Citing his post-9/11 experience prosecuting terrorists using tools like the Patriot Act, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie on Monday offered a forceful defense of U.S. intelligence and surveillance techniques, saying the ongoing debate over the subject is being dominated by “intellectual purists” worried about theoretical abuses that haven’t occurred.
He recalled being nominated by former President George W. Bush to be U.S. Attorney in New Jersey on Sept. 10, 2001, and being confirmed in December 2001, going on to bring what he described as the first post-9/11 terrorism case in the country and — using tools that included the Patriot Act — securing a conviction of an Indian-born British citizen who tried to buy shoulder-fired missiles on the black market.
“I’ve used all the tools we had to go after terror. I’ve used the Patriot Act myself — I’ve personally reviewed the applications,” he said in Portsmouth, N.H. “I’ve prosecuted terrorists and sent them to jail. And I’ve seen what happens when our intelligence community, our legal system and law enforcement work together. We use information to save lives.”
In the address on national defense and foreign policy, Mr. Christie also called for boosting U.S. military forces and strengthening alliances around the world. The speech follows other policy addresses he’s given in the early presidential state on entitlement programs and the economy as Mr. Christie lays the groundwork for a potential 2016 presidential run.
He called for a “clean” extension of the Patriot Act, including Section 215, which the Bush and Obama administrations have used to justify the NSA’s phone-snooping program and which was recently ruled illegal under the Patriot Act by a federal appeals panel. Such key parts of the act are set to expire at the end of the month absent congressional action.
He said the debate is being dominated right now by “intellectual purists worried about theoretical abuses that have not occurred.”
“If you’re an ordinary, law-abiding American, this legislation has absolutely no effect on you — except for this: It could prevent the next attack from taking place in our country and killing our fellow citizens,” he said. “Absolutely no one has one real example of our intelligence services misusing this program for political or other nefarious purposes.”
He called Edward Snowden, the former NSA contractor who publicly revealed the phone-snooping program, a “criminal” who hurt the country, and the governor blasted Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee for releasing a report last year on the CIA’s post-9/11 interrogation techniques that Mr. Christie called a “one-sided and inaccurate attack on our intelligence services.”
“Democrats behind that report should be ashamed of themselves for putting partisanship above genuine oversight in the way they released this report,” he said. “And it is disgraceful — it’s disgraceful — the way there are folks on the Hill in both parties who want American intelligence weaker and less informed just to drive their own personal political agendas.”
In the speech, Mr. Christie also called for a reversal of so-called sequester cuts he says have “tied the hands” of commanders and created a “readiness crisis” in the armed services.
He also called for building stronger alliances, ranging from America’s traditional ally Israel to countries in the Asia-Pacific region like Japan and warned that President Obama’s eagerness for a deal on Iran’s nuclear program has Mr. Obama ready to accept a bad one.
“Today, we live in cynical times [with] cynical politics,” Mr. Christie said. “If we’re going to keep making progress as a country, we’re going to have to fix that and get our domestic house in order as well. That’s a longer discussion and one that I’m looking forward to having with all of you in the weeks and months ahead.”
“But none of us — none of us — should doubt our ability to lead in this new century,” he continued. “This can be the second American century, and it must be. We shouldn’t fear that challenge.”