Former U.S. government contractor Edward Snowden should be prosecuted with no chance for clemency for divulging classified information, the nation’s two top lawmakers on intelligence issues said today.
If Snowden had concerns about the U.S. government’s electronic spying program, he should have approached Congress and it would have investigated, Senator Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat, and Representative Mike Rogers, a Michigan Republican, said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”
“He needs to come back and own up,” said Rogers, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. “If he believes there’s vulnerabilities in the systems he’d like to disclose, you don’t do it by committing a crime that actually puts soldiers’ lives at risk in places like Afghanistan.”
“He stripped our system,” said Feinstein, chairman of Senate Intelligence Committee.
American allies have expressed outrage over the latest Snowden revelations that the National Security Agency may have tapped German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s mobile phone and eavesdropped on Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff’s private communications. Brazil and Germany are pushing for a United Nations inquiry scrutinizing the NSA for possible violations of privacy rights in surveillance activities at home and abroad.
Diplomats from the two countries began circulating a draft resolution last week calling on the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to investigate “the protection of the right to privacy in the context of domestic and extraterritorial, including massive, surveillance of communications, their interception and collection of personal data,” according to a copy obtained by Bloomberg.
Reports about the surveillance were based on material provided by Snowden, who has offered to testify before the German parliament. In a letter Snowden gave to a German lawmaker, he said he would cooperate if he avoided prosecution.
The U.S. has received the draft and will evaluate the text on its merits, said a U.S. official by e-mail, asking not to be identified citing policy.
“We would have seen him and we would have looked at that information,” Feinstein said of her committee. “That didn’t happen. And now he’s done this enormous disservice to our country. I think the answer is no clemency.”
Rogers said information released by Snowden had allowed three terrorist organizations to change the way they communicate to sidestep NSA spying. He didn’t identify the groups.
What’s more, it’s not credible that world leaders didn’t know about the kind of spying on Merkel and others, Rogers said.
“I think there’s going to be some best actor awards coming out of the White House this year and best supporting actor awards coming out of the European Union,” Rogers said.
General Michael Hayden, former chief of the Central Intelligence Agency and NSA director, said on “Face the Nation” that spying on foreign leaders such as Merkel was “certainly nothing new.”
“This is what we were expected to do,” he said.
While the revelations had put the U.S. and Germany in “a very difficult political spot,” he called it “the least of their espionage worries in Berlin right now.”
Occasionally, the NSA was provided with “political guidance” to cease certain surveillance activities, Hayden said on CNN’s “Fareed Zakaria GPS.”
“I had political guidance while I was director of the NSA,” Hayden said. “I had targets. I had legitimate needs. But I was told, frankly, ‘back off. That target is too sensitive. I don’t want you doing that at this time for this purpose.’”
In testimony last week before the U.S. House intelligence committee, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said allies have spied on American leaders just as the U.S. has gathered information on them. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Oct. 31 that some American surveillance “reached too far” and that he and Obama had learned of some efforts that were on “automatic pilot.”
The Senate Intelligence Committee Oct. 31 announced that it had approved a bill (S. 1631) to adjust federal government surveillance programs amid the growing privacy debate. The measure, approved 11-4, includes language to impose a five-year limit on the retention of bulk communication records acquired under Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act, according to a statement released by the panel after a closed markup session.
Section 215 involves the bulk collection of “metadata,” such as telephone numbers dialed, rather than the content of communications, according to the White House. Snowden, who faces U.S. espionage charges and has been granted temporary asylum in Russia, exposed a secret court order compelling Verizon Communications Inc. to give the NSA phone records, such as numbers and call durations, on millions of Americans. The administration has said the metadata collection involves more phone carriers, without naming them.
The NSA collects the phone records under authority in the USA Patriot Act. Civil liberties advocates from the American Civil Liberties Union and some lawmakers have said the committee bill, sponsored by Feinstein, doesn’t adequately rein in the agency’s activities.
“The bill passed by the Senate Intelligence Committee does not go far enough to address the NSA’s overreaching domestic surveillance programs,” Senator Mark Udall, a Colorado Democrat, said in a statement Oct. 31.