Meet the Press   |  August 04, 2013

1: A view from the Hill: Sens. Durbin, Chambliss share insight

Sens. Saxby Chambliss and Dick Durbin visit Meet the Press to discuss NSA surveillance programs, the current global terror alert and the post-recess budget battle looming on Capitol Hill.

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

and people this sunday -- high alert, an al qaeda terror threat. who is behind the administration's high anxiety ? we'll hear from two leading u.s. senators including the top republican on the senate intelligence committee .

>>> the snowden affair. russia gives him temporary asylum. how the obama administration is trying to win the debate over privacy versus security.

>>> craving the spot light. politicians and personal scandals. what makes them think they should stay in public life ? inside on the pursuit of redemmings from our political roundtable including the host of msnbc's " morning joe ," joe scarborough .

>>> and judgment day . the fate of some of baseball's biggest stars hangs in the balance as they face the prospect of severe penalties over steroid use. is it enough to restore trust in america's favorite pastime? perspective this morning as i talk with bob costas of nbc sportses. i'm david gregory . all that ahead on "meet the press" this sunday morning, august 4th .

>> and good sunday morning. the u.s. is on high alert at this hour. 22 u.s. embassies from north africa to bangladesh are closed now, and a worldwide travel alert is in effect for americans . andrea mitchell is nbc's chief foreign affairs correspondent. andrea, good to have you here. what is it about where this is coming from and the significance of it that has engendered such a big reaction?

>> well, they have intercepted chatter and it's coming from and targeting yemen. they believe it's either emanating from yemen where al qaeda and the arabian peninsula is the strongest unit or fractional unit of al qaeda that still remains . it's also the most operational unit. they're concerned about this area, but now they're looking at other areas as well. if there is no attack today, because this is the holiest day of the month of ramadan, the holy period in the muslim calendar , if there's no attack today, they have to decide today whether to expand this to some places in europe i'm told. they're looking at all of the most vulnerable posts. and they have to decide whether or not this is so actionable that they have to keep these embassies closed.

>> you've also gotten news on the obama administration and russia , the snowden affair, which we'll be talking about throughout the hour. there's a big trip planned for the president.

>> a big trip. he will go to st. petersburg for the g-20, but i'm told they will announce this week if there's no change in edward snowden 's asyl asylum, they will announce the president is not going to have that meeting with vladimir putin in moscow. they see no reason to have him invest himself in a presidential-level trip with vladimir putin right now despite all the other interests they have with russia . they can handle that at a lower level.

>> a new low in our relationship with russia .

>> exactly.

>> andrea will be with us. we'll talk about this and other matters. thank you very much. let me tourn to the vice chair of if senate intelligence committee , saxby chambliss , and the democratic senator from illinois, dick durbin . senators, welcome. senator chambliss, your republican colleague in the house, peter king , said this threat, this al qaeda threat, is the most significant that we have seen in many years. what have you been told about it?

>> well, the one thing that we can talk about, david , is the fact that there's an an awful lot of chatter out there. chatter means conversation among terrorists about the planning that's going on, very reminiscent of what we saw pre-9/11. we didn't take heed on 9/11 in a way that we should, but here i think it's very important that we do take the right kind of planning as we come to the close of ramadan. we know that's always an interesting time for terrorists. we're also, what, 38 days, 37 days away from the september 11th anniversary. so we're paying very, very close attention to the chatter that's going on, and i can tell you, david , this is the most serious threat they've seen in the last several years.

>> can i just press a little bit? what makes it so serious in is it the nature of what the attack could be? is it that it could be in different places? because we have such a wide area here that's being covered.

>> well, obviously, we don't know where the location is. that's part of the problem. but what we have heard is some specifics on what's intended to be done and some individuals who are making plans such as we saw before 9/11, whether they're going to be suicide deaths that are used or whether they're planning on vehicle-born bombs being carried into an area, we don't know. but we're hearing some kind of that same chatter, david , we heard pre-9/11 leading up to anecdotes like that taking place by the terrorists.

>> senator durbin , the benghazi attack became not only a tragedy but also a politicized event in our national security debate. here you've got embassies that are being protected, they're being closed down. is this a big deal or a big reaction?

>> no, it's a big deal . vice president biden gave us a classified briefing this last week. they identified more than 25 of our embassies around the world that are particularly vulnerable. more than 25. and the defense appropriations bill , which we wrote and sent to committee this week, i included $48 million specifically to upgrade in 35 embassies around the world the security that we need. we need to protect the people who are out there representing us. we need to know and realize we're living in an increasingly dangerous world. and this specific threat that we've been briefed on over and over again has reached a new level.

>> senator chambliss, look, we're also in the middle of a big debate over surveillance programs. i got to put the question to you directly. are our surveillance programs what are giving us this stream of specific information, specific intelligence, on this potential plot?

>> well, that's kind of interesting, david , because in fact they are. these programs are controversial. we understand that. they're very sensitive. but they're also very important because they are what lead us or allow us to have the ability to gather this chatter that i refer to. if we did not have these programs, we simply wouldn't be able to listen in on the bad guys . and i will say that it's the 702 program that has allowed us to pick up on this chatter. that's the program that allows us to listen overseas, not on domestic soil but overseas. and that's where all the planning is taking place. we think that's where the activity is planned for. so, yes, these programs, even though they're controversial, this is a good indication of why they're so important.

>> and this is the key part of the debate, senator durbin . it was the chairman of the judiciary committee , your colleague, senator leahy, who said wait a minute, i know the nsa tells us 54 plots in one way or another have been this wartded because of the program senator chambliss is referring to, he says that's a bit of an joef statement, and he said it in open testimony this week. listen.

>> open testimony is section 215 to thwart or prevent 54 terrorist plots. not by any stretch can you get 54 terrorist plots. this program is not effective. it has to end. so far i'm not convinced by what i've seen.

>> do you agree with that?

>> we had a meeting in the white house , saxby and i attended it with the president. there were about ten of us, democrats and republicans, from the house and the senate, and we spent an hour and a half in the president in the oval office , an hour and a half going over this nsa, debating it back and forth. the nsa 215 program that we're talking about here is a program on domestic surveillance. in other words, do we need to collect all of the phone records of all of the people living in america for five years so that if we're going to target one particular person we're ready to jump on it? that is being discussed and debated. the president is open to suggestions to make this stronger and more responsive and transparent.

>> what's your suggestion? because the nsa argues you can't have half a haystack opinion you have to have basically all the numbers in the united states if you're going to be able to match it against what senator chambliss talked about, a bad guy overseas talking to somebody in the united states .

>> that's one of two questions. first is how much do you need to collect? who should hold this? does the government need all this information on everybody in this country? that's the first preliminary question that we're going the address. the ekd second is the fisa court , this court we know very little about and isn't public, how much authority should it have? what checks should be in place to make sure that there is at least an adversary yal proceeding there when it comes to the issue of privacy and security? so i think that we're open to changes in both. the president is committed to the safety of this country. but let's do everything we can to protect the privacy of innocent americans .

>> you know, the secrecy, senator chambliss, surrounding these programs, is of course the intelligence community tells us, is necessary. the executive branch , all branches of government are involved in checks an balances. yet you have frustrated members of congress like your cheegs who put some of these questions, try to force this into the open a little bit, and you have to director of national intelligence , mr. clapper, who appeared on capitol hill , james clapper , and had this exchange that was not leveling with the american people . watch.

>> does the nsa collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of americans ?

>> no, sir.

>> it does not.

>> not wittingly. there are cases where they could inadvertently perhaps collect but not wittingly.

>> skrams james clapper told our andrea mitchell after that testimony that is the least untruthful answer he could give. now this morning "the guardian" newspaper is reporting members of congress who want more information now that it's been leaked and made public, is still not learning about the truex tent and depth and breadth of these surveillance programs.

>> well, if they aren't, it's their own fault because all they have to do is ask, and we make available within the confines of the intelligence community where it's what we call a skiff, where classified information can be reviewed. all members of congress have the ability to come in and review most of the documents that are involved in these programs, not all of them, but most of them. and i'm not going to defend general clapper there. he can defend himself. but the fact is senator wyden knew the answer to that question when he asked him. he knew he was asking about a classified program, yet he still asked the question. it put the general in a very difficult position. but, again, we go back to the fact that, as dick said, we do gather an awful lot of information, and if you can tell us who the bad guys are, i assure you we'd limit it to gathering just on the bad guys . but we don't know. but this information is not shared. there's an article out today talking about the complaints from other federal agency who is don't have the benefit of this information. so the nsa does do a pretty good job of keeping the information within the law enforcement community only and not sharing it around all federal agencies .

>> i've got less than a minute left, and i want to ask about what a columnist called gridlock among republicans this morning. and it's about the domestic debate over funding the government, defunding obama care in some circumstances. republican senators, as you know, are divided about this. senator ted cruise appearing with glenn beck on monday, said it's about one thing, and that's fear. this is what he said.

>> what i can tell you is there are a lot of republicans in washington who are scared. they're scared of being beaten up politically.

>> are you scared about taking on the president over the budget?

>> i think dick knows that i haven't been afraid to step out and take on my own party and take on others within the administration to make sure that we do the right thing. i've never been scared since i've been in d.c. other than when i get classified briefings. so, you know, i appreciate senator cruz's passion, his intent to want to defund obama care. i'd love to do it too. but shutting down the government and playing into the hands of the president politically is not the right thing to do. plus it's going to do great harm to the american people if we pursued that course.

>> senator durbin , final point here with a few seconds left.

>> i can just tell you senator cruz is part of a few extreme people in the senate when it comes to this subject, calling for shutting down the government of the united states , even shutting down the american economy to make his political point. that's not the right way to go. senator chambliss and i have work on a bipartisan basis. we are producing bipartisan appropriations bills, which have been held up on the floor of the senate. it is time for us to work together. the american people are sick and tired of this political gamesmanship.

>> we'll leave it there. thank you both very much. i appreciate it.

>> thank you.

>>> coming up here, the politics of national security . is the administration winning the debate over the nsa surveillance programs?

>>> and the big divide over america's role in the world that may, in fact, be a preview of fight ahead in 2016 among republicans. our political roundtable is here, including " morning joe ," joe scarborough himself. and former presidential candidate , rick