U.S. President Barack Obama’s call for more oversight and transparency in the National Security Agency’s surveillance programs shows that he wants to make Americans “more comfortable” with the agency’s operations, former NSA director Michael Hayden said.
“The president is trying to take some steps to make the American people more comfortable about what it is we’re doing,” Hayden, who also served as director of the Central Intelligence Agency, said today on CBS’s “Face the Nation” program.
“That’s going to be hard,” because “some steps to make Americans more comfortable will actually make Americans less safe,” he said.
Obama said on Aug. 9 that he plans to work with Congress to “pursue appropriate reforms” in the NSA’s authority to collect telephone and Internet data on millions of Americans.
The president proposed changes in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which vets requests for electronic eavesdropping and operates in secret. Obama said the NSA is hiring a privacy officer and that he’ll appoint a legal advocate to serve as an adversary to the government in proceedings before the court.
“It’s not enough for me, as president, to have confidence in these programs,” Obama said. “The American people need to have confidence in them as well.”
Obama “didn’t suggest he was going to operationally change this program” and his comments show he thinks the surveillance programs aren’t “anything other than lawful, effective, and appropriate,” Hayden said.
Obama needs to do more to defend NSA programs that have “saved lives” and “stopped terrorist plots,” said Representative Mike McCaul, a Texas Republican who is the chairman of the Homeland Security Committee.
“He has not adequately explained them or defended them, and now he’s in a bit of a mess,” McCaul said today on NBC’s “Meet the Press” program.
Edward Snowden, a former U.S. security contractor, disclosed the existence of surveillance programs in May and is wanted by the U.S. for his dissemination of classified information.
Snowden, 30, has said he believed the NSA and other U.S. intelligence organizations violated the rights of citizens with the scope and reach of their information collection.
Snowden’s disclosures underscore a “generational change” in public attitudes toward the U.S. government, Arizona Republican Senator John McCain said today.
“There is now a large percentage of Americans, particularly young Americans, who view Mr. Snowden as some kind of whistle-blower when he knows that he betrayed his oath of office,” McCain said on the “Fox News Sunday” program.
Russia granted a one-year asylum to the fugitive former security contractor on Aug. 1 after he had spent 40 days in diplomatic limbo at a Moscow airport.
Snowden fled to Moscow in June, seeking asylum after he exposed the classified U.S. programs.
The Justice Department has charged him with espionage and theft of government information for disclosing the classified details of a phone records collection program and Internet monitoring program that target foreign-based individuals suspected of terrorism. Snowden’s U.S. passport was canceled while he was at the Moscow airport.
Snowden faces as many as 10 years in prison on the theft count and 10 years on each of two espionage charges.
Snowden’s father, Lon Snowden, and Bruce Fein, a lawyer for the elder Snowden, will visit Edward Snowden in Moscow “very soon,” Fein said today on ABC’s “This Week” program.
“We have visas, we have a date, which we won’t disclose right now because of the frenzy,” Fein said.
Snowden “has spoken the truth” and wouldn’t receive a fair trial if he voluntarily returned to the U.S., Lon Snowden said on the ABC program.
U.S. political leaders, including members of Congress, have made “absolutely irresponsible” statements about Edward Snowden that have “poisoned the well, so to speak, in terms of a potential jury pool,” Lon Snowden said on the broadcast.
“Where my son chooses to live the rest of his life is going to be his decision, but I would like at some point in time for him to be able come back to the U.S.,” he said.
Senator Robert Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat and the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, said that Edward Snowden is “a fugitive who deserves to be in an American courtroom, not in asylum in Russia.”
“I believe he would have gotten a fair hearing,” Menendez said on ABC’s “This Week” today.