CNN "The Situation Room" - Transcript: National Security Agency and Intelligence Collection on Allies


By:  Pete King
Date: Oct. 28, 2013
Location: Unknown


REP. PETER KING (R), NEW YORK: Wolf, thank you.

BLITZER: Is it credible to you that the president of the United States would not know that the U.S. has been listening in on the private phone conversations of the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, since 2002?

KING: Well, again, I can't say whether or not we have been doing it or not, but assume that we have. No, I can't believe that the president wouldn't have known that. He certainly should have known. And if he didn't, I think that's almost more of a serious issue, that something like that, at that level would be conducted without him knowing it.

Now, let me just say, I support the NSA. I think that we should stop being defensive and apologetic. But, having said that, I don't think the president -- I can't believe that he didn't know or he should have known or people very close to him had to have known. This is a key issue, which goes beyond the actual intelligence, it goes beyond our relationship with foreign leaders.

And the president certainly should be aware of that.

BLITZER: Dianne Feinstein, a woman you know, the chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, she is fully briefed on all of these issues. She just issued a statement saying: "It is my understanding that the President Obama was not aware Chancellor Merkel's conversations were being collected since 20012. That is a big problem."

I assume, for her to say that, that's confirming these press reports in Germany and elsewhere that this U.S. spying on Merkel's private phone conversations has been going on now for more than a decade. She wouldn't just put out a statement like that unless she had been told it was true.

KING: Yes, again, it may have been. I'm on the committee. I'm on the Intelligence Committee, and I really can't close what we have been told or not told.

I would just say that if the president did not know, then that raises very serious questions about what he's doing as commander in chief, as chief executive. The fact he would be going into negotiations and discussions and meetings with Angela Merkel or with French leaders or any other European Union leaders or any leaders, for that matter, and not be aware that there was surveillance going on of their private phone calls, to me, either something is definitely wrong in his administration, or he just has a totally hands-off attitude, because to me this is just unacceptable that he not know that, and also that it continue, because, again, this goes beyond the intelligence- gathering value.

There's obviously a diplomatic component to it. To me, the president should be advised, and if not, I would like to know how high up in the administration it went. Who was the closest person to him that did know about it? And why didn't that person not tell him?

BLITZER: Is it credible to you that the director of national intelligence or head of the NSA had made a conscientious decision, this is information the president does not need to know, he's better off not knowing, so we're not going to tell him?

KING: I don't believe that should be done, no, not at all.

I think if it appears that the president is trying to put this back on General Alexander or put it back on the NSA, I think that is also going to create serious morale problems. To me, he should be out there with the NSA, thanking them for the great job they do, not trying to put the blame off onto them.

So, Wolf, it's just hard for me to imagine. Either he knew about it, and he's now saying he didn't, which is wrong, or he never knew about it. That to me is -- Senator Feinstein said it's a serious problem. I don't know if she meant it's a serious problem that he didn't know about it or that no one told him, or that the whole program was going on. To me, the serious problem would be if he didn't know, why he didn't know about it, and how high up in the administration it went.

BLITZER: She's also upset that, as chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, she says she was never informed about this. She said: "The White House has informed me that collection on our allies will not continue, which I support. But, as far as I'm concerned, Congress needs to know exactly what our intelligence community is doing. That to end, the committee will initiate a major review of all intelligence collection programs."

First of all, do you support this decision? She says the White House has now made a decision not to collect intelligence on friendly countries.

KING: No, I would not support that.

For instance, let's go back to when Willy Brandt was the chancellor of Germany -- of West Germany, and he actually had Stasi agents, communists in his government. The fact that Germany and France and other countries deal with Iraq and Iran, North Korea, the Russians as far as nuclear energy and other issues, I think we don't know who the chancellor is going to be, who the president is going to be, who the prime minister is going to be, and there's a reason why we signed an agreement.

There's only four other countries in the world where we have actually said that we are not going to do surveillance on, as far as their leaders, as far as their government. Listen, when Madeleine Albright was the ambassador to U.N., she said her phone was tapped, that the French were actually listening in and knew what she was saying.

Now, she's in the president's Cabinet. If we're not going to tap a chancellor, are we going to go to the vice chancellor? Are we going to go to people in the Cabinet? Where does this end? And suppose one of the these governments becomes very uncooperative.

Just go back several years ago with Chancellor Schroeder when he and the Russians basically formed an alliance against us as far as Iraq was concerned, which is one thing, but then right after that, Chancellor Schroeder ends up working for an energy company that is controlled by the Russian.

To me, I would like to know what is going on in his mind as we were going into those negotiations as far as our policy in Iraq was concerned. No, I think this is not something the president should just unilaterally and forever write off. It can be done -- to me, this is something that comes within his jurisdiction and isn't something that he should just write off, because I think this can be very useful information to us. Believe me, if they could -- I really wonder when Senator Obama was there in 2008 speaking in Berlin, was German intelligence, you know, going into his BlackBerry to know what he was saying?

This is -- all countries do it. For us to -- listen, I understand why Angela Merkel has to say something publicly. But the fact is, the NSA has done more to save German lives than the German army has done since World War II. That's the reality. The NSA has provided so much intelligence to Germans and the French and other European countries to save them from terrorist attack, they should be thankful to us, not going through this charade.

BLITZER: Peter King is a member of the House Homeland Security Committee, the House Intelligence Committee as well. He's chairman of the Subcommittee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence.

Congressman, thanks very much for coming in.

KING: Wolf, thank you. I appreciate it. Thank you.

BLITZER: Peter King, thank you .

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