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Lawmakers Push Back on Scope of NSA Surveillance Programs

July 17, 2013 at 12:00 AM EDT

JEFFREY BROWN: Edward Snowden was back in the news today, from the U.S. House of Representatives to the Russian far east. His disclosures of sweeping U.S. surveillance and his continued presence outside Moscow prompted a series of new warnings.

The day’s developments began with Russian President Vladimir Putin at a military exercise in Siberia, offering his most expansive comments to date on Snowden.

PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN, Russia (through translator): Mr. Snowden, as I understand it, never intended to stay here in Russia forever. He has even said so himself. He is a young man, I even don’t quite understand how he plans to live his life in the future. But it is his fate and his choice.

JEFFREY BROWN: But Putin insisted again those choices will not be allowed to harm relations with the U.S.

VLADIMIR PUTIN (through translator): Bilateral relations, in my opinion, are far more important than squabbles about the activities of the secret services.

JEFFREY BROWN: Snowden formally applied yesterday, in a handwritten letter, for temporary asylum in Russia.

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For now, he remains holed up at an airport outside Moscow. And despite Putin’s statement, an attorney for the former NSA contractor said today he expects that petition to be granted.

ANATOLY KUCHERENA, attorney for Edward Snowden (through translator): He will in the next few days because some legal papers are still required to be formalized. Therefore, I think this issue will be resolved within a week.

JEFFREY BROWN: In Washington this afternoon, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney called again for Snowden to be sent back to the U.S. to face espionage charges.

JAY CARNEY, White House press secretary: Mr. Snowden should be expelled and returned to the U.S., where he is — has been charged with serious felonies. We share President Putin’s view, expressed again, that we don’t want this matter to do harm to our bilateral relations.

JEFFREY BROWN: Snowden has defended his leaks to Britain’s Guardian newspaper and The Washington Post about surveillance efforts at the National Security Agency. They include massive collection of so-called telephone metadata, numbers called, times and locations of calls and duration.

Snowden also disclosed an Internet-monitoring program that mines data for users outside the United States. In addition, from his original temporary refuge in Hong Kong, he revealed major cyber-penetration of China, especially its universities.

The statutes enabling those activities were the subject of a House hearing today with the Justice Department, Directorate of National Intelligence, NSA and the FBI.

Deputy NSA Director John Inglis warned that Snowden’s revelations have the potential to do great damage.

JOHN INGLIS, National Security Agency: The impact associated with Mr. Snowden’s disclosures can be very, very harmful. It’s too soon to tell whether in fact whether adversaries will take great note of the things that he’s disclosed, but those capabilities, sensitive capabilities, gives them a playbook as to how they would avoid, right, the time and attention of the U.S. foreign intelligence or for that matter domestic intelligence organizations.

JEFFREY BROWN: But lawmakers complained that too many innocent Americans are caught up in the process.

Republican Jim Sensenbrenner told Deputy Attorney General Tom Cole that part of the Patriot Act, underpinning the metadata collection, is in danger of not being renewed in 2015.

REP. JAMES SENSENBRENNER, R-Wis.: It’s got to be changed, and you have to change how you operate Section 215. Otherwise, in the year-and-a-half or two-and-a-half years, you’re not going to have it anymore.

JEFFREY BROWN: California Democrat Zoe Lofgren agreed there is great skepticism on both left and right.

REP. ZOE LOFGREN, D-Calif.: I share with Mr. Sensenbrenner the belief that this will not be able to be sustained. But I think that very clearly this program has gone off the tracks legally and needs to be reined in.

JEFFREY BROWN: Deputy A.G. Cole argued that use of the material is severely restricted by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. But New York Democrat Jerrold Nadler wasn’t reassured.

REP. JERROLD NADLER, D-N.Y.: The fact that a secret court unaccountable to public knowledge of what it is doing, for all practical purposes, unaccountable to the Supreme Court, may join you in misusing or abusing the statute is of no comfort whatsoever.

JEFFREY BROWN: The Judiciary Committee said it will soon take closed-door, classified testimony on the NSA programs.