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ABC "This Week with George Stephanopoulos" - Transcript: NSA and the Al-Qaeda Threat

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BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

RADDATZ: Now to respond to all of this, two key members of the House intelligence committee, ranking member Dutch Ruppersberger, Democrat from Maryland, and New York Republican Peter King. Thank you both are joining you us.

I want to start and go back to the threat with the embassy. I'll let you talk about Glenn Greenwald just said in just a moment, but I want to talk about that threat.

I spoke to Obama's top military adviser General Dempsey about the terror threat and this is what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DEMPSEY: There is a significant threat stream and we're reacting to it.

RADDATZ: Is the threat to blow up an embassy, a consulate or something else?

DEMPSEY: That part of it is unspecified, but the intent seems clear.

RADDATZ: And the intent is to what?

DEMPSEY: The intent is to attack western, not just U.S. interests.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

RADDATZ: Representative Ruppersberger, let's start with you. What specifics can you tell us? You heard what Jon Karl reported. This sounds like a very frightening, very credible threat.

RUPPERSBERGER: Yes, it's a very credible threat and it's based on intelligence. You know, what we have to do now is the most important issue is protect Americans throughout the world, whether the intelligence community, our military or people in the State Department. And citizens living throughout the world.

We know that al Qaeda and other people out there want to attack us and kill us and our allies.

The good news is that we picked up intelligence. And that's what we do. That's what NSA does. NSA's sole purpose is to get information intelligence to protect Americans from attack.

RADDATZ: You heard Jon report operatives are in place.

RUPPERSBERGER: Well, we can only say the intelligence that we get. And by the way intelligence is the best defense against terrorism. Those operatives are in place, because we've received information that high level people from al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula are talking about a major attack and these are people in the high level.

Now whatever that intelligence is, we act upon it, because our first priority, again, is to protect the Americans that are in other parts of the world.

RADDATZ: Congressman King, this is also spread domestically. We're on a higher alert here in the country, or at least beefed up security. I think Americans don't really understand why this keeps growing in the last few days.

First it was the embassy closing. Now domestically. Why the higher alert here in America?

KING: Well, quite frankly, Martha, because this threat was so specific as to how enormous it was going to be, and also there's certain dates were given, but it didn't specify where it's going to be. And, you know, the assumption is that it's probably most likely to happen in the Middle East at or about one of the embassies, but there's no guarantee of that at all.

It could basically be in Europe, it could be in the United States, it could be a series of combined attacks. It can be the same concept as the 2006 liquid explosive planned attacks whether there are going to be a series of attacks carried out almost simultaneously. So we're have to be ready for everything. And that's what this is about.

And the administration I think has tried to first with the embassies, then with the global travel advisory and also letting state and local governments know over the last several days over the nature of this threat so we can be on guard. And this is a wake-up call. Al Qaeda is in many ways stronger than it was before 9/11, because it's mutated and it spread and it can come at us from different directions. And al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula is probably the most deadly of all the al Qaeda affiliates.

RADDATZ: Let's focus on these embassies for a moment, Congressman Ruppersberger, if we can, is this more a reaction to Benghazi, because we don't know that the target is an embassy or a consulate?

RUPPERSBERGER: Look, we have to take all precautions, whatever, to protect American lives. It was unfortunate what happened with Benghazi and we need to learn about what happened to make sure that our highest priority will be to protect Americans.

So we need to make -- take every precaution necessary and that's what we're doing right now. Again, we're relying on intelligence, but, you know, we get intelligence through signals intelligence, what NSA does, and through human intelligence.

But right now we're concerned and we're attempting to prepare ourselves to protect Americans. That's the bottom line.

RADDATZ: I want your reaction to this. The New York Times reported this Saturday that: "Some analysts and congressional officials suggested Friday that emphasizing a terrorist threat now is a good way to divert attention from the uproar over the NSA's data collection programs, and that if it showed the intercepts had uncovered possible plot, even better."

What's your response to that?

RUPPERSBERGER: Well, I am glad you raised that issue because the bottom line is, is that the NSA's job is to do foreign intelligence. The whole purpose is to collect information to protect us. We have NSA people going to work every day that this whole purpose is to get information against terrorist attacks.

And these people who work at NSA are hard-working people who follow the law. In fact, we have lost 20 members of the people working for NSA in Iraq and Afghanistan attempting to get information to help the troops.

Now, this issue of metadata and that we're violating the law is just not true. That's absurd. We have checks and balances...

RADDATZ: But what Edward Snowden leaked is very different than what we're talking about here. Tracking a terrorist. Representative King?

RUPPERSBERGER: Right.

KING: Yes, I mean, as far as, you know, this being announced by the government, no, there's -- it's absolutely crazy to say there's any conspiracy here. I mean, Dutch has seen the intelligence, I've seen it, the government would have been totally negligent if it did not take the actions taken.

Whether or not there was any controversy over the NSA at all, this would -- all these actions would have been taken. So I'm a Republican. And I'm saying the administration -- and I've had problems with the administration on different issues, well, what they are doing now is what has to be done.

They'd be derelict if they were not. And, you know, we can't criticize them for doing too little with Benghazi and now criticize them for doing too much. I'm going to give them credit, they've learned from Benghazi. And that's why they're firming up the embassies.

But also as far as this worldwide alert, I think it's absolutely warranted in this situation.

RADDATZ: I want a very quick reaction from both of you. And I want to start with you, Representative Ruppersberger, because Glenn Greenwald mentioned your name specifically. Are efforts being thwarted in trying to get information for members of Congress?

RUPPERSBERGER: We have rules as far as the committee and what you can have and what you cannot have. However, based on that, that statement I just made, is that since this incident occurred with Snowden, we've had three different hearings for members of our Democratic Caucus, and the Republican Caucus, where General Alexander has come with his deputy, Chris Inglis, to ask any questions that people have as it relates to this information.

And we will continue to do that because what we're trying to do now is to get the American public to know more about what's going on. The NSA is following the law. And that we have checks and balances. We have the courts. We have both the Senate and the House intelligence committees. We have the Justice Department. We have checks and balances here to make sure that NSA does not violate the law in what they're doing.

And, you know, since these two programs have come in effect, especially the metadata, there has not been one incident of any member of the NSA breaking any law whatsoever.

But we can do better. I have to educate my caucus more, the Democratic Caucus. And we're trying to declassify as much as we can. We just had a meeting...

RADDATZ: Representative King, I want a very quick response from you, if you will.

Thank you, Representative Ruppersberger.

RUPPERSBERGER: Sure, OK, fine.

RADDATZ: Just a quick response, please.

KING: Martha, I would say that over the last several weeks General Alexander, all of his top people have come in, subjected themselves to questioning from any member of Congress at all, including those who are most critical.

And I have found often that those who are most critical publicly ask the least amount of questions in private. But he has answered every question. They get the information. They sit there and they go -- they just cooperate...

(CROSSTALK)

RADDATZ: So they're just not telling the truth?

KING: ... with the members of Congress.

I've never seen this -- to me it's unprecedented to have all of these top people from an administration during this time of crisis still come in and answer question after question after question. So anyone who says that Congress is somehow being stonewalled is just wrong and is generally, I think, raised by people who are trying to make a name for themselves.

RADDATZ: Thank you very much for joining us.

RUPPERSBERGER: Good.

KING: Thank you, Martha.

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT


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