Bobby Jindal, from Rand Paul Critic to NSA-Doubting Convert

How a long-shot 2016 hopeful learned to distrust the NSA.


Bobby Jindal, Republican governor of Louisiana, speaks during a conversation at the National Review Institute 2015 ideas summit in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Friday, May 1, 2015.

Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

Two years ago, at a roundtable for Republican governors at the Aspen Institute, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie went to war with libertarians. The House of Representatives had almost voted to bar funding for the NSA's bulk data collection program, then newly exposed by whistleblower Edward Snowden. In Aspen, Christie chastised the libertarians (like Kentucky Senator Rand Paul) who wanted to wind such programs back, saying they simply didn't understand the world.

"The next attack that comes," said Christie, "the one that kills thousands of Americans as a result, people are gonna be looking back at these people who had an intellectual debate and wondering whether or not they [neglected] our first job, to protect the people we serve."

The roundtable's moderator, New York Times reporter Jonathan Martin, tossed the question to Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal. "Look, I think Chris is right," said Jindal. "It’s a debate we should have. Even the people who voted against the amendment said we need to come back and look at these programs. But Chris is also right that at the end of the day, one of the president’s most solemn obligations is to keep us secure." It was important, said Jindal, that Americans did not develop "amnesia" about terror. "I don't think we can go back and remove those programs. Let's have the proper oversight."

At the time, Christie's comments kickstarted an argument with Paul that spanned time zones and op-ed pages. Jindal's concurrence didn't make as much news. It mattered, in retrospect, because last week Bloomberg's Mark Halperin asked Jindal what he thought of Paul's fight against the NSA, and found a convert.

"I'm very sympathetic," said Jindal of Paul. "Look: I think we need the tools to hunt down terrorists and protect ourselves from them, but where I think we need to draw the line is this mass collection of data of innocent Americans. Certainly, our agencies that are there to protect us, they should be able to get a court order and go after those that seek to do us harm. I want them to have the tools to go after those that are seeking to do us harm. But we can't give powers to government that weren't intended in the Patriot Act."

In two years—well, technically 22 months—Jindal had evolved. He'd gone from defending the bulk collection program (albeit with "oversight") to saying it was where good people needed to "draw the line." Jindal's in the back of the 2016 presidential nomination pack, but he knows where the center of gravity is.

Jindal's office didn't immediately respond to a question from Bloomberg.

UPDATE: Governor Jindal's response:

Sometimes the smartest course is in the middle and avoding extremes, this is one of those instances. People who argue that the Patriot Act is all bad are being dangerously naïve about the nature of the threats we face here at home. And people who argue that the government should be allowed to spy on American citizens at will are being dangerously naïve about the dangers of such. I believe that government should have to get a warrant to spy on American citizens, and I oppose the mass collection of data.  At the same time, I also believe that when the government has a lead, they must have the freedom to follow that lead, wherever it goes.

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