Lawmakers began the public debate Sunday on the NSA surveillance programs, staking out positions on whether the data monitoring programs are an overreach of power or a necessary protection, or somewhere in between.
Sen. Rand Paul (R., Ky.) decried the program as an "extraordinary invasion of privacy" and expressed an interest in taking the case to the Supreme Court, during an appearance on "Fox News Sunday."
"They’re looking at a billion phone calls a day, is what I read in the press, and that doesn’t sound to me like a modest invasion of privacy," Paul said. "I’m going to be seeing if I can challenge this at the Supreme Court level. I’m going to be asking all the internet providers and all of the phone companies, ask your customers to join me in a class action lawsuit."
Since the surveillance programs—the telephone-monitoring program and PRISM—came to the public’s attention, lawmakers have engaged in a contentious debate about the necessity for and ethics of the programs. Sunday, lawmakers repeatedly emphasized the need for "a balance" between civil liberties and national security, but disagreed on whether or not the phone program constitutes a betrayal of that balance.
Former Director of the NSA and the CIA Gen. Michael Hayden pushed back on Paul’s assertions, noting that these programs have been "very effective."
"We’ve had two very different presidents pretty such doing the same thing with regards to electronic surveillance," he emphasized. "Now that seems to me to suggest that these things do work."
"(Paul) said were trolling through billions of records, that’s just simply not true," Hayden said. "The government acquires records, has business records from the telecom providers but then doesn’t go into that database without an arguable reason connected to terrorism to ask that database a question. If you don’t have any link to that original predicate, terrorism, your phone records are never touched."
He added, "This is the part that protects civil liberties and balances… security and our freedom."
On "Face the Nation," Rep. Elijah Cummings (D., Md.), ranking Democrat on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said he understood "that a balance has to be struck," adding, "but I think we have gone too far."
Sen. Mark Udall (D., Colo.), who appeared on two Sunday shows, told CNN’s Candy Crowley, "My concern is this is vast. It hasn’t been proven that it works uniquely of valuable intelligence hasn’t been proven to of disrupted plots."
However, Reps. Mike Rogers (R., Mich.) and Mike McCaul (R., Texas), on "This Week" and "Face the Nation," said the program has been successful in preventing terrorist plots, something Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D., Calif.), chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, agreed with.
Feinstein told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, "two cases have been declassified," where terrorist attacks have been stopped because of this program. "One of them is the case of David Headley," she said, "the second is Najibullah Zazi" who attempted to blow up the New York City subway.
"There’s clearly indication that the 702 program, the so-called PRISM program, has had some real effect," Udall said, but, he maintained, "It’s unclear to me that we’ve developed any intelligence through the metadata program that’s led to the disruption of plots that we couldn’t of developed through other data and other intelligence."
"Here’s the point, and this is why this is so difficult," Feinstein said, "part of our obligation is keeping America safe, human intelligence isn’t going to do it because it’s a different culture. It’s a fanaticism that isn’t going to come forward."
McCaul said he feels a criminal investigation of the leaks was needed, a prospect at which Rogers and Feinstein also expressed support. The Guardian reported Sunday afternoon that the man behind the leaks is a 29-year-old Booz Allen Hamilton contractor named Edward Snowden.
While the NSA surveillance program kept most of the public’s attention, President Obama met with Chinese President Xi Jinping, appointed Susan Rice as his new National Security Advisor, and nominated Samantha Power to replace Rice as ambassador to the United Nations.
Obama has had difficulty significantly shifting the focus from points of controversy, and some lawmakers pointed to the other issues plaguing the administration as part of the reason there has been so much ire over the NSA’s surveillance.
"I think we have to understand this issue in the context of what also has been going on," Sen. John McCain (R., Ariz.) said on CNN’s "State of the Union." "Americans suspicions have been aroused about the IRS problem, the James Rosen issue, Benghazi, the Associated Press. There’s a feeling out there, particularly the IRS one, that the government is getting too big, too intrusive. Then along comes this issue."
"His administration is going through a crisis of credibility," Sen. Ron Johnson (R., Wis.) told Fox’s Chris Wallace, "the reason this NSA stuff has blown up is because the American people have just lost their faith in President Obama and his administration."