Meet the Press   |  August 04, 2013

Chambliss: Current situation 'most serious threat' in several years

Sen. Saxby Chambliss talks about the current global terror alert with NBC's David Gregory, and Sen. Dick Durbin offers his input.

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

>> 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.