House Intelligence Committee chair discusses support for NSA spying laws

December 12, 2013 at 12:00 AM EDT

MARGARET WARNER: Chairman Rogers, thanks for joining us.

REP. MIKE ROGERS, R-Mich.: Thanks for having me.

MARGARET WARNER: As you know, the president is reviewing NSA surveillance policy. Whatever changes are going to happen are coming out later this month.

If he were seeking your counsel, what is the most profound thing you think he needs to address?

MIKE ROGERS: Part of the problem with where we’re at is that we’re fighting perception about what people think is happening vs. what’s actually happening.

And so that’s been our biggest challenge on the education piece. So, I think the first round, we all want to agree that these programs have kept Americans safe. They have kept our allies safe. There are multiple levels of oversight that no other intelligence service in the world has, like the United States intelligence oversight, between the courts and the Congress and the inspector general, and then the FBI, the Department of Justice. I mean, you name it. It has it all.

So I think what we can do is have some confidence-builders for the American people to look at this and understand, ah, one person can’t run off and listen your phone call or read your e-mail. None of that is happening.

MARGARET WARNER: So, are you saying the president needs to maybe bring more transparency, do exactly what’s being done, who is doing it, and what the safeguards are?

MIKE ROGERS: I think that would be incredibly helpful for the president to do that.

MARGARET WARNER: But isn’t there then a tension between that and how much you want to divulge or he wants to divulge?

MIKE ROGERS: Well, absolutely.

I do think that we can talk about some of the oversight that we have on certain aspects of the program, certainly the business records portion, the metadata on business record — phone records. That certainly, I think…


MARGARET WARNER: That is the sort of bulk collection of phone records, who you called, when you called, and the length of the call, that kind of thing?

MIKE ROGERS: With the exception, we don’t know who you are or where you live. Right? It’s just a bunch of phone numbers that we use as a foreign nexus to terrorism.

So, a foreigner in Afghanistan or Pakistan that we assume is a — and have good credibility that is a terrorist has a phone number of a U.S. number, you want to be able to make that nexus. That is really what that database is.

MARGARET WARNER: Do you think that the balance, though, between protecting the security of this country against terrorist threat and the sort of affirmative protection of civil liberties has gotten out of whack?

MIKE ROGERS: I don’t think we’re out of whack.

We could always improve. I would never say never in that regard. In the metadata collection, there has been no willful use to misuse the privacy of just your phone numbers, not even your name.

MARGARET WARNER: Yes. There seems to be no limit really on what data they can collect. And even the president said, we have to ask at some point whether the technology has outpaced the laws and protections that are in place.

MIKE ROGERS: Well, I think the technology is keeping up with our adversaries’ interests to do harm to the United States and to use systems to communicate.

And here’s what I think is a big part of it. And we constantly review this, by the way. We want to be able to make sure our laws are consistent with technology and where we are in 2013 vs. 1947, when the National Security Act was written.

But you think about where we are. So, in today, in the networks in the United States of America, over 80 percent of them are private networks, which means the NSA doesn’t monitor them. There is no wholesale monitoring. They’re not reading your e-mails. They’re not listening to your phone calls. That’s simply not happening.

MARGARET WARNER: The Europeans are extremely upset with the Snowden revelations about the degree to which they’re being surveilled.


Well, first of all, the hypocrisy in this debate has been shocking to me from our European allies. As I have often said, it’s good to remind ourselves that espionage is a French word, after all.

And so, when you look at the intelligence services of our allies in the European Union, they are alive and well and aggressive. And some notion that the information that we have been collecting over time hasn’t benefited our allies is just simply not true — some 54 different attacks thwarted just by our business record metadata collection. And another program that we use to collect information has been shared with our allies and stopped terrorist attacks in Germany.

MARGARET WARNER: And you know that to be the case?

MIKE ROGERS: I absolutely know that to be the case.

And here’s the good news. Now so do they. And so, sometimes, the politicians were saying this and not realizing that something else was going on in sharing information and cooperation.

MARGARET WARNER: As the big U.S. Internet giants just said this week, I mean, Yahoo! and Google and Facebook, the perception in Europe now is that doing business with our companies isn’t safe, and they can’t trust us, and it’s hurting their business.

Is this something the president has to do something to address, to redress, and what could he do?

MIKE ROGERS: I think we lost the P.R. war in the front, but it’s really important to understand that, again, France just passed a law to make it easier to go after servers in their own country.

All of the European Union now is saying, well, maybe we should have servers only stationed in our country. Well, guess what? That means that their standard of oversight, their standard of protection is very different than ours. And we do have multiple layers of oversight that they don’t have.

MARGARET WARNER: Coming back to the U.S., the PEN writers group did a survey of 250 professional writers. It just came out this week.

And a quarter of these writers said they feel inhibited. They are censoring themselves in what they discuss in e-mail, and the research they do, especially if it involves anything overseas. Does that — as someone who has always believed individual liberties, does that concern you?

MIKE ROGERS: Yes, the attitude certainly does.

And I — you know, that’s mortifying to me that they would feel that that would be an issue that the government would be interested in, candidly. Even they’re engaged into some issue that may be even questionable, if it’s a political issue, and you are expressing yourself, you need to feel comfortable that you can do that in the United States. That — we should never lose that.

MARGARET WARNER: Some members of Congress, at least on the Senate side, feel that they have been misled about — by the head of the NSA, by the director of national intelligence about how much data is being collected on Americans, metadata, whatever you want to call it.

Do you feel that there’s been any either misleading, willful or otherwise, about the extent of that?

MIKE ROGERS: I know, as the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, we have had this information. We have been briefed on it. We have had opportunities to ask questions on it.

I supported these programs. We had some differences. We worked them out. Were there problems that we found? Yes. But we worked with them in the appropriate channels, classified channels to fix them, like you would expect us to do as members of the Oversight Committee.

But, at the end of the day, I supported them when nobody knew about them. And I support them now.

MARGARET WARNER: Chairman Mike Rogers, thank you.

MIKE ROGERS: Yes. Thank you.