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CNN "State of the Union with Candy Crowley" - Transcript - NSA Surveillance and National Security

Interview

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BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

CROWLEY: Joining me now is Republican senator, John McCain. Let's go to the subject du jour and that is these two programs connected by the NSA, one which as far as we can tell, sweeps up every phone number in the U.S. and records what number calls what number for how long and where.

And then, this second program that is supposed to leave Americans out of it that is bringing in foreign intelligence and then collating that and looking for patterns. Anything bother you about this?

MCCAIN: No, not really. Although, perhaps, we ought to review all of it again. I think we have to understand this issue in the context of what also has been going on. Americans suspicions have been aroused about the IRS problem, the idea of drones is an issue, Benghazi, the Associated Press.

There's a feeling out there, particularly, the IRS one that the government is getting too big and too intrusive, and then, along comes this issue. I don't think the 535 members of Congress should be briefed on every program that our government is engaged in. That's why we have intelligence committees. Second of all, there has been criticism on the part of people like me about us not doing enough.

The Boston bombers, obviously, were communicating with people. Obviously, they left and we either didn't know it or only one agency knew it. They didn't know -- so, it's a careful balance between individual liberty and responsibilities. I believe that the FISA court system is an appropriate way of reviewing some of these policies.

You pointed out that almost none of the proposals the administration has been overturned -- or turned down by the FISA court. That's either because they've made a strong enough case or the FISA court is a rubber stamp.

CROWLEY: Which is it?

MCCAIN: You know, I'm not sure. But I do believe that if this was September 12th, 2001, we might not be having the argument that we are having today. And, yes, perhaps, there has been some overreach, but to somehow think that because we are like having phone calls recorded as far as their length and who they were talking to, I don't think that that is necessarily wrong if they want to go further and they have to go to this court. Now, if this debate --

CROWLEY: Do you think most Americans were aware that every phone call they made with their name not attached, so their number and the number they called and the duration of that call and when it was called, and perhaps, where the call was from and to is recorded. Do you think Americans knew that?

MCCAIN: I don't think they knew that. I don't think they know a lot of things that the government is doing in our effort to counter --

CROWLEY: But you see how it kind of -- I mean, the people might look at that and go whoa, whoa, wait.

MCCAIN: As long as the source of the call, the people talking to, the subject of the call is only obtained through going to court. But they are recruiting people every day over the internet into their cause. Look at what happened to the Boston --

CROWLEY: Terrorists you mean?

MCCAIN: Yes.

CROWLEY: -- which is -- yes. But honestly, this program, the prism program as they call it, you know, looks for intelligence overseas, you know, via the internet wouldn't have caught Tamerlan Tsarnaev because it doesn't apply to people in the U.S. So --

MCCAIN: Mr. Awlaki was recruiting people through the internet and possibly through phone calls back and forth to the United States of America, but I don't claim to defend everything that the government is doing. But I am saying that the threat is growing, not diminishing in my view.

When you look at the things that are going on around the world, whether it be Iran, whether it be what's happening in Syria, Iraq unraveling, the whole Northern Africa in a state of near chaos depending on what country you're talking about, so I think the threat is getting worse. Now, --

CROWLEY: And worth the price to --

MCCAIN: Well, worth the price. It's a balancing act that we have --

CROWLEY: But is it the balances there at the moment?

MCCAIN: Well, it requires --

(CROSSTALK)

MCCAIN: I think it's entirely appropriate that we have Congressional review, that we have executive review. And we take the case to the American people to some degree as so what we are doing.

CROWLEY: Right. And do you think because there's been certainly DNI has pushed back very hard on the idea that these leaks are damaging, that terrorists are learning things from these leaks. So, how are we going to have the open discussion the president wants while the DNI is saying, you know, terrorists are running from this?

MCCAIN: Mark Udall was one -- made a very strong case for his view on this issue, and others members of the intelligence committees. We do place these responsibilities in the intelligence committee. That's what Congress does. They don't think 535 people should be involved.

But in this issue, and since it has arisen, maybe we ought to involve every member of Congress. But we ought to be careful that we don't -- are not discussing practices that we employ that would help the enemy evade our detection and apprehension.

CROWLEY: Senator Rand Paul called this surveillance -- the phone surveillance an assault on the constitution.

MCCAIN: Right. Just prior to the Boston bombing, he said the battlefield was no longer in America. He's the only one that voted that Iran must not be just contained in pursuit of nuclear weapons. I disagree. And I think --

(CROSSTALK)

MCCAIN: Could I just say the Republican and Democrat chairs -- majorities, members of intelligence committee have been very well briefed on these programs. We passed the Patriot Act. We passed specific provisions of the act that allowed for this program to take place to be enacted in operation.

Now, if members of Congress did not know what they were voting on, then I think that that's their responsibility a lot more than it is the government's.

CROWLEY: Let me move you to two other subjects I want to get you on. You were just out in Guantanamo Bay with the president's chief of staff and Sen. Dianne Feinstein. What are you bringing back from that? Are you read to now say we can take some of these prisoners and put them in a super max here in the U.S.?

MCCAIN: I have said that for the last five years, but we have to have a plan. And unfortunately, for the last four years, there was no specific plan. There was also resistance in Congress also. For example, a person you've had on this show a lot, Dick Durbin -- Sen. Dick Durbin said that there's a facility in Illinois that we can move them to.

We're going to have to look at the whole issue, including give them more periodic review of their cases.

CROWLEY: So, are you going to help develop a plan?

MCCAIN: Sure. Yes.

CROWLEY: OK.

MCCAIN: Senator Lindsey Graham and I have been working with them. And we've been working with them for years. But they have been stuck because of various interests within the administration.

CROWLEY: So, you're no closer to having a plan or closing?

MCCAIN: I think that most Americans are more ready than they were some years ago. By the way, it costs $1.5 million per inmate per year to keep them in Guantanamo. I think my fiscal conservative friends might be interested in that.

CROWLEY: And finally, I want to know this subject very near and dear to your heart, you wanted to talk about Syria (ph). And you have received a message from some of the resistance groups there.

MCCAIN: Well, I got a call from General Idriss, the commander of the free Syrian army. Hezbollah is slaughtering people. This key city called Qusayr that the wounded have been removed to villages. They're now moving into those villages and massacring the wounded fighters. Hezbollah is fighting in many areas of Syria. The Iranians are in more. The Russian weapons are flying in.

It's a totally unfair flight and the slaughter is going on. And all of those people have said it's inevitable that Bashar al-Assad will fall, remember that? Now, he's winning. Thanks to the Russians, Iranians, Hezbollah.

CROWLEY: But with the Russians and the Iranians in there, couldn't you make a case, whoa, this is something the U.S. needs to stay out of.

MCCAIN: If you're willing to sit by and see tens of thousands of people massacred and tortured and mass raped and murdered, if you're willing to sit by and watch that, the greatest and strongest nation in the world is incapable of doing anything about that, if you accept that, yes.

CROWLEY: And really quickly, do you see any sign that the president is softening his stance on arming the rebel?

MCCAIN: I think there's a review going on, particularly, with this involvement in Hezbollah. I mean, that's an invasion and the Iranians and the Russians being even stepping up their assistance, which is interesting. I think they ought to call the Geneva meeting in Munich, not in Geneva.

CROWLEY: Sen. John McCain, thanks for coming by.

MCCAIN: Thank you.

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