Senator Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee, said on Sunday that she is not averse to holding hearings that deal with the phone and Internet surveillance programs that have been uncovered recently. She said, “I’m open to doing a hearing every month, if that’s necessary.” But as a public defender of the programs, she was quick to note, “Here’s the rub: the instances where this has produced good — has disrupted plots, prevented terrorist attacks, is all classified, that’s what’s so hard about this.”
In order to defend the program, Feinstein mentioned two declassified instances where electronic surveillance data was implemented to follow terrorism suspects, only one of which was successful. The surveillance was successful in the case of Najibullah Zazi, an Afghan immigrant who was prevented from using backpacks full of explosives in the New York subway, but unsuccessful when used against David C. Headley, an American who investigated targets in Mumbai, India, where more than 160 people were murdered in a terrorist attack.
Barack Obama had said on Friday that he was open to discussing the relative merits of security and privacy. On Sunday, various senators chimed in with their own opinions of the government’s surveillance; Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) straddled the fence, allowing that he was not troubled at all by the surveillance, as the threat of terrorism in the Middle East and North Africa was enough cause to justify surveillance but also asserting that Congressional and executive review of the programs was “entirely appropriate.”
Mark Udall of Colorado, who has continually lambasted the surveillance programs, said he didn’t believe that a program that gathered huge amounts of information from phone calls around the nation had been successfully used to avert terrorism. He added that he wants to renew discussing the necessity for the Patriot Act. Udall implied that there was a difference between the program that uses “metadata”–which record numbers called and the duration of conversations–and the Prism program, which analyzes data that is gathered from the Facebook and Skype accounts of foreigners. Udall said, “It’s unclear to me that we’ve developed any intelligence through the metadata program that has led to the disruption of plots that we couldn’t have developed through other data and other intelligence.”
In the House, Rep. Mike Rogers (R-AL), (R-MI) who chairs the House Intelligence Committee, was furious that the leaks regarding surveillance programs had occurred. He said, “The National Security Agency does not listen to Americans’ phone calls, and it is not reading Americans’ e-mails. None of these programs allow that.” He eviscerated Glenn Greenwald, the writer for the Guardian who revealed the secrets, charging Greenwald “says that he’s got it all and now is an expert on the program. He doesn’t have a clue how this thing works. Neither did the person who released just enough information to literally be dangerous.”
That person has been identified as Edward Snowden, a 29-year-old technical assistant at the NSA for the last four years. Rogers had said prior to Snowden’s admission that whoever the leaker was, “I absolutely think they should be prosecuted.” Feinstein agreed.
Meanwhile, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) said surveillance programs were unconstitutional and that he planned to head a class-action lawsuit from Internet and phone companies against the government. He said, “If we get 10 million Americans saying we don’t want our phone records looked at, then somebody will wake up and say things will change in Washington.”