Senate leaders defend online, phone snooping

2013-06-12T00:00:00Z Senate leaders defend online, phone snoopingDavid Lightman Mcclatchy Newspapers Arizona Daily Star
June 12, 2013 12:00 am  • 

WASHINGTON - Eight U.S. senators - six Democrats and two Republicans - demanded Tuesday that the public be given more details about the top-secret surveillance programs that scoop up the phone and Internet records of millions of Americans.

But they were met with a torrent of opposition as Senate leaders, as well as much of the rank and file, vigorously defended the programs in a sign of how difficult it would be in Congress to change the law that governs such surveillance.

In a rare display of cooperation, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Republican leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., rallied behind the programs.

"What is clear from this information released by the (director of national intelligence) is that each of these programs is authorized by law, overseen by Congress and the courts and subject to ongoing and rigorous oversight," McConnell said.

Reid cited polls this week that found backing for the programs.

"The American people, in polls … support what is happening with trying to stop terrorists from doing bad things to us," he said.

A Pew-Washington Post poll taken Thursday through Sunday found that 56 percent saw the National Security Agency's secret court orders to track millions of Americans' phone calls as an acceptable way to probe terrorism. The survey found strong support across party lines.

Reid also was critical of senators who have said they don't have enough information about the programs.

"We've had many, many meetings that have been both classified and unclassified that members have been invited to," he said. "They shouldn't come and say, 'I wasn't aware of this,' because they've had every opportunity to be aware of all these programs."

Their comments came on the first full day of work for both houses of Congress since news broke last week about the surveillance programs. One of them collects data from as many as a billion U.S. phone records, and the other allows the government to search nine American Internet companies.

Obama administration officials have defended both programs as allowing a broad search for terrorist-related communications. They say no U.S. person's records are perused unless a court order has been issued.

Outrage over the program, however, prompted administration officials to hold a briefing Tuesday for all 435 members of the House of Representatives. A similar briefing for the country's 100 senators has been scheduled for Thursday.

Members of Congress were quick to denounce Edward Snowden, the 29-year-old computer system administrator who said he had leaked the material to two newspapers, Britain's The Guardian and The Washington Post.

"He's a traitor," House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, told ABC. "The disclosure of this information puts Americans at risk. It shows our adversaries what our capabilities are. And it's a giant violation of the law."

Eight senators, however, said they would push for legislation that would require greater transparency. The bill they introduced Tuesday would require the attorney general to declassify "significant Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court opinions." The court hears secret requests from government prosecutors for subpoenas and other requests for records under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

"We've had many, many meetings that have been both classified and unclassified that members have been invited to. They shouldn't come and say, 'I wasn't aware of this,' because they've had every opportunity to be aware of all these programs."

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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