Mr. COATS. Mr. President, I come to the floor today to discuss recent national security leaks by a former NSA contractor by the name of Edward Snowden. His name is known now throughout the world. Some have praised Snowden as a hero and a whistleblower. I do not. Anyone who violates their sworn oath to not disclose classified information and then leaks national security documents that compromise our intelligence operations and harm our country's ability to prevent future terrorist attacks should neither be called a hero nor a whistleblower. What Snowden has done borders on treason, and I believe he should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
Mr. President, it is no secret we have a serious trust deficit in this country with the Federal Government. I understand the concerns and the fears of my constituents and the American people relative to some of the things that have occurred here that lead them to question their trust in their elected officials or in their government.
There has been a series of scandals over the past several months, including but not limited to the IRS targeting conservative groups, the actions of Attorney General Eric Holder, and the ever-changing responses from this administration regarding the attacks on Americans in Benghazi. We still don't have the full story, and the narrative keeps bouncing around with change after change after change. So I understand this distrust the American people have about anything that comes out of Washington, DC.
A lot of this is being fueled by mischaracterizations and misrepresentations in the media, grabbing onto whatever is said in the Guardian. Of course, the Guardian says, and people hear: This is what is happening to your country. This is what is happening with your government. They are violating your civil rights and violating your privacy. But none of us stand for that, nor will we stand for that. But in their rush to be the first to break the news of the NSA or other classified programs, to break it first online or on the air, the media has fueled this distrust of the American people by misrepresenting the facts.
Contrary to what some news reports and other sources have said, let me say this for the record: The government is not and cannot indiscriminately listen in on any Americans' phone calls. It is not targeting the e-mails of innocent Americans. It is not indiscriminately collecting the content of their conversations. And it is not tracking the location of innocent Americans through cell towers or their cell phones.
There are civil liberties and privacy protections built into this program that are now being released in great detail, and it is important the American people understand those and know what they are. We have to understand this careful balancing act between protecting classified methods and sources to the detriment of losing that information, losing lives, identifying sources, and compromising programs, and the need to reassure the American people we are following the law and following the constitutional right of Americans to privacy. All of this has to be put in the right context.
As a side note, let me just simply say, Mr. President, that it is ironic that a lot of American private companies seem to have more information about us than the government does. They may have a phone number, but many of the private companies know what we like to eat, where we shop, what we like to wear, what movies we order, where we like to vacation, and we are flooded with marketing attempts to use the information they have collected against us.
But that is not what the NSA is doing under these programs and the programs in question. These programs are in place solely for the purpose of detecting communications between terrorists who are operating outside of our country but communicating with operatives potentially within the United States.
The intelligence community neither has the time nor the inclination nor the authority to track people's Internet activity or pry into their private lives. Even if someone is suspected, by the way, of a phone call match with a foreign terrorist and someone residing or living in America and suspected of having a link to terrorism, the government can go no further than the court to get an order to investigate any other information or material about them. And let's not forget why these programs are there in the first place.
Following the tragic attacks on September 11, 2001, America realized it needed to greatly improve our intelligence efforts and communications among our agencies--we were facing a different kind of war. This wasn't two States lining up against each other. This wasn't addressing wars from the past. This was a whole new way that enemies were attacking Americans on our homeland. We needed to modernize our approach, and we needed to connect the dots before a terrorist attack occurred again at the level of 9/11 or others.
In fact, had these programs been available to NSA before that September date, I believe we could have identified some or all of the hijackers. When one of the September 11 hijackers called a contact in Yemen from San Diego, we could have identified them through this program. We could have prevented the terrorists from boarding those planes and blowing up the World Trade Center, striking the Pentagon, crashing into a field in Pennsylvania, and killing thousands of Americans.
These programs connect the dots and have successfully thwarted dozens of terrorist attacks. They are some of the most effective tools available to protect our country from terrorist organizations like al-Qaida.
That is why I find it so troubling and, frankly, irresponsible for the media and others to distort the nature of these counterterrorism programs. These programs are legal, constitutional, and utilized only under the strict oversight of both parties and all three branches of government, including a highly scrutinized judicial process. In the end, these programs rely on the trust of the American people. And with that trust lacking today, I am asking my fellow Members of Congress, as well as the media, to fact-check first before mischaracterizing programs that save lives.
I believe we can--and we must--protect both security and liberty when it comes to counterterrorism efforts, and I believe these programs do just that.
Mr. President, I yield the floor.