Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, criticized proposals announced by President Barack Obama to bring more oversight to surveillance carried out by the National Security Agency.
On NBC’s Meet the Press Sunday, McCaul said that in the wake of leaks from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, who has been given asylum by Russia, Obama was belatedly “trying to come up with ways to salvage the program by window dressing…. The problem fundamentally is he’s failed to explain these programs, which are lawful, which have saved lives, (and) which have stopped terrorist plots. He has not adequately explained them or defended them.”
A Meet the Press roundtable discusses various details regarding changes to the National Security Agency surveillance program.
But while assailing Obama for not doing enough to defend the NSA surveillance, McCaul also contended that the American people didn’t trust Obama and his administration to oversee that surveillance.
“On the heels of the IRS scandal, where people don’t trust this government, this administration with their tax records, they sure don’t trust the administration with their phone records. That’s the dilemma the president’s in right now”
Meanwhile on ABCs’ This Week, Snowden's father, Lon Snowden, said he would like his son to return to the United States but doubts that under current conditions he would get a fair trial.
Snowden was charged in Alexandria, Va., in June with theft of government property, unauthorized communication of national defense information, and communication of classified information to an unauthorized person.
Lon Snowden said, “When you consider many of the statements made by our leaders, leaders in Congress, they are absolutely irresponsible and inconsistent with our system of justice. They have poisoned the well, so to speak, in terms of a potential jury pool.”
Lon Snowden and family lawyer Bruce Fein said they had gotten visas to visit Edward Snowden in Russia and will do so soon.
Obama said Friday at his press conference, “I don’t think Mr. Snowden was a patriot.” And he added, “If, in fact, he believes that what he did was right, then, like every American citizen, he can come here, appear before the court with a lawyer and make his case.”
Snowden’s father said, “What I would like is for this to be vetted in open court for the American people to have all of the facts…. I was disappointed in the president's press conference. I believe that's driven by his clear understanding that the American people are absolutely unhappy with what they've learned and that more is going to be forthcoming.”
Answering a question from NBC's Chuck Todd, President Obama says that a review of intelligence gathering was already underway, and that Edward Snowden should have used alternative methods to have his grievances heard.
Fein said that he and Snowden’s father had written a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder proposing that they “discuss conditions that would make it permissible” for Edward Snowden to return to the United States.
Fein said he sought a trial venue “that was impartial, because of the history of the Eastern District of Virginia being a graveyard for defendants.”
On Friday, Obama announced a series of measures designed to reassure the American people that the NSA surveillance complies with the law. The measures included appointment of what the president described as a group of “outside experts to review our entire intelligence and communications technologies.”
Obama also said he’ll work with Congress to reform Section 215 of the Patriot Act, under which the NSA collects and analyses telecommunications records in order to disrupt terrorist plots.
Although Obama said the program “does not allow the government to listen to any phone calls without a warrant,” he also said he understands “the concerns of those who would worry that it could be subject to abuse.”
On Meet the Press, McCaul voiced skepticism about Obama’s proposal to appoint what the president called “an independent voice” in cases before the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court in order to ensure that “the government’s position is challenged by an adversary.”
McCaul said that as federal prosecutor he had applied for warrants under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and that based on his experience Obama’s proposal for an “adversary” during the hearing on an application for a warrant would “slow down the efficacy” of counter-terrorism investigations. He noted that even in a normal criminal case, there’s no adversary, or public defender, to challenge a prosecutor when he goes before a judge to get a search warrant.
But McCaul also indicated he had concerns about the NSA being the repository of a vast trove of telecommunications records. “We never really imagined all this data would be warehoused under the NSA – and I think that’s what’s giving the American people a lot of pause right now. And I think that’s what needs to be explained to the American people. And Congress will be reviewing this issue and section 215 of the Patriot Act to see if this has expanded beyond the original intent of the law.”
This story was originally published on Sun Aug 11, 2013 10:53 AM EDT