On Tuesday’s broadcast of America’s Newsroom on the Fox News Channel, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton warned that a U.S. District Court ruling by Judge Richard Leon earlier this month that put a halt to the National Security Agency’s metadata collecting program was a threat to U.S. national security.
According to Leon’s ruling, the program violates the Fourth Amendment ban on unreasonable searches and seizures and the Obama administration has failed to sufficiently show the program has prevented any terrorist attack.
But Bolton criticized that finding, explaining that just because an agency has the means to do something does not mean it will actually do it.
“Look, I’ve known Dick Leon for a long time,” Bolton said.
I respect him as a judge. He’s flatly wrong on this. Other judges have found the programs constitutional. And it’s an example, I think, of what can happen whether in the legal system or public debate about what NSA is doing. People can say, “Well, you know NSA can do x, y and z.” Look, the United States military is very powerful. It could launch a coup against the United States. Read the novel Seven Days in May. It could do that, but it hasn’t and there’s no evidence it will. And that’s part of being a responsible citizen in a representative government, to make sure the instrumentalities that we create don’t commit abuses. Until you see signs of abuse, it’s very, very dangerous to say, “We’re going to cut back NSA.” People say, “Well, where’s the evidence they have caught this terrorist or that terrorist?” It’s a lot more complicated than that and goes to the first point I make. It’s very hard for NSA to say what they’re doing. That gives the game away.
The former ambassador also questioned the expertise of a federal judge like Leon to rule against the NSA since that judge may only have a narrow view of what role it plays in the U.S. intelligence apparatus.
“[L]et’s come back to Judge Leon,” Bolton added.
Let me tell you something, whatever you think of the NSA program, when we have federal judges making national security decisions, we are on the road to doom. They are the last people that ought to be deciding what can keep America safe. That’s for the elected branches of government. And I think anybody familiar with how this intelligence is gather would tell you, it’s a very complicated mosaic of putting this piece of information together with that piece of information. It takes a long time, as it took a long time to find Osama bin Laden. But it’s the totality of the effort that matters. And the notion that people who don’t have a full understanding of what NSA is actually doing say, “We can do without it,” I think doesn’t pass scrutiny.
Bolton suggested more congressional oversight and involvement but was skeptical that was possible unless there was more political leadership on the program’s behalf.