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MSNBC "Meet the Press" - Transcript - Foreign Policy in the Middle East, Privacy Rights, and National Security

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DAVID GREGORY: We are back. Joining me now, the Vice Chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Republican Senator from Georgia, Saxby Chambliss, and the Democrat senator from Colorado, Mark Udall. Gentlemen, welcome to you both. Senator Chambliss, let me start with you. And I just want to pick up on the news of this weekend over Syria and the president's decision to start arming the Syrian rebels. What is the end game and what limits do you think should be placed on what the United States does in Syria?

SENATOR SAXBY CHAMBLISS: Well, I don't think you can place any limits on it right now, David. I do think it's imperative that Assad be removed. It's pretty obvious that he is pretty well entrenched now. He has gone to the extreme of letting Hezbollah have the run of Syria. That is simply not good. And while I know there are bad guys involved in the opposition rebels, we've done a pretty good job of ferreting out who are the good guys or who are the more moderate guys within that opposition. And I'm certain that's who the president's talking about providing arms to.

Should the president go farther--

(OVERTALK)

DAVID GREGORY: --in your judgment?

SENATOR SAXBY CHAMBLISS: Well, I think that the military alternatives have got to be examined almost day to day. And I assume that's what he's doing. And if the military says that we need to implement a no-fly zone, we ought to do it right away. It's pretty obvious they're using air power to take out some of these 90,000 to 100,000 folks who are innocent people in Syria that have been killed. And a no-fly zone maybe the ultimately tactic that has to be taken.

DAVID GREGORY: Senator Udall, what do you say? You have raised concerns about exactly who the arms would go to. And we have a pretty rough history with regard to that, when you think about Afghanistan trying to arm rebels, and then having those weapons used against us later on. Deputy National Security advisor in the White House Ben Rhodes answered that question this week, here's what he said:

BEN RHODES (ON TAPE): We have relationships today in Syria that we didn't have six months ago that gives us greater certainty, not just that we can get stuff into the country, but also that we can put it in the right hands, so that it's not falling into the hands of extremists.

DAVID GREGORY: Senator Udall, do you believe him?

SENATOR MARK UDALL: I agree with Senator Graham and Senator Chambliss that we ought to ensure that our ultimate goal is a political settlement. We've got to tie up the unconventional and advanced conventional weapons that are there. We've got to protect the Syrian people. And above all, we've got to make sure that the Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups don't take root in Syria.

David, I'm open to all options. But I think that we oughta be listening to the president, we oughta be listening to military leadership. You know, though, a no-fly zone and other involvement may lead to this slippery slope that others talked about. But this is a very dangerous, very fragile situation. If Jordan falls, I fear for the region.

DAVID GREGORY: Let me ask you two about the other big debate back home over the N.S.A. surveillance and Edward Snowden. Senator Chambliss, is he a traitor? Should he be tried as a traitor back in this country, and what do you think is next for him? How hard is it going be to get him back to face justice?

Well, it depends on exactly what he's charged with and the process that's followed by the prosecutorial team. I'm going to leave it to them to decide whether or not he ought to be charged for treason. But as I said earlier this week, if he's not a traitor, then he's pretty darn close to it.

And as far as getting him back here, he needs to look an American jury in the eye and explain why he has disclosed sources and methods that are going to put American lives in danger. I mean, there's no question about it. We know now that because of his disclosure that the terrorists, the bad guys around the world are taking some different tactics and they know a little bit more about how we're gathering information on them. And I think it's important that we bring him to justice.

DAVID GREGORY: Are you skeptical, Senator Udall, of the government's claims, the head of the N.S.A. saying, "This has done real damage, that it harms national security, and with these programs, that terrorist plots have been foiled"?

SENATOR MARK UDALL: David, if I might take a moment before I answer your question, I did want to say that my thoughts are with all the victims of the wildfires we've had here in Colorado. And I want to ensure them that I know the federal government will be there for them just like the federal government was there for the victims of Hurricane Sandy and the recent tornados in Oklahoma.

We stand together as Americans, and I hope Americans will send their prayers and thoughts out here to Colorado. But let me turn to your question. I am skeptical that the 215 business records program of the N.S.A. is effective. We are talking about prison program, that's the second program, it has been effective. It surviels foreigners who are interested in terrorist activity.

But I have to tell you that on the 215 business records front, I don't think collecting millions and millions of Americans' phone calls, now this is the metadata, this is time, place, to whom you direct the calls, is making us any safer. And I think it's ultimately perhaps a violation of the Fourth Amendment. I think we ought to have this debate.

I'm going to introduce a bill this week that would narrow the reach of 215 to those who have a link to terrorism. A similar amendment passed in 2005. It has support from people like Senator Hagel, Senator Durbin, and Senator Barack Obama. I'd like to have that debate. It's important that the American public know what's being done in their name.

DAVID GREGORY: You know, but it's very interesting because as some commentators this week have pointed out, those who are concerned about civil liberties, imagine their reaction if there were another 9/11-style attack. And what the American public would rise up to support in terms of quashing civil liberties. And you go back to immediate aftermath of 9/11, and we did some checking about that, the joint inquiry in terms of intelligence community activities before and after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, December 2002.

And this is one of the conclusions: "Prior to 9/11, the intelligence community's ability to produce significant and timely signals in international on counterterrorism was limited by N.S.A.'s failure to address modern communications technology aggressively. Continuing conflict between intelligence community agencies," and this is important, "N.S.A.'s cautious approach to any collection of intelligence relating to activity in the United States and insufficient collaboration between the N.S.A. and F.B.I. regarding potential terrorist attacks in the U.S." So the N.S.A. after 9/11 was criticized for being too cautious. Which is why we got these programs in the first place, isn't that true Senator Chambliss?

SENATOR SAXBY CHAMBLISS: Well, no question about it. I was very involved in the aftermath of September 11th as Chairman of the House Intelligence Subcommittee on Terrorism and Homeland Security, and along with my colleague, Congresswoman Jane Harman from California, we did an investigation.

And we found out exactly that, that N.S.A. did not take advantage of the technology that is out there today. And had they done so, we'll never be able to say that we could've prevented 9/11 from happening. But certainly, we weren't doing the things that we were capable of doing to try to make sure that these bad guys don't have all the tools.

And if we utilize the tools that we have to figure out what they're doing, what they're planning, and that we're able other interrupt and disrupt them. And we've done that time and time again. I hope we're going to be able to be able to give the American public more examples of those interruptions and disruptions over the next several days. But the fact is that we know we've done that as a result of utilizing these tools.

DAVID GREGORY: Is there one that comes to mind? Is there something that the public does not know yet that you can share that's actually been disrupted?

SENATOR SAXBY CHAMBLISS: Well, the tool that the N.S.A. has talked about and they've allowed us to talk about are the Zazi case that was generated out of the monitoring of phone calls under 702 initially, where we picked up on a phone call made from Pakistan into the United States. And then 215 was used after that to coordinate the ultimate monitoring and arrest of Zazi who was headed to New York with backpacks loaded with bombs to blow up the New York subway system.

The other incident that we've been able to talk about is the David Headley case. Dual citizen, U.S. and Pakistani who lived in Chicago who was involved in the Mumbai bombings. And those two cases did-- we did pick up information in those two cases with the use of 702 primarily, though particularly in the Zazi case. Also there was coordinated use of 215.

DAVID GREGORY: Let me ask Senator Udall, for reaction to what I showed you about the prior criticism of the N.S.A. being too cautious, which is what led to these programs.

SENATOR MARK UDALL: David, it doesn't have to be all or nothing. And I talked to Coloradans who want to understand why we're literally collecting millions of phone call data on a daily basis. My friend Saxby points out how 702 helped us identify Zazi and Headley and the plots they were generating. It makes sense to me that then you go get a warrant from the FISA court to use those phone records, that so-called metadata to then find out what that network is.

And what I'm proposing is to limit that collection in a way that keeps faith with the Fourth Amendment. If you think about the Fourth Amendment, the King when the founders wrote the Bill of Rights, could not only take your property and your treasure, but he could take your life and maybe most precious of all, your liberty.
I think we owe it to the American people to have a wholesome debate in the open about the extent of these programs. You have a law that's been interpreted secretly by a secret court that then issues secret orders to generate a secret program. I just don't think this is an American approach to a world in which we have great threats. And my number one goal is to protect the American people. But we can do it in a way that also respects our civil liberties.

DAVID GREGORY: All right-- we're going to leave it there this morning, Senator Chambliss, Senator Udall, thank you both very much. Coming up, we're going to talk (MUSIC) a little bit about how the president's handled all of this and what the politics of it are. How did we get to this point?

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