Lawmakers demanded the prosecution of a former contractor who revealed details of government surveillance, as officials braced for possible further disclosures of U.S. intelligence secrets and Congress prepared for hearings about the program and breaches of security.
Senator Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, the top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said he expects the former contractor, Edward Snowden, to release more classified data.
“Apparently he’s got a thumb drive,” Chambliss said, though its contents are unknown. “He’s already exposed part of it and I guess he’s going to expose the rest of it.”
With Justice Department officials working on possible charges, Snowden, in an interview published today in the South China Morning Post, said he would fight extradition from Hong Kong, where he fled before revealing his identity.
“My intention is to ask the courts and people of Hong Kong to decide my fate,” Snowden said, according to an article on the newspaper’s website. “I have been given no reason to doubt your system.”
He said he wasn’t in Hong Kong “to hide from justice; I’m here to reveal criminality,” the newspaper reported. The South China Morning Post said Snowden was interviewed in a secret location.
The disclosures about the secret program to collect a vast trove of domestic telephone and international Internet data have sparked a criminal investigation by the Justice Department, calls for the surveillance to be reined in, and a lawsuit accusing the government of violating the privacy and free-speech rights of its citizens.
Snowden, 29, a former national security contractor and technical assistant for the Central Intelligence Agency, has identified himself as the source of reports in U.K. Guardian Newspaper and the Washington Post about the program run by the National Security Agency under laws passed following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the U.S.
Snowden went to Hong Kong on May 20, according to the Guardian. He is still in the city, the paper reported yesterday.
General Keith Alexander, the NSA director, told members of the Senate Intelligence Committee in a briefing yesterday that he didn’t know Snowden’s whereabouts, according to Chambliss.
Representative Peter King, a New York Republican who serves on both the House Intelligence and Homeland Security committees, said administration officials wouldn’t answer questions about Snowden, citing the investigation into the leaks.
King was among the House members briefed yesterday evening by officials from the Justice Department and intelligence agencies on the data gathering program.
“They laid out all the protections that are there and I support what they’re doing,” he said.
Massachusetts Democrat Michael Capuano told reporters he didn’t find the briefing very useful and has more questions.
“I still don’t know very many specifics of the programs,” he said. “This is not where openness occurs.”
Representative Brad Sherman, a California Democrat, said Congress wasn’t fully informed about the scope of the phone records collection when legislation authorizing it was being considered.
“It’s a billion records a day,” Sherman said. “It’s everyone’s phone calls.”
The NSA’s Alexander is scheduled to testify today at a hearing of the Senate Appropriations Committee called to examine computer hacking threats. His appearance will mark his first public testimony since the leaks about NSA surveillance.
Several lawmakers said they wanted to find out how Snowden got access to the classified information, including an order from the special court that reviews requests under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act that few top government officials are allowed to see.
Snowden worked at the NSA for the past four years with government contracting companies after a stint with the CIA. He most recently worked for several months for Booz Allen Hamilton Holding Corp., which announced yesterday he has been fired from his $122,000 a year job. He had been assigned to a team in Hawaii working with the NSA.
Robert Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, echoed many other lawmakers when he said in an interview that “the administration should ultimately pursue all the legal avenues they have against him and prosecute him.”
Texas Representative Mike McCaul, the Republican head of the Homeland Security Committee, said the disclosures were “a serious breach of national security law.”
As U.S. lawmakers called for Snowden’s prosecution, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said yesterday that his nation hadn’t received a request for asylum from the former Booz Allen employee, the Associated Press reported. Lavrov, who’s in Brazil to discuss trade issues, said that if Snowden seeks refuge, “we will examine that request” without elaborating on how Russia might respond, the AP reported.
The American Civil Liberties Union alleged in a lawsuit that the “dragnet acquisition” of phone records by the government violates privacy and free speech.
“The practice is akin to snatching every American’s address book --- with annotations detailing whom we spoke to, when we talked, for how long, and from where,” the ACLU said in the complaint filed yesterday in federal court in Manhattan.
The once-secret “PRISM” program that Snowden revealed, now acknowledged by the U.S. director of national intelligence, collected e-mails and other data from nine companies including Google Inc., Microsoft Corp. and Apple Inc., according to NSA slides Snowden provided to the Guardian and Washington Post.
Google, based in Mountain View, California, and Facebook Inc., based in Menlo Park, California, have maintained in postings at their websites that the government didn’t have “direct” access to their servers. Google has asked the Justice Department to allow it to disclose the aggregate numbers of national-security requests with which it complies.
“Google has nothing to hide,” David Drummond, the company’s chief legal officer, wrote in an open letter to Attorney General Eric Holder and FBI Director Robert Mueller yesterday. Any suggestion that the government has “unfettered access” to its users data is “simply untrue,” Drummond wrote, and allowing the company to enumerate its responses for help “would clearly show that our compliance with these requests falls far short of the claims being made.”
Microsoft, based in Redmond, Washington, said last week it provides customer data only when it receives a legally binding order or subpoena. Apple spokesman Steve Dowling said the Cupertino, California-based company doesn’t give government agencies direct access to its servers and any agency seeking customer data must get a court order.
While public polling has shown support for a surrender of some personal privacy in the effort to combat terrorism, Senator Marco Rubio said more Americans would endorse government collection of information if the administration declassified details about “safeguards.”
“It’s not about keeping things from people,” the Florida Republican told reporters. “Quite frankly, it’s about protecting the integrity of these programs so the enemy can’t evade them or undermine them.”