By Tom Brune
Rep. Peter King, a staunch defender of government anti-terrorism programs, said he went to the headquarters of the National Security Agency Wednesday morning and told its employees to keep up the good work.
King (R-Seaford) said he went to the NSA campus in Ft. Meade, Md., near here, to show his support for NSA employees who are under attack by civil liberties groups, many in Congress and foreign leaders upset their phones have been tapped.
"Thank you. I stand with you," King said he told about 300 NSA employees in an auditorium and others who listened over speakers in a 10-15 minute talk followed by questions.
"My concern is what happens to the NSA," he said. "If they get so attacked and allow themselves to be beaten down and don't continue doing what they're doing, we leave ourselves vulnerable to attack."
An NSA spokesman declined to comment on internal meetings, but added, "We work hard to keep our Congressional overseers informed."
The NSA, long a little known secretive surveillance agency, has been under attack since former contractor Edward Snowden released internal documents revealing its work.
Among the disclosures has been the NSA's collection of millions of Americans' phone records, scooping up email and other data from Yahoo, Google and other Internet giants, and listening to phone calls of foreign leaders and governments.
The ACLU and other groups have attacked the phone record collection as unconstitutional and an invasion of privacy. And many members of Congress have offered bills to address transparency and privacy concerns raised by the NSA.
King, chairman of the House Counterterrorism Subcommittee, said he supports all of the NSA programs, and he has urged President Barack Obama to publicly defend the NSA.
"I said, 'Quite honestly, just about everything you've been accused of doing, I would be accusing you if you weren't doing it,' " King said he told NSA staff.
" 'You drill down as to what's come out, basically you've been doing what you've been asked to do, as far as keeping us safe, especially since 9/11,' " King said. "I said coming from New York I had a particular appreciation for what they did."
Mark Jaycox, a legislative analyst for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which defends free speech and privacy on the Internet, singled out NSA collection of U.S. phone records.
"Rep. King neglects the constitutionality of the program," he said. "Leaving that aside, the effectiveness of the program has not been shown."
King, who also toured the facility, said employees asked why so many members of Congress attack the NSA.
King said top members of the House Intelligence Committee support it. But he said many members of Congress were unaware of the NSA.
He added that Congressional criticism of the NSA breaks down like most issues: some of it's political, some of it's ideological and some of it's taking shots at "an easy target."