- The Washington Times - Monday, May 18, 2015

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie called Monday for a full extension of the Patriot Act and denounced “exaggerated and ridiculous” fears he said were being drummed up by “civil liberties extremists,” saying he found the law to be an indispensable national security tool when he was a federal prosecutor.

The comments from Mr. Christie come amid vigorous debate both on Capitol Hill and among his fellow prospective 2016 GOP presidential candidates on the effectiveness and necessity of government intelligence programs in combating terrorism.

Speaking in New Hampshire, which holds the first-in-the-nation primary next year, Mr. Christie said other countries are stiffening their anti-terror laws, and the U.S. should keep up by enacting a full extension of the Patriot Act. Key provisions of the act — including Section 215, which the Bush and Obama administrations have used to justify the NSA’s phone snooping and bulk data collection program — are set to expire at the end of May if Congress does not act.

“Absolutely no one has one real example of our intelligence services misusing this program for political or other nefarious purposes,” he said. “The vast majority of Americans are not worried about the government listening in on them, because it hasn’t happened. They are worried about what happens if we don’t catch the bad people who want to harm our country.”

Congress is torn over the issue. The GOP-led House last week passed a bill, with overwhelming bipartisan support, rewriting Section 215 and canceling bulk data collection by the government. But Senate Republican leaders are resisting that bill, and instead are calling for the same kind of extension Mr. Christie embraces.

Mr. Christie said he has direct experience using the Patriot Act as a tool in the fight against terrorism when he served as U.S. attorney in New Jersey after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

He also said the debate is being dominated right now by “intellectual purists worried about theoretical abuses that have not occurred,” and said that when former NSA contractor Edward Snowden revealed some of America’s intelligence secrets to the world in 2013, “civil liberties extremists” seized the moment to advance their own agenda and tried to paint government as an all-seeing malicious force.

“They want you to think that there’s a government agent listening in every time you pick up the phone or Skype with your grandkids. They want you to think our intelligence community are the bad guys, straight out of ‘The Bourne Identity’ or some other Hollywood thriller. And they want you to think that if we weakened our capabilities, the rest of the world would somehow love us more,” he said. “Let’s be clear: All these fears are exaggerated and ridiculous.”

On the other side of the debate is Sen. Rand Paul, Kentucky Republican and presidential candidate, who has said he’ll lead a filibuster to block a full extension of the Patriot Act. He and fellow opponents saw their case boosted earlier this month when a federal appeals court ruled the Patriot Act didn’t cover bulk collection.

“The court has ruled that the bulk collection of all of our phone records all of the time is illegal. So really, it ought to stop,” Mr. Paul told NBC’s “Meet the Press” program this weekend.

President Obama could end the NSA’s program on his own, but he’s declined to do so, instead asking Congress to do it for him.

Mr. Christie on Monday blamed the president for taking “the path of least resistance” in not defending U.S. intelligence gathering.

“They’ve apologized for our intelligence collection [and] promised that we’ll collect it only in ways that protect the privacy of foreign citizens, and they cut back on vital funding for our intelligence services,” he said.

He blasted Mr. Snowden as a “criminal” who hurt the country and criticized Democrats on the Senate intelligence committee for releasing a report last year finding abuses within the CIA’s interrogation techniques. Mr. Christie called that report 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.”



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