In the wake of the revelations made by the Guardian and Washington Post last week, President Barack Obama has defended the controversial NSA spy programs that continue to generate headlines across the globe. Now the Associated Press reports that the administration shows no sign of slowing down its domestic operations, even as the scope of the surveillance — conducted in secrecy until leaked to the media — becomes more widely known.
Quoting a senior intelligence official speaking on condition of anonymity, AP reported Tuesday that there are no plans to scrap the surveillance programs. Despite outrage from US citizens and persons abroad mortified by the revelations, the NSA operations are likely to “continue to receive widespread if cautious support within Congress,” the official told the AP.
Indeed, the White House’s own argument in support of the programs is gaining backing from some of Washington’s biggest players. In defense of the leaked operations, proponents of NSA’s tactics call the collection of personal data a necessary implement in the war against terror.
On Monday, White House press secretary Jay Carney further defended the NSA programs and condemned details about it being leaked to the media.
“Leaks about sensitive information that cause harm to our national security interests are a problem,” Carney said Monday afternoon.
Other members of the administration have called for the prosecution of 29-year-old Edward Snowden, the former NSA contractor who attributes himself with sharing the NSA data with the Guardian and the Post. Snowden is reportedly in Hong Kong and could seek asylum in lieu of the likely efforts to extradite him to the US.
But even though Snowden is being hailed as a hero and a whistleblower by some for sharing details about domestic spying, a number of politicians have labeled him a traitor and continue to tout the NSA’s operations.
Disclosing the programs, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said Tuesday to ABC News, “puts Americans at risk,” “shows our adversaries what our capabilities are” and is “a giant violation of the law.” Boehner called Snowden a “traitor,” a sentiment shared by lawmakers on both side of the aisle.
“I don’t look at this as being a whistleblower,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calf.), the chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said Monday. “I think it’s an act of treason.”
“Just on the issue of, ‘Is this a whistleblower, or is this an act of treason,’ I think it directly is,” added Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Florida.). “And I think that most of the people who serve on [the intelligence committee] will tell you that.”
Even if the NSA programs will continue for the time being, some members of Congress are asking for the details to be disclosed to a degree that will shine some light on an operation otherwise cloaked in secrecy. Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Oregon) is expected to propose a bill on Tuesday that will compel the federal government to disclose the opinions of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court that approves legal orders to track communications coming into or exiting the US. Last week, Snowden leaked documents exposing the widespread surveillance of US communications under FISA, as well as a separate NSA program named PRISM that allows the government to access private conversations conducted over Facebook, Google, Skype and other services.
“I don’t want to live in a society that does these sort of things,” Snowden told the Guardian over the weekend. “I do not want to live in a world where everything I do and say is recorded. That is not something I am willing to support or live under.”
Senators Mike Lee (R-Utah), Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont), Dean Heller (R-Nevada), Mark Begich (D-Alaska), Al Franken (D-Minnesota), Jon Tester (D-Montana) and Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) all plan to supports Sen. Merkley’s proposal. That isn’t to say they disapprove of the program, though.
“I think there should be enough transparency that the American people understand what is happening…But I can assure you that this isn’t about spying on the American people,” Sen. Franken told the Star Tribune this week.
“There are certain things that are appropriate for me to know that’s not appropriate for the bad guys to know,” he said. “Anything that, quote, the American people know, the bad guys know so there’s a line here, right? And there’s a balance that has to be struck between the responsibility of the federal government to protect the American people and then people’s right to privacy. We have safeguards in place …The American people can’t know everything because everything they know then, the bad guys will know.”