Concern over ‘Credible Threats’ in Middle East, Africa from Al Qaeda

Sunday Show Round-Up: Some lawmakers, officials praise, defend NSA program after alert issued

Gen. Martin Dempsey / AP
August 4, 2013

Lawmakers and officials expressed Sunday growing concern over "credible threats" faced by U.S. interests in the Middle East and North Africa from al Qaeda affiliates.

In recent days, the United States closed 22 diplomatic posts in the region, and issued a month-long travel alert specifically citing al Qaeda activity.

"This is the most serious threat that I've seen in the last several years," Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R., Ga.) said on "Meet the Press."

"What we have heard is some specifics on what's intended to be done, and some individuals who are making plans such as we saw before 9/11," he said. "Whether they're going to be suicide vest that are used, or whether they're planning on vehicle born bombs being carried into an area, we don't know."

Chambliss joined a long list of lawmakers and officials emphasizing the severity of the threat on the Sunday news shows.

"The intent seems clear," Gen. Martin Dempsey told ABC's "This Week." "The intent is to attack Western, not just U.S. interests."

Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D., Md.), the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, described them as "credible threats."

A number of lawmakers also praised current U.S. anti-terror policies and programs, which have drawn scrutiny recently, for their ability to detect threats

"We know that al Qaeda and other people out there want to attack us, kill us and our allies," Ruppersberger said. "The good news is that we picked up intelligence, and that's what we do, that's what NSA does. NSA's sole purpose is to get information and intelligence to protect Americans from attacks."

The current threat comes on the heels of Russia's decision to grant NSA leaker Edward Snowden asylum. Some lawmakers defended the surveillance programs, which have remained contentious since they were revealed in June.

Supporters of the programs leaked by Snowden maintain that these programs give the United States the ability to learn of threats like the current situation.

NBC's David Gregory asked Chambliss if surveillance programs were "giving us this stream of specific information, specific intelligence, on this specific plot?"

"In fact, they are," Chambliss said in his response. "These programs are controversial, we understand that, they're very sensitive, but they're also very important.

"I will say, it's the 702 program that has allowed us to pick up on this chatter," he said.

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.), appearing on "Face the Nation," also noted "that what today shows is security is very, very important and that the agencies in charge are darn good. They have disrupted many, many, many terrorists plots and lets hope they're disrupting this one as well."

"Having said that," Schumer continued, "there's always a balance between security and liberty, and there's always a time to reexamine that. It is appropriate to do that right now and I do think that reexamination will go forward."

Currently, Congress is considering implementing restrictions on some of the surveillance programs.

Rep. Justin Amash (R., Mich.) notably led a charge in the House to do just that. His amendment to limit the programs narrowly failed in a 205-217 vote.

"It's precisely because we live in this dangerous world that we need protections like the 4th Amendment or the Constitution," Amash told "Fox News Sunday." "The framers of the Constitution put it in place precisely because they were worried that you would have national security justifications for violating people's rights."

Amash pushed back on the notion that metadata records are public property because of "a third party doctrine."

"And it's important to understand that it then goes beyond metadata," Amash continued. "So we start with metadata, but the government is not suggesting that it can't collect your actual communications...under this doctrine they certainly can collect your content just as they can collect your metadata, and metadata itself can tell you a whole host of information about a person's life with the kind of computer power we have today."

Gen. Michael Hayden, the former director of NSA and CIA, who appeared on "Fox News Sunday" alongside Amash, said that in regards to some restrictions, there were "several" measures he believed the intelligence community was currently considering to "make Americans more comfortable about the program."

Responding to statements made by Amash, Hayden said, "It doesn't make Americans more comfortable about the program to misrepresent it. This does not authorize the collection of content. Period."