White House chief of staff Denis McDonough said that he doesn’t know the whereabouts of Edward Snowden. The last known location of the admitted U.S. intelligence leaker was in Hong Kong.
McDonough, in an interview on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” declined to say whether there are plans to prosecute Snowden, a former government contractor who shared information about the National Security Agency’s collection of telephone and Internet data with the U.K. Guardian and Washington Post (WPO) newspapers.
Speaking on “Fox News Sunday,” former Vice President Dick Cheney defended the NSA programs, which began under President George W. Bush, saying they have produced valuable intelligence in the global war on terrorism and have led to the disruption of planned attacks on the U.S.
Cheney said he was unaware of what, if anything, President Barack Obama did to alter the surveillance techniques.
“The program obviously from what’s now been released, is still in operation,” Cheney, 72, said. “I think it’s good. I think it has saved lives and kept us free from other attacks.”
McDonough said Obama will soon speak to the country about the surveillance programs, saying the president holds privacy “sacrosanct” and doesn’t believe the surveillance efforts that Snowden disclosed violate the privacy of any Americans.
“I think you will hear the president talk about this in the days ahead,” McDonough said.
On other Sunday talk shows, lawmakers said Snowden, 29, should return to the U.S. and face charges related to the disclosure. His most recent employer, McLean, Virginia-based Booz Allen Hamilton Holding Corp (BAH)., fired him last week after he revealed himself as the source of news stories about the classified government programs.
Senator Saxby Chambliss, the top Republican on the Senate’s Intelligence committee, said former government contractor ought to “look an American jury in the eye” and explain why he disclosed details of secret programs.
“If he’s not a traitor, then he’s pretty darned close to it,” Chambliss, a Georgia senator, said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” program. “We know now that because of his disclosure the terrorists, the bad guys, around the world are taking some different tactics and they know a little bit more about how we’re gathering information on them.”
Senator Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, declined on “Meet the Press” to call Snowden a “traitor” -- a word used by Cheney on the Fox program.
“Bring him to justice, and let a prosecutor make that decision, not a politician,” he said.
On the same news program, Senator Mark Udall, a Colorado Democrat and critic of U.S. surveillance programs, said he is skeptical that the government accessing information about phone calls is an effective way to thwart terrorists.
“I don’t think collecting millions and millions of Americans’ phone calls -- this is the metadata, this is time, place and to whom you directed the call -- is making us any safer,” he said. “I think ultimately it is perhaps a violation of the Fourth Amendment,” he said.
Representative Mike Rogers, a Republican from Michigan and chairman of the House Intelligence committee, said Snowden, whom he believes might be “somewhere in China,” is wrongly portraying himself as a whistle blower.
Bolting to China
“He grabbed up information, he made preparations to go to China, he bolted to China and decided he was going to disclose sensitive national security information that benefits China and other nations,” Rogers said on CNN’s “State of the Union” program. “I think he’s betrayed his country and he should be treated just like that.”
In an editorial published today, China’s government-controlled Global Times newspaper said extraditing Snowden would be an “unwise decision” because the response would bring trouble to Hong Kong and the Chinese mainland.
“Unlike a common criminal, Snowden did not hurt anybody,” the editorial said. “His ‘crime’ is that he blew the whistle on the U.S. government’s violation of civil rights.”
Snowden’s actions are “bound to be bad news” for the international business of U.S. companies that cooperated with the NSA “at the direction of a U.S. court,” and will have an impact on U.S. credibility abroad, said Michael Hayden, former director of the NSA and the CIA.
“A country or a source that might be thinking of cooperating with the United States should have almost no confidence in our discretion or in our ability to keep a secret,” Hayden said on CNN’s “Fareed Zakaria GPS.”
Hayden added that there would be “some operational fallout,” as well.
“We will have reminded our enemies how good and comprehensive we are at this,” he said on CNN. “What I fear al-Qaeda learns about this program is not what we’re allowed to do, but they learn what we’re not allowed to do, and they learn the limits of the program.” Hayden said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
A recently unclassified document provided to the Senate Intelligence committee says that, of the millions of phone records collected last year, fewer than 300 telephone numbers were researched. Those numbers were scrutinized because there was reasonable suspicion to believe they were linked to a specific foreign terrorist organization, the information provided to the Senate committee says.
Describing the phone-records program on CNN’s “State of Union,” Rogers said “it’s a lock box of only phone numbers, no names, no addresses.”
“There isn’t mass surveillance of what’s happening on your phone call,” he said. “That is just not happening.”
The Senate Intelligence committee will consider legislation to limit government contractors’ access to sensitive data, according to panel Chairman Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat.
To contact the reporters on this story: Julie Bykowicz in Washington at email@example.com; Kathleen Hunter in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Ann Hughey at email@example.com