Meet the Press   |  June 16, 2013

2: Senators discuss Syria, NSA leaks

Sens. Saxby Chambliss and Mark Udall visit Meet the Press to discuss the U.S. decision to arm Syrian rebels and the recent NSA leaks.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> we are back. joining me now, the vice chair of the senate intelligence committee , republican senator from georgia, saxby chambliss , and the democratic senator from colorado , mark udall . gentlemen, welcome to you both. senator chambliss, let me start with you on the news over syria and the president's decision to start arming the syrian rebels. what is the end game and what limits do you think should be placed on what the united states does in syria ?

>> well, i don't think you can place any limits on it right now, david . i do think it's imperative that assad be removed. it's pretty obvious that he is pretty well entrenched now, he has gone to the extreme of letting hezbollah have the run of syria . that is simply not good. and while i know there are bad guys involved in the opposition rebels, we've done a pretty good job of ferreting out who are the good guys or who are the more moderate guys within that opposition, and i'm certain that's who the president's talking about providing arms to.

>> should the president go farther, in your judgment?

>> well, i think the military alternatives have got to be examined almost day to day , and i assume that's what he's doing. and if the military says that we need to implement a no-fly zone, we ought to do it right away. it's pretty obvious they're using airpower to take out some of these 90,000 to 100,000 folks who are innocent people in syria that have been killed, and a no-fly zone may be the ultimate tactic that has to be taken.

>> senator udall , what do you say? you have raised concerns about exactly who the arms would go to, and we have a pretty rough history with regard to that when you think about afghanistan, trying to arm rebels and then having those weapons used against us later on. deputy national security adviser in the white house ben rhodes answered that question this week. here's what he said.

>> we have relationships today in syria that we didn't have six months ago that gives us greater certainty not just that we can get stuff into the country but also that we can put it in the right hands so that it's not falling into the hands of extremists.

>> senator udall , do you believe him?

>> i agree with senator graham and senator chambliss that we ought to ensure that our ultimate goal is a political settlement. we've got to tie up the unconventional and advanced conventional weapons that are there, we've got to protect the syrian people , and above all, we've got to make sure that al qaeda and other terrorist groups don't take root in syria . david , i'm open to all options, but i think that we ought to be listening to the president, we ought to be listening to military leadership. know, though, a no-fly zone and other involvement may lead to the slippery slope that others talked about, but this is a very dangerous, very fragile situation. if jordan falls, i fear for the region.

>> let me ask you two about the other big debate back home over the nsa surveillance and edward snowden. senator chambliss, is he a traitor? should he be tried as a traitor back in this country? and what do you think is next for him? how hard is it going to be to get him back to face justice?

>> well, it depends on exactly what he's charged with and the process as followed by the prosecutorial team. i'm going to leave it to them to decide whether or not he ought to be charged by treason, but as i said earlier this week, if he's not a traitor, then he's pretty darn close to it. and as far as getting him back here, he needs to look an american jury in the eye and explain why he has disclosed sources and methods that are going to put american lives in danger. i mean, there's no question about it. we know now that because of his disclosure that 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, and i think it's important that we bring him to justice.

>> are you skeptical, senator udall , of the government's claims, the head of the nsa saying this has done real damage, that it harms national security , and with these programs, that terrorist plots have been foiled?

>> david , if i might take a moment before i answer your question, i did want to say that my thoughts are with all the victims of the wildfires we've had here in colorado , and i want to insure them that i know the federal government will be there for them just like the federal government was there for the victims of hurricane sandy and the recent tornadoes in oklahoma. we stand together as americans , and i hope americans will send their prayers and thoughts out here to colorado . but let me turn to your question. i am skeptical that the 215 business records program of the nsa is effective. we are talking about the p.r.i.s.m. program, that's a second program. it has been effective. it surveils foreigners who are interested in terrorist activity . but i have to tell you that on the 215 business records front, i don't think collecting millions and millions of americans ' phone calls -- now, this is the meta data , this is time, place, to whom you direct the calls -- is making us any safer, and i think it's ultimately, perhaps, a violation of the 4th amendment . i think we should have this debate. i'll introduce a bill this week to narrow the reach to those who have a link to terrorism. a similar amendment passed in 2005 . it had support from people like senator hagel , senator durbin and senator barack obama . i'd like to have that debate. it's important that the american public know what's being done in their name.

>> you know, but it's very interesting, because as some commentators this week have pointed out, those who are concerned about civil liberties , imagine their reaction if there were another 9/11-style attack and what the american public would rise up to support in terms of quashing civil liberties . and you go back to the immediate aftermath of 9/11 -- and we did some checking about that -- the joint inquiry into intelligence community activities before and after the terrorist attacks of 9/11. prior to 9/11, the intelligence community 's ability to produce significant and timely signals intelligence on counterterrorism was limited by nsa's failure to address modern communications technology aggressively, continuing conflict between intelligence community agencies," and this is important, "nsa's cautious approach to any collection of intelligence relationing to activities in the united states , and insufficient collaboration between the nsa and terrorist negotiations in the u.s." so they were called too cautious, which is how we got the programs in the first place, correct, senator chambliss?

>> no question about it. i was very involved after 9/11 as chairman of the house subcommittee on terrorism and homeland security , and along with my colleague, congresswoman jane harman from california, we did an investigation and we found out exactly that, that nsa did not take advantage of the technology that is out there today, and had they done so, we'll never be able to say that we could have prevented 9/11 from happening, but certainly, we weren't doing the things that we were capable of doing to try to make sure that these bad guys don't have all the tools and that we utilize the tools that we have to figure out what they're doing, what they're planning and that we're able to interrupt and disrupt them. and we've done that time and time again. i hope we're going to be able to be able to give the american public more examples of those interruptions and disruptions over the next several days, but the fact is that we know we've done that as a result of utilizing these tools.

>> is there one that comes to snind is there something that the public does not know yet that you can share that's actually been disruptive?

>> well, the two that the nsa has talked about and they've allowed us to talk about are the nazi case that was generated out of the monitoring of phone calls under 702 initially, where we picked up on a phone call made from pakistan into the united states , and then 215 was used after that to coordinate the ultimate monitoring and arrest of nazi , who was headed to new york with backpacks loaded with bombs to blow up the new york subway system . the other incident that we've been able to talk about is the david headley case. dual citizen , u.s. and pakistani, who lived in chicago who was involved in the mumbai bombings . and those two cases did -- we did pick up information in those two cases with the use of 702 primarily, but particularly, in the nazi case, also, there was coordinated use of 215.

>> let me ask senator udall for reaction to what i showed you about the prior criticism of the nsa being too cautious, which is what led to these programs.

>> david , it doesn't have to be all or nothing, and i talked to coloradoans who want to understand why we're literally collecting millions of phone call data on a daily basis. my friend, saxby, points out how 702 helped identify zazi and headley in the plots they were generating. it makes sense to me that then you go get a warrant from the fisa court to use those phone records, that so-called meta data , to then find out what that network is. what i'm proposing is to limit that collection in a way that keeps faith with the 4th amendment . if you think about the 4th amendment , the king when the founders wrote the bill of rights , could not only take your property and your treasure, but he could take your life, and probably most precious of all, your liberty. i think we owe it to the american people to have a wholesome debate in the open about the extent of these programs. you have a law that's been interpreted secretly by a secret court that then issues secret orders to generate a secret program. i just don't think this is an american approach to a world in which we have great threats, and my number one goal is to protect the american people , but we can do it in a way that also respects our civil liberties . i have no doubt.

>> we're going to leave it there this morning. senator chambliss, senator udall , thank you both very much.

>>> coming up, we're going to talk little bit about how the president's handled all this and what the politics of all of it are. how did we get to this point? in 2001 there was discussion of government overreach with the patriot act . was anybody listening? our roundtable includes one of the former top spies, former direct your of the