The leaders of the Senate and the House intelligence committees voiced fresh concerns Sunday about recently revealed
National Security Agency surveillance efforts and what the White House says it knew about them.
Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) suggested that he didn’t believe recent reports indicating that President Obama was unaware that the United States had been monitoring German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cellphone for more than a decade.
“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 on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”
Rogers said it was “a bit shocking” that people around the world who are actively engaged in espionage apparently “didn’t have an understanding about how we collect information to protect the United States.”
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Rogers’s counterpart in the Senate, said on the same program that tapping the phone lines of close foreign allies “has much more political liability than probably intelligence viability.”
But Michael Hayden, a former NSA director, said “leadership intentions were a very-high intelligence priority for the life of the National Security Agency. It’s nothing special, and it’s certainly nothing new.”
Hayden, also appearing on “Face the Nation,” said he takes Obama’s statement that he was unaware of the activity “at face value,” adding that the fact that others apparently didn’t rush to tell the president supports the notion that the high-level eavesdropping “wasn’t exceptional. This is what we were to do.”
Feinstein renewed her call for a “full review” of U.S. intelligence programs, saying that the White House is conducting one and that she hopes Congress will as well.
Rogers complained that there has been too much focus on the NSA revelations and too little on the threats the United States faces.
“We need to focus on who the bad guys are,” Rogers said. “And the bad guys, candidly, are not U.S. intelligence agencies. They’re the good guys at the end of the day.”
Both intelligence committee chairmen rejected the recent suggestion that Edward Snowden, the former NSA contractor who leaked agency documents, might receive clemency in the United States. Snowden, now living in Russia, has been charged with theft and two violations of the 1917 Espionage Act.
“He stripped our system,” Feinstein said, adding that Snowden could have chosen to become a whistleblower and share the documents he uncovered with Congress. “That didn’t happen,” she said. “Now he’s done this enormous disservice to our country.”
Rogers echoed that view, saying that Snowden had committed a crime “that actually put soldiers’ lives at risk in places like Afghanistan.”
Dan Pfeiffer, a top White House adviser, said there had been no White House discussions of clemency for Snowden.
“Our belief has always been that he should return to the U.S. and face justice,” Pfeiffer said on ABC’s “This Week.”