back, but “I’m not sure it will do any good.”
The former British colony reverted to Chinese sovereignty in 1997 but has some features of statehood, including an extradition treaty with the U.S., a pact China itself doesn’t have. But Beijing has the right to veto extraditions on national security and diplomatic grounds.
Mr. Graham, appearing on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” said, “We need this program and he’s compromised it, and he should be held accountable.”