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CNN "CNN Newsroom" - Transcript: General Clapper and the NSA

Interview

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Date:
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BLITZER:All right, let's discuss what we just heard from Clapper. The New York Republican Congressman, Peter King, is joining us. He's a key member of the House Homeland Security Committee. He's a chairman of the subcommittee on counterterrorism and intelligence. I was surprised to hear Clapper make this statement. What about you, Congressman?

REP. PETER KING (R), NEW YORK: Yes, I have great regard for General Clapper, but, politically, I don't agree with him. And I say politically in that I think that people still would have objected. He still would have certain people objecting to it.

And also, you know, the whole idea of (INAUDIBLE) activity is that you don't announce to the world about your enemies what you're doing. So, I think in those days after 911, especially it would have been dangerous to let the enemy know what we were doing, know what we were collecting. And so, I just don't -- to me, it would have given too much away to the enemy, to the terrorists. And I don't think it would have calmed down the people over here.

Now, average Americans, yes, but the organized anti-war people, or organized anti-Bush people at that time, for instance, back in 2004, I guess it was, 2005, when "New York times" had a big expose on the -- on the collecting of calls.

So, no, I -- listen, I think General Clapper meant well. I think he's done an outstanding job. But I think as far as reading the political tea leaves here, I think it would have been a mistake to do at the time because I still think the opposition would have been there and we would have been tipping off the enemy is what we were doing.

BLITZER: Because it makes it sound -- and I am anxious to get your thoughts on this. It makes it sound that Snowden, Edward Snowden, the former NSA contractor who, last June, did release all this information, made it public about what the U.S. was doing, in terms of this metadata collection operation. It makes it sound at least, Clapper seemed to think, well, maybe Snowden did the right thing. I should have done it right after 911. The U.S. should have done it right after 911. We still wouldn't know about this if Snowden hadn't released this information.

KING: Yes, I don't think General Clapper said anything we have to be ashamed of here. I think he's just saying it would have been less of a reaction if we had put it out after 911 rather than now. But I have been in many, many meetings with General Clapper. And I can tell you, he does not think Snowden did the right thing. He has nothing but contempt from Snowden, based on the meetings I've had with General Clapper.

So, I think what he is saying is that it may have been easier to get this done at the time, and it wouldn't have had the shock effect that it -- that it's had now. But I -- my concern would be looking at it, in -- both in hindsight and trying to think what would have happened that if we had announced it then, it would have started a debate at the time which would have been generated in such a way as to let the enemy know what we're doing and those who are opposed would still be opposed.

BLITZER: But I guess the question is, given the statement that Clapper has now made to "The Daily Beast" to Eli Lake, and he's going to be joining us, Eli Lake, later in "THE SITUATION ROOM."

KING: Right.

BLITZER: Given the fact he's made this statement that what Snowden released effectively should have been released by the U.S. government immediately after 911, it wouldn't have been as big of a deal. If you're Snowden's lawyer, you use that statement to say, well, look, what Snowden did was only what Clapper himself said the U.S. should have done after 911. So, don't go after him.

KING: I think he's -- first of all, I think General Clapper is only saying it should have been done to calm down public opinion. But, also, let's keep in mind that only about two percent of what Snowden has taken involves the NSA. There is other -- you know, much other data that he has obtained which the Defense Department, for instance, has shown would -- can do tremendous damage to Americans, including our IED detection devices. It's -- he's been very damaging to our national security.

So, the NSA part I think is only about two percent of the total amount of Snowden drew down. So even if that were true, again, NSA is a small part of the damage that Snowden has done. But I think what General Clapper was saying is (INAUDIBLE.) I just think that that's a -- it's really a -- intelligence (INAUDIBLE) is supposed to be kept secret. That's just part of the survival of the government. That's why we have representative democracy, why we have people in Congress who have been elected and on the Intelligence Committee and others. They are the ones who are aware of this, and they are representing the people.

BLITZER: I suspect there is going to be a lot of discussion about this story coming up. Hey, --

KING: Sure.

BLITZER: -- Congressman, thanks, as usual, for joining us.

KING: Thank you, Wolf. As always, thank you.

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