Meet the Press   |  August 11, 2013

1: NSA changes in review: The Snowden effect

Barton Gelman, Ted Koppel and Rep. Michael McCaul discuss the effect Edward Snowden's leaks have had on American national security policy.

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programs. mike mccaul , the head of the house homeland security committee . analysis from ted koppel of nbc news and "the washington post 's" barton gellman . then presidential orders. strong words from the commander in chief this week about stamping out sexual assault in the military. the pentagon is preparing new rules, but there is an agreement on how to end the crisis. i go one-on-one with one of the lawmakers pushing for change, missouri senator claire mccaskill .

>>> the immigration debate . a critical time for reform as members of congress head back to their districts to prepare for the fall fight. what are the prospects for passage? talk to both sides including the congressmen leading the fight against reform.

>>> end of an era . the venerable "the washington post " is sold to amazon's jeff bez bezos. was what does it say about the future of traditional media? inside analyst from "the washington post 's" david ignatius and david gross of "the new york times". all of that ahead on me"meet the press" this sunday morning, august 11th . good sunday morning. president obama is on vacation, congress is out of town, and although we are in the dog days of summer , the battle to win the hearts and minds of the american people on a range of issues is is in full force . the obama administration is finding tough opposition to its agenda, while the gop is divided as well on how to move ahead. friday, president obama announced changes to the u.s. surveillance program so many people are talking about, including a change in how the nsa collects phone records, more transparency by the secret foreign intelligence court, that's the fisa court , and the creation of a task force of private citizens. joining me this morning barton gellman of "the washington post " who has been writing extensively about edward snowden and the nsa, special correspondent for nbc news ted koppel , and the chairman of the house homeland security committee , republican congressman mike mccaul . barton gellman , let me start with you. has edward snowden won? has he accomplished what he set out to do, which is not only get a debate going but force change in these programs?

>> he has accomplished far more than anyone in his position could have reasonably hoped to have accomplished. he told me his greatest fear was that he would come out and do this and whole story would be -- you know, roiling around for a day and it would be gone. now you have president obama being forced to say that he welcomes the debate, which he welcomes sort of like the ceo who gets an angry letter yet writes back and says thank you for your interest in our surveillance programs. but it's top of the ageneral nda now for two months.

>> the president spoke out about snowden during his press conference on friday and said the following.

>> i don't think mr. snowden was a patriot. as i said in my opening remarks, i called for a thorough review of our surveillance operations before mr. snowden made these links. i actually think we would have got on the same place, and we would have done so without putting at risk our national security .

>> chairman mccaul, do you believe that, that this administration really did welcome the debate, that he would have reviewed these surveillance programs were it not for edward snowden ?

>> i see no evidence of that. i think snowden came out, leaked this information, and the white house has been backtracking ever since. i think when the story initially broke, the president went under cover and finally came out last friday trying to come up with ways to salvage the program by window dressing, forming a website, for instance, an outside group. and the problem fundamentally is he's failed to explain these programs which are lawful, which have saved lives, which have stopped terrorist plots. he has not adequately explained them or defended them. and now he's in a bit of a mess, and i'll it will you why. because on the heels of the irs scandal, where people don't trust this government, this administration with their tax records, they sure don't trust this administration with their phone records. i think that's the dilemma the president is in right now.

>> there is a bigger role here, ted koppel . in terms of public concerns about government, the size of government, intrusiveness of government. but isn't the trump card on national security always what i've talked to intelligence officials about, look, if you back away from these programs, people can die? some of these plots that we could stop with them will get through the filter.

>> look, you've got a couple of problems here. problem number one is that you've got the almost infinite technical capability these days of funding information by intruding on people's privacy. once you have that capability, it becomes very difficult to keep it in check. that's what the president is talking about. he's saying trust us , we're not going to violate your constitutional rights , we're only going to dig just so far. it's unrealistic because, as you say, when lives are at stake, when security is at stake, which politician, which national leader is going to say, yeah, we have the capability of getting that information but let's not do it?

>> right. that to me, chairman mccaul, raises another question, the issue of speed. the reason why the fisa court was set up, and bart, you can jump in on this as well, is if you identify a threat, you've got data to run that against to determine if there's a plot against the united states . you need a warrant and you need it fast. government's got to act fast to apprehend those people who might be responsible. introducing privacy advocates and others who might dissent in this process, is that realistic? do you think congress will vote to make that happen?

>> i'm in a unique position to talk about this. i actually applied for fisa warrant as a counterterrorism prosecutor, and i think the idea of having a public defender -- you know, really, it is a search warrant to the fisa court , which you wouldn't have in a normal criminal case , would slow down the efficacy and efficiency of our counterterrorism investigation. so i don't think that's the right way to go. i will tell you again, when i was doing this, we would run the numbers through the private phone carriers. we never really imagined that all this data would be warehoused under the nsa. and i think that's what's giving the american people a lot of pause right now. and i think that's what needs to be explained to the american people . and congress will be reviewing this issue in section 215 of the patriot act to see if this is expanded beyond the original intent of the law.

>> what actually changes, bart? do you think there's much room here to fundamentally change these programs? because all the nsa says is, look, maybe we could change who controls this meta data , which is in this virtual vault, and who has access to it and how it's kept, which may be not enough for those who think there's a problem.

>> well, congress may decide not to allow the nsa or via the fbi to collect every single call record of every single american for this purpose. that's not what the president's argument sounded like in his news conference. he sounded like he wanted to, as you say, just put a little more oversight on it internally, within the executive branch , and to sort of be slightly more transparent about how it happens. his justice department put out a long white paper defending exactly the way it works now. and honestly, they put a lot of, you know, good, smart minds to work on it, but i think sort of 9 out of 10 civil procedure professors would have given that less than an "a" grade.

>> ted koppel , let's widen this out. this is against the backdrop of an ongoing terror, an ongoing threat, reflected in psychology of fear which you wrote about in the "the washington post " this week. america's chronic overreaction to terrorism, we have created an economy of fear, an industry of fear, a national psychology of fear. al qaeda could have never achieved that on its own. we have inflicted it on ourselves.

>> fundamentally, there are two sets of questions that apply in the war against terrorism . the one set of questions deals with the where's it going to happen, what's going to happen, and when is it going to happen. the other set of questions deals with what is it that our enemy, the terrorists, are trying to achieve? what are they trying to induce us to do? take a look at what's been happening over the past week. with a conference call , al qaeda has effectively shut down 20 u.s. embassies around north africa and the middle east . we just had the president of yemen here for a meeting with president obama . he goes back feeling wonderful about his new relationship with the president. next thing the president does is says in effect, sorry, but we don't trust you yemenis to protect your embassies so in effect we shut down our embassy, we have an emergency evacuation . what does that do to our relationship in the rest of north africa ? what does that do in our relationship in the middle east ? with all of these governments. the terrorists have achieved more with one phone call than we have achieved with all our response.

>> chairman mccaul?

>> you know, well, listen, i think -- the threat's real. and what i call the narrative of the president saying that al qaeda is on its heels, the struggle's over, let's go back to pre-9/11 mentality, i think it's very dangerous narrative. i get the same threat briefings that the president of the united states does. and i'm not seeing his rhetoric meeting reality. and the fact of the matter is there is a spider web . you know, we were just focused on pakistan, afghanistan, iraq. this core al qaeda versus non- al qaeda , al qaeda everywhere, distayshaun prince without difference. it's all al qaeda .

>> can i interrupt you, chairman?

>> and it's spreading. it's getting worse, not better. and i think the american people need to know that. and i believe it's very deceptive for this president to give a narrative that is pretty much over when, in fact, what i see is a spider web throughout northern africa , into syria, egypt, pakistan, afghanistan. this threat is getting worse, not better.

>> but the interruption there was your assertion about a pre-9/11 attitude, where do you see that demonstrated by the president? the most recent example, you had 19 embassies that were closed in the face of a threat. that's what ted koppel is criticizing in terms of overreaction. where is the lack of vigilance that you see that says we're in a different place mentally?

>> i think it's the hypocrisy that he wants this rhetoric that the war is going to be over. he wants to sculpt a legacy where he is a peacemaker ending bush's wars, with the same time he's ramping up drone strikes. now, i favor drone strikes, but drone strikes are not going to kill an ideology. and i think this is a war of ideology that's going to be a long-term struggle that we all have to be very adult about. and it's going to be around for quite some time. and the threat is not getting -- again, it's not getting less, it's getting worse, and we need to deal with it in a responsible way and not put our head in the sand. and i think impacting the moderate muslim, the moderate muslim community , is an effective tool that we have wholly failed to engage in.

>> ted koppel , let me come back to this krd. i think what the president would argue is there's been a more targeted approach to dealing with terrorists, killing osama bin laden . en even this question of al qaeda 's number two, ayman al zawahiri , there was a meeting the president attend wrd he wanted more vigilance in this fight. as tom donnelly would tell me, obama said here's the deal. i want this hunt for osama bin laden and ayman al zawahiri to come to the front of the line. i worry that the trail has gone cold. this has to be our top priority . you need to ensure that we have expended every effort to take down the top leadership of al qaeda , especially these two individuals. in light of your criticism about overreaction, there is still a very specific threat and a very specific operator who is atop these organizations.

>> and there continue to be a specific threat and there will continue to be terrorism as there has been for as long as human history exists. terrorism is simply the weapon by which the weak engage the strong. and what they do is they cause the strong, in this case us, to overreact. we are the one who is went into iraq and spent about a trillion and a half dollars doing it, losing, what, 2,500 -- 4,500 young men and women, god knows how many tens of thousands injured. we are the ones who have created a bureaucracy. tsa has about 57,000 people operating in tsa. can you imagine a day, david, when we'll ever again be without that bureaucracy? all imposed upon us .

>> chairman mccaul, final word on this debate.

>> i would just say there's a rhetoric and a reality. and this administration has a rhetoric that's winding down, it's pre-9/11, it's a dangerous rhetoric. i think it's not good for the country. i think we have to -- you know, you can't wish this threat away, as much as we hate al qaeda and terrorism. but the fact of the matter is the threat briefings i get, it's raem, it exists, there's a large plot brewing in the middle east right now, which is why they have closed these embassies. and it also could directly impact the homeland. and how irresponsible would that be for us to do nothing? and with all due respect to mr. koppel, but i get these briefings, and i would be der electrici derelict in my responsibility in light of these threat briefings that i get to do absolutely nothing, to say this whole thing is over and dewe deny it. it is a real thing.

>> chairman mccaul, thank you. barton gellman , thank you as well. ted will be back later on talking about the future of journalism. we are back in one minute with an in-depth look on another issue, another crisis, sexual assaults in the military. the president vowed this week to use his power to attack the problem.

>> we are going to work together, all of us, to stop these crimes of sexual assault and uphold the honor and the integrity that defines the finest military on earth.

>>> while members in both parties agree there is a problem, there is disagreement about how to fix it. we'll talk to one of the lawmakers leading the charge, missouri senator