Meet the Press   |  June 16, 2013

3: Roundtable reviews NSA leaks and intelligence gathering tactics

A Meet the Press panel of experts examines the recent NSA leaks and the way intelligence gathering has evolved.

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

>>> we are back now with our "roundtable." joining me, former director of both the national security administration and the cia , now principal of the chertoff group, general michael hayden , democratic congressman from virginia, bobby scott , national security journalist for "the new york times," author of "state of

war: the secret history of the cia and bush administration ," james risen . and back again, david ignatius of the " washington post " and our own andrea mitchell . welcome to all of you. general hayden , you have been in the thick of this debate in your past as one of the nation's top spies. the politics of this are interesting in terms of where the american people are. and we'll put some of the polling on the screen. 56% believe that the secret court ordering the tracking of calls of millions of americans is something that is acceptable to the american people . do you think that still holds? will it hold as more information is known about it?

>> i actually think as more accurate information is known about it, it will hold, and perhaps even expand. now, there's a natural instinct in the united states , a natural instinct by the way we cover these sorts of things to rush the story to the darkest corner of the room, but i don't think that's where this story belongs. and as americans learn about the safeguards and the effects of the products of this program, i think they'll become even more comfortable.

>> what has been misconstrued, from your judgment, having presided over these programs? what is done that people don't really understand is being done?

>> what's most unfortunate is that both stories, p.r.i.s.m. and the meta data story, came out at the same time, and those stories have been interwoven in a bunch of public discourse about it. the meta data story does touch upon americans in a massive way with phone records but not the content. the p.r.i.s.m. story is about foreigners, and it is about content. and those things have become kluged together much to the harm of the rational national debate.

>> i'm starting the conversation about the politics of all of this. congressman, you voted against the patriot act back in 2001 , and we'll talk more about that. but president obama as somebody who's presided over the expansion of these programs, had a much different outlook back in 2007 when he was running against, effectively, president bush . here's what he said back in august of 2007 .

>> this administration also puts forward a false choice between the liberties we cherish and the security we provide. i will provide our intelligence and law enforcement agencies with the tools they need to track and take out the terrorists without undermining our constitution and our freedom.

>> what surprised me, and i wonder what you think, is that in light of all this, he has not come out and said, you know what, i did criticize president bush over all those programs, and once i became president, my views changed because i started to look at the threat assessment and i was not willing to accept risk beyond a certain level.

>> well, i think you complicate the entire discussion by saying it's president obama 's position or senator mccain 's position. if you just look at the issue, i think it's a lot easier to discuss. there's really -- there are really two questions. one, whether you can collect all this data, and that's an open question , whether all telephone records are relevant to an ongoing investigation, that's an open question , i think. but even more important is, once you get the data, what can you do with it? and this thing is not limited to terrorism. if it were limited to terrorism, i think the discussion would go away. it's not limited to terrorism. once you get the -- once the fbi gets the information, then the question is, who can look at it, what can you do with information? i mean, there's a lot of stuff you can get if you just run through phone calls . i mean, somebody's called an escort service , an aids doctor, a bankruptcy attorney. i mean, there's a lot of stuff that would be interesting to know about somebody. we just had a supreme court case that said if you're accused of sexual assault, they can get your dna . once they've gotten it and determine it wasn't you, so they have no information on you, they've got the dna , they can run it through the database just to see if you've committed a crime. now, they couldn't do that, they couldn't get the dna from you just to run it through, but once they've got it, they can use it. now, the fbi has all this data. what can they use it for? who can look into it? and who gets to see all these reports about the phone calls ?

>> but jim risen, as has been pointed out, there are a lot of concerns about what the government could do, but there is not actual evidence of abuse of these programs, is there?

>> well, there's some. there's some limited --

>> and i should point out, your reporting going back into the last decade was instrumental in revealing a lot of these programs in the very start, during the bush years.

>> there's some limited evidence of abuse. it's been anecdotal and there's never been a thorough investigation inside the government of that. one of the problems going back to the bush administration was all of this was kept so secret, even after we began to report about it, that the inspectors general and the internal investigations were kept secret. so, there's never been a full public accounting of the level of abuse, the level of -- there's virtually no transparency at all about how much of this really has caught up american citizens. and i think that's really one of the issues here, is you've got the creation of a modern surveillance infrastructure with no debate publicly, except on an ad hoc basis whenever someone in the press reports about it.

>> david ?

>> well, i don't think it's fair to say that there's been no debate. after these programs were conducted without legal authority , essentially warrantless wiretapping under the bush administration , there was an effort to create this in law, so laws were passed by bipartisan majorities, two congresses under two presidents, and we now have these surveillance programs in place. a lot of congresspeople say, well, it's confusing, i couldn't bring my staff, i couldn't take notes, various reasons why they don't know as much as they'd now like to, but the point is that this is now established in law. parts of these programs are subject to court review by the foreign intelligence surveillance court . criticisms that have been rebuffed. the supreme court actually refused to look at a part of this, which is, in a sense, a permance. so, this is part of our system of laws and legal procedures, and that's what makes me nervous when somebody like edward snowden just willy-nilly throws it all up in the air for people to see. you know, we are a nation of laws. this is one of the laws. and you know, generally speaking, it's good to follow our legal procedures. that's how we find things out.

>> one of the issues with edward snowden that's really not resolved is how he had access to that court ruling on verizon, theifi the fisa ruling. he had access to things that were not in his purview and he said with the interview with "the guardian" he could look at people's e-mails, including correspondence with the president of the united states if he had e-mails. what he said was before he got into the army and was looking around for a career, before he was hired by the cia , he had a lot of provocative, sarcastic comments about the patriot act . hard to tell when you're reading message boards, but you could tell that this was a very edgy g guy. brilliant, undeniably. and i'm wondering how he got hired by the cia , not by the contractor later on, years later, but he first got a top-secret clearance as a staff employee of the cia .

>> well, general , all these private contractors having access to this classified --

>> no, that's not the issue. it's people of this personality type having access to this issue --

>> what about the clearance?

>> contractor or government employee , all right? so, it's not so much contractors. contractors don't grant themselves clearances, all right? the government grants government employees and government contractors clearances. so, this is a government issue. but david , remember, i said itas people learn about the facts of the case. so, let me point out the facts. snowden 's wrong. he could not possibly have done the things he claimed he was able to do in terms of tapping communications. james, five inspectors general looked at the program i governed and which you wrote about, and in a public report said there were no abuses. controversial program, but no abuses.

>> but general , snowden got into things you had no idea he was getting into.

>> i understand --

>> how do you know he's wrong?

>> one more point. congressman, it's only terrorism. the only way you can access the meta data is through a terrorist predicate.

>> where is that written?

>> it's in the court order . it's in the broad structure that david --

>> that's how you get the idea. and once the fbi has it, there are practices, and we asked the fbi director whether it's only used for terrorism and he said yes, only for terrorism. the attorney general , gonzales, said well, we can use it for criminal investigations.

>> well --

>> we've got the information.

>> the only reason we've been having these public debates, the only reason these laws have been passed and we're now sitting here talking about this is because of a series of whistleblowe whistleblowers. the government has never wanted any of this reported, never wanted any of it disclosed. if it was up to the government, over the last ten years, this surveillance infrastructure would have grown enormously with no public debate whatsoever. and so, every time we talk about how someone is a traitor for disclosing something, we have to remember, the only reason we're talking about it is because of them.

>> it isn't the root of the problem, though, david ignatius , that congress, when they debated the patriot act after 9/11, everybody's feeling the rush of fear of 9/11. they pass the patriot act . they can't agree on any end point for the patriot act . it's reauthorized again in perpetuity. congress, and congressman, with respect, i know you voted against the patriot act -- congress doesn't seem to have the guts to say we are going to set a date certain to reassess whether this is a state of security that we want to remain in.

>> well, you raise a good point, david , and the state of permanent war, permanent anxiety, the fall of 9/11 should end, and i think the country wants it to end. i think these programs and the way that obama has pursued them are an attempt to establish in law a set of rules the country can live with. and although general hayden would have preferred, obviously, that we not have this debate and that these things remain secret, we're now in a debate that will have the useful consequence of people getting to make sensible decisions about the programs, do they really add to our security? it looks like the public thinks they do.

>> right.

>> are you willing to give up something to have that security? looks like the public wants --

>> but jim , as head of the cia or nsa, you didn't want to have a debate.

>> no. you give up operational capacity the more these programs are known. i know honest men argue, they knew you were doing that all the time, but they don't know the details. and actually, 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. and david , just one comment. the programs we're talking about here now, p.r.i.s.m. and the meta data program, were established under the court under president bush in 2006 and 2008 . and although candidate obama had problems with it, president-elect obama was briefed on it and embraced them as they existed when he came to office.

>> general , one of the things that i think has been written about from both the left and the right -- peggy noonan wrote about it this weekend -- is that there is a lack of confidence in the government, which has evolved over a variety of administrations. so, when you say trust me, this data, the meta data are stored and we're not going to go into it unless there's a court order , unless it's because of a terrorist plot, and then if a judge orders that, it's then turned over to the fbi and then they can pursue and look at the content.

>> right.

>> so, we've got the numbers, but we're not looking, we're not reading. but people no longer, after bengha benghazi, after irs, certainly, and after a lot of other things, don't have confidence in their government, and that is leading to a disaffection and a disconnection that going forward is very troubling.

>> i'm sorry, one of the things that really i think concerns people is that you've created something that never existed in american history before, and that is a surveillance state . the infrastructure that, basically using software technology and data mining and eavesdropping, very sophisticated technology to create an infrastructure that a police state would have, and that's what really should concern americans , because we haven't had a full national debate about the creation of a massive surveillance state and surveillance infrastructure that if we had some radical change in our politics could lead to a police state .

>> you know, when we talk about the politics of this, congressman, look at some of the more well-known leakers or whistleblowers in our more recent history, going back to the pentagon papers and daniel ellsberg and karen silkwood , jeffrey wigand of the tobacco industry , bradley manning, julian assange. who in effect as a country do we like and who don't we like in this capacity?

>> well, all leak eers, and the law on leaking classified information is murky. technically, it's not against the law to release classified information if it doesn't do any harm. it is illegal to release information that's sensitive and not even classified, if it does do some harm. and so, the justice department has the burden of proving that snowden 's release caused some harm. i think they ought to be able to do that. and therefore, it's illegal. but it's very murky. but one thing, again, there is no separation between getting all this surveillance for fighting terrorism, and you've got national, foreign intelligence . foreign intelligence is going to have nothing to do with crime, nothing to do with terrorism, nothing to do with any -- it could be negotiating a trade deal, you could get a lot of this information. but once you get it, you say the fbi 's not going to look into it --

>> but i'm asking the question here about who's celebrated, who's not. i mean, who's a journalist? what's real journalist activity versus what david referenced before, which is, we are a country where we shouldn't be comfortable with the idea of a 29-year-old disaffected contractor who is personally offended by a program, takes it upon himself to leak government secrets and compromise what the government in three branches thinks is important.

>> and i think one of the reasons that has happened and has repeatedly happened throughout the war on terror is that the system, the internal system for whistleblowing, for watchdog and oversight system is broken. there is no good way for anyone inside the government to go through the chain of command and report about something like this. they all fear retaliation. they fear prosecution. and so, most whistleblowers, really, the only way they now have is to go to the press or to go to someone, go outside, like snowden did. he chose people in the press to go to. he picked and chose who he wanted. but the problem is, people inside the system would try to go through the chain of command get retaliated against, punished, and they eventually learn not to do it anymore.

>> jim , i think they can go to congress, they can go to the intelligence committees, they can go to people --

>> if you're in the intelligence community , if you're a low-ranking person in the intelligence community and you go to the congress, to the senate or the house, you will be going outside the normal bounds --

>> he gave up his life so he could go to china. i do think --

>> that's a fixable problem, jim --

>> he's now given the chinese such a weapon. they are now protesting in hong kong , authorized protests about hacking --

>> let me enter into part of the discussion on this point, general hayden , final point, which is, do you have to accept from your point of view that, hey, we're just not going to be quite as good at chasing the bad guys or we have to accept some limits on this for the sake of bringing the american people along?

>> david , for part of my life, when i was running the nsa program, i thought lawful, effective and appropriate were enough. by the time i got to cia , i discovered i had a fourth requirement, and that's politically sustainable. and by the time i got to cia , i was of the belief that i would have to, probably have to shave points off of operational effectiveness to inform enough people that we had the political sustainability and the comfort of the american population concerning what it was we were doing. so, i think it's, living in this kind of a democracy, we're going to have to be a little bit less effective in order to be a little bit more transparent to get to do anything to defend the american people .

>> all right. i want to take just a couple of minutes to switch gears a little bit, because it is father's day, which is an important day for me to celebrate my dad and celebrate the fact that i have kids and they make me so happy. so, we wanted to start an online discussion , which we did this morning on twitter and facebook. the idea of, you know, what did your dad teach you? what do you hope your kids learn from you? i tweeted something last night. "my dad taught me about dedication and perseverance, and i hope my kids feel encouraged by me and learn resilience." it's the kind of thing that i think has really gotten the conversation started. andrea, as you think about your own beloved dad.

>> my dad, sid mitchell, is going to be 99 next month, and he taught me to keep fighting to persevere no matter what, to be strong but that character is the most important thing that counts.

>> 99 is pretty impressive.

>> 99.

>> and your dad, david , what a huge honor here at 92 years old.

>> my dad, paul ignatius , who is 92, was celebrated this past week at the pentagon. he's a world war ii combat veteran in the navy and served as navy secretary under president johnson . and this week, he brought his family to the pentagon where a ship awas named in his honor. so, when i look at my dad, i'm going to think " uss paul ignatius." so, happy father's day, pop.

>> and jim , it's good to see your boy with you here today.

>> yeah, my oldest son came with me this morning. so, he's having a good time watching us.

>> yeah, yeah, absolutely. what do you think from your own upbringing?

>> well, my father was a railway mail clerk back when they still had those kinds of things. so, i think he -- but he always wanted to be a journalist and he wasn't able to do it because of the depression, so i think he would be happy.

>> general ?

>> my dad's 93, birthday this week.

>> wow.

>> he taught me about the importance of showing up. being tough and doing your job. happy father's day, dad.

>> congressman?

>> let me just make one comment. if we separate this entire discussion, terrorism and other stuff, i don't think we'd have as complicated a question.

>> thank you, sir.

>> i don't think you have to shave points on fighting terrorism. we do have to shave points if you're using it for criminal investigations, once you've got the information, going through it for whatever reason. i think you've got a different discussion that's developing this database, and it's sitting there. don't tell me you're not going to use it for kidnapping or any other thing. once you start dipping into it, you're dipping into it. my father served on the newport news school board . he was the only african-american on the school board and served, he was in office when brown v. board of education came down. and being the only african-american, most of the votes were 4-1. he points out that they had a subcommittee of the five-member board. four members went to richmond and discussed the segregation and integration with the governor, and you can imagine which one was left out. but being able to maintain decorum and keep fighting, whether you're on the losing edge or not is something i learned.

>> one thing i'm trying to learn as a parent is even where it doesn't seem like it, your kids really are listening to you. it's very important that you try and say the right