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ABC "This Week with George Stephanopoulos" - Transcript: Edward Snowden and the NSA


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STEPHANOPOULOS: And let's get more on this now from two of the top intelligence officials in the Senate, Democrat Dick Durbin, Republican Saxby Chambliss.

And Senator Chambliss, let me begin with you. You're the vice chair of the intelligence committee right now.

Would it surprise you if it turns out that what Mr. Greenwald is reporting there is true, that low level officials have that kind of capability to read e-mails, internet traffic, listen to phone calls?

CHAMBLISS: George, it wouldn't just surprise me, it would shock me. I was back out at NSA just last week, spent a couple hours out there with high and low level NSA officials. And what I have been assured of is that there is no capability at NSA for anyone without a court order to listen to any telephone conversation or to monitor any e-mail. In fact we don't monitor e-mails, that's what kind of assures me that what the reporting is is not correct, because no e-mails are monitored now. They used to be, but that stopped two or three years ago.

So I feel confident that there may have been some abuse, but if it was it was pure accidental.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Senator, first of all do you agree with that? And secondly, you also want to talk about that vote referenced by Glenn Greenwald, that close vote in the House this week where the NSA bulk collection program did survive, but some of your Democratic colleagues are going to be pushing to end it in the Senate as well. Where do you stand on that?

DURBIN: I can tell you, George, that this was an amazing vote. We came within six votes of challenging an intelligence operation. That doesn't happen very often, hardly at all. It's an indication of a healthy democracy where the oversight of congress on even security issues is important.

The last time I called this same issue for a vote, an amendment I offered the Senate judiciary committee, Senator Mike Lee, a Republican of Utah and I co-sponsored it, only one other senator joined us in that vote.

It's clear that the sentiment is growing for oversight. And I think that the efforts by Senators Wyden and Mark Udall as well as Jeff Merkley is going to increase that effort for oversight. That's a healthy thing.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Will you vote for their amendment?

DURBIN: Oh yes, I will. In fact I sponsored it.

I really believe that we should limit this meta data collection. The notion that we're going to collect all of the phone records of everyone in an area code on the off chance someone in that area code may be a suspect at a later time goes way too far.

And there should be another step here, these FISA courts, there should be a real court proceeding. In this case, it's fixed in a way, it's loaded. There's only one case coming before the FISA, the government's case. Let's have an advocate for someone standing up for civil liberties to speak up about the privacy of Americans when they make each of these decisions. And let's release some of the transcripts, redacted, carefully redacted so that people understand the debate that's going on in these FISA courts.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So Senator Chambliss, Democratic support for (inaudible) program seems to be growing. Can you defeat the amendment, number one and, number two, what kind of reforms can you support?

CHAMBLISS: Well, certainly it's good to have a healthy debate on this issue, George. I agree with Dick that the right kind of oversight is absolutely necessary. And we have got oversight now of this program, both by the Department of Justice, by NSA, by the FISA court, by the intelligence committees, by the Judiciary Committee.

Let me tell you, there is no other program in the intelligence community that has as much oversight as this one, because people deserve to have their privacy protected. And I do think that we're going to have to make some changes to make things more transparent.

Whether we should go as far as what Dick's just alluded to, I'm not sure but what that jeopardizes the program.

And let's don't forget, we have got to reach the right kind of balance, George, between protecting Americans and giving 100 percent protection on the privacy side. We should never invade any American citizen's privacy.

But we've also got a responsibility as policymakers to make sure that our intelligence community and our law enforcement community has the tools with which to provide the kind of protection that we've had since 9/11.

If we'd had this program pre-9/11, we now know that there's a good chance we would have intercepted the phone calls between one of the 9/11 hijackers in San Diego, al-Midhar (ph), in a safe house that he was calling in Yemen.

And we were monitoring the safe house, but we weren't monitoring the calls coming out of the United States; Section 215 would have picked those phone calls up. Who knows what might have -- not have happened on 9/11, if that had been the case.

STEPHANOPOULOS: I want to get to another story breaking over the weekend, that violence in Egypt, up to 80 people dead right now after the military has cracked down on those protesters in the Muslim Brotherhood.

Senator Durbin, is it time for the administration to take a different tack, to take a tougher tack now with the military regime? Maybe even threaten more penalties or economic sanctions?

DURBIN: This is a very delicate time in Egypt. Clearly they are searching for leadership and stability. The events over the weekend don't help at all.

We've had a positive relationship between the United States and the Egyptian military, I want to maintain that, but we should make it clear in Egypt, as we made it clear in Libya and in Syria, that firing on your own people is unacceptable by any government.

And in this situation, if it's established that this came from government sources -- it appears it did -- then we have got to make it clear to the Egyptians that's unacceptable conduct.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Senator Chambliss?

CHAMBLISS: It's further proof, George, that going from a dictatorship to a democracy is very, very hard.

And we do need to make sure that there is some sort of peaceful stability in Egypt; exactly what the role of the United States should be there is difficult to determine. They have been our ally for decades. And here all of a sudden we are seeing a move in the right direction, a move towards democracy.

But we have got to be careful that we don't inject ourselves too much into the situation, because it will probably make it worse. But we also need to send a very clear and very strong message to the Egyptian military that we're not going to tolerate, from a friendly-nation relationship standpoint, the kind of violence that we saw over the weekend.

But it is a very, very delicate, sensitive situation that's ongoing there.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Senator Chambliss, Senator Durbin, thanks very much for your time.

DURBIN: Thanks, George.


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