CNN "The Situation Room" - Transcript: National Security Agency


By:  Pete King
Date: Dec. 27, 2013
Location: Unknown


KEILAR: Evan Perez, thank you so much.

So, that's a big legal win for the NSA, but is that phone surveillance really effective and should the government continue the program? Joining me now to talk about this, Republican congressman, Peter King of New York. He serves on the homeland security and intelligence committees. Congressman, what do you think the ultimate result is here? Do you think this will be settled by the Supreme Court?

REP. PETER KING, (R) INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Well, first of all, I'd like to say that I fully agree with Judge Pauley's (ph) decision that the NSA's actions are entirely constitutional. Having said that, I think this case is going to go to the second circuit court of appeals. Judge Leon's decision or ruling is going to go to the District of Columbia court of appeals.

I think we can -- again, I have no way of predicting how that's going to go, but this certainly seems like the type of case that is going to end up in the U.S. Supreme Court, because it does -- it is of paramount national interest and it is obviously conflict and that conflict may, you know, show itself again at the U.S. court of appeals level.

KEILAR: And congressman, this all started back with Edward Snowden. We've heard from him recently in an interview with the "Washington Post." He said mission accomplished. Partially, because he says that what he revealed stirred a great international debate on mass surveillance. Then this week, in a message broadcast in British television, he said this.


VOICE OF EDWARD SNOWDEN, LEAKED NSA SURVEILLANCE: The conversation occurring today will determine the amount of trust we can place both in the technology that surrounds us and the government that regulates it.


KEILAR: Now, so let me ask you, do you agree with Edward Snowden that this debate about surveillance has been an important one?

KING: No. First of all, I think Edward Snowden is a disgrace. He's a traitor. He's a defector. And what he spread really is mass hysteria and also mass misinformation. For instance, the NSA is not collecting information on phone calls other than one phone number to another. There's no names involved. There's no content involved. They're not surveilling e-mails either.

So, there are all these false stories out there. Like Snowden says the NSA knows where he is or follows people or they can listen in on the president's phone calls. No. It's under strict court supervision. Last year, after billions and billions of phone numbers were assembled, there were less than 300 even looked at and right now, I think 60 American citizens throughout the world are on any type of surveillance because of the NSA's efforts.

And it's not done by the NSA. It's done by the justice department. So, no, this is the most carefully monitored watch in (ph) constitutional program we have. Edward Snowden has spread fear and hysteria and to me is an absolute disgrace.

KEILAR: Congressman, last week, President Obama was asked directly for evidence that NSA programs had stopped another 9/11. He didn't name a specific one. Has there been a single terrorist threat that you say has been stopped by this program?

KING: Well, in his opinion today, Judge Pauley refers to three of them. I am virtually with one of them, and that's the attempted attack by Zazi in 2009 on the New York City subway system. I was actually there with Commissioner Kelly when this was unraveling, when the plot was unraveling and the NYPD and the FBI were on to it.

And this came in large part because of the efforts of the NSA. They were absolutely instrumental in that. There's any number of others. I mean, the NSA has given examples of over 50. Judge Pauley today cites three of them in his opinion. And Judge Leon last week, you know, you have the president of the United States, the director of national intelligence, and the head of the NSA and CIA all saying that the surveillance is important.

Judge Leon is not an intelligence expert. He went outside his lane. As a federal judge, he has no say at all on whether or not something is helpful or good or bad. He has to decide strictly the constitutionality and for him to say he wasn't impressed or he wasn't convinced that it served an intelligence purpose, that's none of his business.

The constitution has judges interpreting laws and applying it to the constitution. It's up to the president and the Congress to define and decide whether or not something is of importance as far as intelligence is concerned.

KEILAR: So the White House -- the president appointed this independent panel to give him suggestions on recommendations on what to do with some of these NSA programs. We're expecting for him to detail his response to them next month. What do you think that President Obama needs to tell the American people about the NSA programs and also about the concerns that so many Americans have about their privacy when it relates to these programs?

KING: Well, first of all, no one's privacy is being violated. I think it's up to the president to show leadership. I mean, on the one hand, he's saying that the NSA is not violating anyone's rights, that it provides useful intelligence, and that the Snowden leaks have been damaging. On the other hand, he says he's going to look to reform.

So, what's he going to reform? If the system is working, if it's being done honestly, intelligently and constitutionally, what does he want to reform? So, I think the president is trying to have it both ways. I wish he'd show leadership. If he thinks this program is working, he should come up and say that and he should stand by it. He shouldn't be trying to have it both ways.

On the one hand this, on the other hand, that. The fact is he's commander in chief. It's time to show leadership and stand by the program which he, himself, says is working and is constitutional. What he's going to do? I have no idea what this president's going to do.

KEILAR: Let me play devil's advocate to that.

KING: Sure.

KEILAR: There have been tremendous concerns voiced by many Americans. Are their concerns warranted? Shouldn't they be part of the debate here? Whether or not you think Edward Snowden is a disgrace, isn't this a debate that the American people should have some say in?

KING: If the debate is done honestly. The average American I think believes that their phone calls are being listened to. They think their e-mails are being looked at. That is totally untrue. No one's phone calls are being listened to by the NSA. The fact is that it's under total court supervision. Now, there are thousands of phone calls being listened to every day by local prosecutors, by local police, by federal law enforcement, by federal prosecutors.

That's done in narcotics and pornography and organized crime. That's totally separate from the NSA. The NSA, as I said, I believe, there's a total of 60 Americans, that's 6-0 Americans having their phone calls listened to and that's because they're in contact with terrorists. And that's 60 all over the world and it's only done under strict court supervision and the granting of an order by the court.

KEILAR: But some of them know that their calls aren't necessarily being listened to, but just the fact that the government has this blanket access to, should it be needed, to this phone data, to this internet usage data. I wonder -- and we've heard many people put concerns out there because they feel like they've been misled.

For instance, let's talk a little bit about DNI, James Clapper, the director of National Intelligence.

KING: Right.

KEILAR: He testified before Congress that I think a lot of people took that to mean that there wasn't even this sort of blanket grabbing of phone and internet usage. His critics actually include Republican senator, Rand Paul. Do you think there should be any consequences for Clapper, and we certainly noticed that President Obama didn't really defend him in his testimony before Congress last week?

KING: Let me say several things. First of all, e-mails are not being surveilled. The NSA on its own stopped doing that more than two years ago because they felt they cannot ensure privacy because there was so much extraneous information in an e-mail. So, they stopped that. There is no e-mail surveillance. It stopped more than two years ago. As far as General Clapper, he was in a position, he was asked a question by a senator that the senator knew the answer to.

It had already been discussed in a private confidential top secret session because we did not want the enemy to know what we were doing and what we were capable of. What General Clapper was trying to do, first of all, he didn't expect a question like that would be asked in public, because of its top secret nature, and he tried to give an answer which he thought was the least offensive, where he would be protecting the men and women of the NSA and those -- and protect the programs we're using to stop al Qaeda.

And there's nothing in this for the NSA. They have not abused this. They're not using it for political purposes. They're not going after anyone. They're doing it to save American lives and it has worked. That's what General Clapper was trying to protect. So, as far as Rand Paul, I think he's also absolutely terrible when he said -- when he was comparing General Clapper to Edward Snowden. I mean, a four star general who's dedicating his life to his country to a guy who's a traitor and a deserter? Rand Paul again does not know what he's talking about. He also on another show once was saying the NSA follows him and knows everything he's doing. The guy's having delusions of grandeur. Nobody really cares what he's doing.

KEILAR: Strong opinions, Congressman Peter King. We appreciate you coming on to share them with us.

KING: Thank you, Brianna. Happy New Year.


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