GWEN IFILL: I always feel like somebody’s watching me. That’s not just a bad song; it’s what’s on everybody’s mind we explore, tonight on “Washington Week.”
SENATOR DICK DURBIN (D-IL): (From tape.) We want to keep America safe, but we don’t want to compromise our basic freedoms and our privacy as individuals.
MS. IFILL: The Patriot Act comes home to roost with news that the government has been collecting the phone and Internet records of millions of Americans.
SENATOR DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D-CA): (From tape.) It is lawful. It has been briefed to Congress.
SENATOR BARBARA MIKULSKI (D-MD): (From tape.) Fully briefed doesn’t mean we know what’s going on.
SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): (From tape.) President Bush started it. President Obama is continuing it. We need it, from my point of view.
MS. IFILL: Striking a balance between security and privacy. Plus, who gets to protect women in the military from sexual assault?
SENATOR KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND (D-NY): (From tape.) Not every single commander can distinguished between a slap on the ass and a rape.
GENERAL RAY ODIERNO [Chief of Staff of the Army]: (From tape.) Removing commanders, making commanders less responsible, less accountable will not work. It will undermine the readiness of the force.
MS. IFILL: And musical chairs at the White House and the U.N. as Susan Rice moves in –
SUSAN RICE [Former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N.]: (From tape.) I’m deeply grateful for your enduring confidence in me.
MS. IFILL: And Samantha Power moves over.
SAMANTHA POWER: (From tape.) I have seen U.N. aid workers enduring shell-fire to deliver food to the people of Sudan. Yet I’ve also seen U.N. peacekeepers fail to protect the people of Bosnia.
MS. IFILL: What does this switch mean for U.S. foreign policy? Covering the week: Pete Williams of NBC News; Martha Raddatz of ABC News; and David Sanger of the New York Times.
ANNOUNCER: Award-winning reporting and analysis, covering history as it happens, live from our nation’s capital, this is “Washington Week with Gwen Ifill.”
ANNOUNCER: Once again, live from Washington, moderator Gwen Ifill.
MS. IFILL: Good evening. So it appears the government is casting a wide net over private communications in the name of national security. The president’s response today was basically, move along, nothing to see here.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: (From tape.) You can’t have 100 percent security and also then have 100 percent privacy, and zero inconvenience. We’re going to have to make some choices as a society.
MS. IFILL: Senior members of Congress, it appears, knew about the previously secret program as did the executive and the judicial branches of government. But we sure didn’t, did we, Pete?
PETE WILLIAMS: No, we certainly didn’t. And even some of the members of Congress who were briefed on this said they really didn’t know the details either.
So we’re talking about basically two programs, one in which the government gets virtually all the records, the numbers dialed by every phone in the U.S. That’s dumped into an enormous database maintained by the National Security Agency. Now, what the government says is they don’t do anything with it until they have a specific number or pattern of calls associated with an overseas terrorist organization. Only then, they say, can they search into the database to see where they can find a match for that number, is it a terrorist overseas calling someone here. But they say they don’t just sift through it. In other words, they say there’s no data mining.
And the other one involves the Internet. And what they say is this, again, is aimed at overseas communications by suspected terrorists when they find, say, an e-mail or a chat room or a website or a photo or a video that they want to get, they go to the e-mail provider, and they say, we want to tap in and we want to watch that and we want to look at the records that you maintain in your servers.
So those are the two programs, those are the safeguards that the government say is in place. As you saw, the president says it’s made us safer. Members of Congress say it has prevented attacks, but two of the senators who have studied this the most closely, Ron Wyden of Oregon and Mark Udall of Colorado say they don’t think that the bulk phone record has actually done that much that you couldn’t do by other methods of getting the same information.
MS. IFILL: But let me ask you this. It seems to me – is this a post-9/11 thing or haven’t we been having this debate about the limits of government reach into our private lives for a long time?
MR. WILLIAMS: We certainly have had that debate, but there’s no doubt that the fact that they can do this now is a post-9/11 thing. And part of it is I guess a different attitude. Part of it is the explosion of technology. And part of it is the passage of the USA Patriot Act, which has a section in it that defines business records – and that’s what – that’s what your phone call logs are, the numbers you call – that’s a business record –
MS. IFILL: Of the phone company.
MR. WILLIAMS: That’s right. And combined with an earlier Supreme Court ruling that says you don’t have any privacy interest in records that are maintained by a third party, like the phone company, it gives the government much freer access to this information.
DAVID SANGER: Well, Pete, if I heard Senators Wyden and Udall correctly, what concerned them the most about the phone technology was the movement of this data from Verizon, which is what this judgment from the – from the foreign surveillance – foreign intelligence court ordered, over to the government. So why does the government need to have this in their own hands? Why couldn’t they simply do this while Verizon had it in their database?
MR. WILLIAMS: Well, I think they make two arguments. One is a technical one. They say the phone companies only keep this data for 30 to 90 days. They don’t have any reason. There’s no business reason for the phone company to keep six-month old phone records. So they throw it away. Unless the government gets it, it’s not going to keep it.
Secondly, it puts it all in one place. If you’re quickly trying to find out what’s this number connected with, and you go to AT&T, then you have to go to Verizon, then you have to go to Sprint. Having it all in one place makes it easier. As one official familiar with this said today, if you’re trying to find a needle in a haystack, you need a haystack. And that’s what this is.
So the other thing is by – if the companies keep it any longer, they would be keeping it for the government; it wouldn’t be considered a business record anymore and you couldn’t get under the business provision of the Patriot Act.
MARTHA RADDATZ: Pete, one of the extraordinary things is the leak. They actually have the document, the Guardian had that document. There must be an investigation into trying to find this leaker as soon as possible.
MR. WILLIAMS: Well, you can be sure of that. And I must say I was shocked by the level of classification of these documents in the newspaper. They were labeled top secret. There’s a code word on there that says you can’t –
MS. RADDATZ: The PowerPoint presentation that –
MR. WILLIAMS: Yeah, that you can’t share with a foreign government, that it’s special intelligence.
MR. SANGER: Which is much higher than WikiLeaks, for example, was.
MR. WILLIAMS: That’s right. Right. These are the – these are very high-level classification documents reproduced on websites and in the newspaper. And I can tell you that the government is apoplectic about this.
MS. IFILL: But, you know, the ACLU, those civil libertarians have been – have been saying, this is a line that’s been crossed. And yet, a lot of Americans also say, you know what, as long as I’m not a terrorist, what’s the problem?
MR. WILLIAMS: Well, it’s fascinating that there is this sort of duality in terms of the reaction. You see it in Congress. You see it in the public as well. But back to your question originally, about the government getting its hands on this data in the first place, I guess there’s both a policy and a legal question.
One is: do we really want the government to have this much stuff? Is it just the right thing to do? But, secondly, the legal thing, normally, when the government asks for a record, they say, we have probable cause or a reasonable suspicion to think it would help us in an investigation. What’s the justification for, give us all the phone numbers anyone has ever dialed?
MS. IFILL: Well, in the end, what the government is also saying is, just trust us. We’ll take care of it. And that’s where the politics kicks in. Who do we trust? Thanks a lot, Pete.
Another showdown this week on Capitol Hill: on one side of the hearing table, a breathtaking array of decorated military leaders, almost all of them male; on the other, members of the United States Senate, many of them women; the topic, sexual assault in the military.
SENATOR CLAIRE MCCASKILL (D-MO): (From tape.) This isn’t about sex. This is about assaultive domination and violence. And, as long as those two gets mushed together, you all are not going to be as successful as you need to be at getting after the most insidious part of this, which is the predators in your ranks that are sullying the great name of our American military.
SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ): (From tape.) I cannot overstate my disgust and disappointment over the continued reports of sexual misconduct in our military.
GENERAL MARTIN DEMPSEY [Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff]: (From tape.) Of course, commanders and leaders of every rank must earn that trust, and, therefore, to engender trust in their units. Most do. Most do not allow unit cohesion to mask and undercurrent of betrayal.
MS. IFILL: You know, John McCain also went on to say that if a – a woman had approached him and asked if she would be safe as a woman in the military and he said he couldn’t guarantee that.
MS. RADDATZ: Yeah. Yeah.
MS. IFILL: This is a big deal.
MS. RADDATZ: It is a very big deal. And aside from the optics of that hearing, which were basically horrendous, because you had – I mean, all the senior leaders are males, and then you had sort of the bleachers of all their male aides behind them so the optics were really terrible.
But you have 26,000 reported estimated sexual assaults or unwanted sexual contact. What Senator McCaskill was getting at there was what I thought was one of the most remarkable points in all of this. The military seems to have absolutely no idea how many rapes there were, or, as Kirsten Gillibrand said, a slap on the rear end.
So they really have to get to that first, what the real figures are, because that 26,000 is out there. That 26,000 will stay. We all keep saying sexual assaults, sexual assaults, but they don’t really know how to break that down in that 26,000 number.
MS. IFILL: And they have to also get to exactly why – when it’s reported and who it’s reported to. And isn’t – wasn’t the heart of this that whether they trust the commanders to be the ones to prosecute this?
MS. RADDATZ: Right now, a woman or – and some of them are male victims – goes to her commander or his commander. What Kirsten Gillibrand is saying is, take that out of the chain of command. Don’t make someone go to their commander. One of the young women we interviewed is saying, look, it’s like a brother rapes a sister and you have to go to your dad to decide what should be done. But the military does not want it taken out of the chain of command. Every one of those senior leaders said they thought it was a bad idea because it’s the job of the commander to see and keep good order and discipline in that unit.
MR. WILLIAMS: But have they sort of lost the upper hand in that argument? I mean, they ask the Congress, please don’t –
MS. RADDATZ: Boy, they sure did that day, didn’t they?
MR. WILLIAMS: Please don’t – please don’t do this to us. But they don’t do it from a position of strength, do they?
MS. RADDATZ: They do not do it from a position of strength. And there were so many times during that hearing that they really didn’t have answers. They really couldn’t say whether anybody had ever been excused for command climate, the so-called command climate of the military because there was a lot of sexual harassment or sexual misconduct in that unit. A lot of them couldn’t really answer that.
Even those answers about, look, most of our people are great, well, you can’t say on one hand, we’ll have zero tolerance of this and then say, oh, it’s only 2 percent of our people who are having a problem. You just can’t say things like that and pretend that it’s really a priority. It has to be a priority. They have to focus on this in the same way they focused on other things in the military.
And that’s the thing about the military. The military did really well with integration, eventually did really well integrating gays in the military. That had no problem. It was sort of the Y2K. So they really can do this. They can teach people to march. They can teach 19-year-olds to clean up their socks. They can do a better job on this.
MR. SANGER: Martha, you’ve been visiting military units for some time. And whenever I go out to a unit, you always see these sexual harassment awareness campaigns that are underway. And yet when you look at these statistics, the numbers of incidents is actually going up. Did anybody have an explanation for that?
MS. RADDATZ: Well, it’s kind of like those drinking campaigns in high school. I think most people just – they see those signs and they ignore them. They have to try to do something different.
Now, in fairness, the military has tried to do some things differently in the past few years. The Air Force, in fact, assigns a counselor to somebody after they complain about some sort of sexual misconduct.
But the numbers are going up. Again, the key problem here is they don’t really know what numbers are going up. They’ve sent out these surveys. The survey is clearly flawed, but it went from 19,000 estimated to 26,000. Maybe more people are talking about it. Maybe more people are reporting it.
MS. IFILL: Yeah. I wonder about that, whether this is just about more people reporting it rather than it happening more frequently.
MS. RADDATZ: It’s clearly a problem. It is clearly happening more frequently. I think it’s just they don’t know exactly what is happening more frequently.
MS. IFILL: So what’s this – what is the solution in the Senate proposals?
MS. RADDATZ: Well, I think the solution in the Senate proposal – I don’t think that that bill, to take it out of the chain of command, has a prayer. I do think that what will happen in the end is that a commander can’t overturn a conviction. And that’s happened. That was very troubling in the past year or so –
MR. WILLIAMS: By a court martial.
MS. RADDATZ: Yes. Someone convicted and then the senior commander moves in, and says, you know, I really don’t think – I really don’t think this guy should be – and that caused an outrage, that you heard several senators complain about that in the hearing.
MS. IFILL: So what we saw this week, it underscores whether there is a cultural issue at the heart of – not only in the Senate, because all of the sudden, we had all these women on this committee where you never used to have women before, but also in the ranks. I wonder whether there is a cultural problem at the root that can be fixed as simply as other things have been –
MS. RADDATZ: I mean, maybe not. I mean, I – one of the things you can’t do is you can’t say things like in the Air Force general – chief staff of the Air Force recently said, oh, it’s the hookup generation. You can’t think that way. You just have to – it’s a question of –
MS. IFILL: A senator said that this week.
MS. RADDATZ: It’s a question of leadership. And it has to be throughout the ranks. It can’t be just signs on the wall that everybody is going to pass by. It has to be a priority. These sexual assault leaders, they have to make this a priority.
MS. IFILL: OK. Thank you. In the midst of all of his upheaval over national security in the military and in advance of a visit from the Chinese president, President Obama reordered his foreign policy team this week, bringing U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice into the White House inner circle as national security advisory and nominating Samantha Power to be U.S. ambassador to the U.N. So what are we to read into these picks, David?
MR. SANGER: Well, the most interesting thing about the picks is that the president has chosen two people who you would call liberal interventionists to go replace –
MS. IFILL: What does that mean?
MR. SANGER: Meaning that they have been liberals in favor of intervening – having the United States intervene in other countries, mostly on humanitarian grounds.
So Samantha Power and Susan Rice were allied, for example, with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in the debate in the Situation Room about whether to go into Libya. And they won that debate. And, in fact, the president did go in. They have not won it so far, for example, in Syria. And you heard the president in the announcement talk about Susan Rice as somebody who has a huge empathy for those who are suffering and a feeling that American power can be used to help them, but balancing that with the recognition that the U.S. these days can’t go everywhere.
MS. IFILL: She won the Pulitzer Prize for writing about genocide. So this is not –
MR. SANGER: Samantha Power did. Yes.
MS. IFILL: Yes. I’m sorry. You were talking about Rice.
MR. SANGER: Right.
MS. IFILL: But yes. So there is a clear point of view here.
MR. SANGER: There very much is and –
MS. IFILL: But does your personal point of view drive administration policy at this stage?
MR. SANGER: Especially when you have a president who has shown that he is very reluctant to intervene. If there was anything that really marked the first term of the Obama period, it was not only getting out of Iraq and not only deciding that the surge into Afghanistan maybe wasn’t working and speeding the way out of that, which led to the Afghan good enough committee inside the White House, but also, his incredible reluctance over these past two years to get very close to any of the Arab revolutions. And I think that’s going to be the fascinating debate to play out.
MS. RADDATZ: David, can we go back a little bit and talk about Tom Donilon? What kind of legacy does Tom Donilon leave that they –
MS. IFILL: The former national security adviser.
MS. RADDATZ: Sorry – that they can build on or not build on?
MR. SANGER: Well, Tom Donilon did a number of different things. He’s a lawyer, known as a very skilled political operative who spent a lot of time studying foreign policy. You would see him go home with these giant L.L. Bean bags full of foreign policy readings on the weekends. He kept track of the number of times he briefed the president. It hit about 800 by the time that he announced his time.
MS. RADDATZ: So he just had it. Time to leave.
MR. SANGER: Yeah. That’s right. On the other hand, he had three big projects that I think he really focused on. One of them was China. Another one of them was trying to right the Saudi relationship. And a third and very critical one was Pakistan.
It’s China that I think he most wants to be recalled for. And it’s sort of interesting that this announcement came just before the meeting that’s just begun now between President Obama and Xi Jinping, the president of China. Mr. Donilon is sitting in on that one. But it was really his work to sort of organize this informal meeting at the old Annenberg estate in California. And I think it’s the pivot toward Asia that he is most going to want to be recalled for.
MR. WILLIAMS: What about Susan Rice’s style? They’re very different people. Will she be more assertive? Will she be more in the inner circle?
MR. SANGER: Well, the fascinating thing about national security adviser is that in many ways it’s the most powerful single national security job in the United States, some would say more powerful than defense secretary or secretary of state because you’re sitting at the place where all the conflicting opinions come in. And you can either manipulate those opinions, Henry Kissinger style, or you can guide those in to the president and make sure he hears conflicting opinion, at Brent Scowcroft did. Mr. Donilon certainly saw himself in the Brent Scowcroft model. We don’t know what Susan Rice is going to look like in that regard.
MS. IFILL: You covered the last administration and this balance that they were always trying to strike among State, Defense, and the National Security Adviser’s Office. And there was often some friction there, whether it was Condoleezza Rice and Donald Rumsfeld – that sort of thing. Do we see – how is the balance now with the three people in those three jobs?
MR. SANGER: Well, in the first term, there was a fair bit of friction. And you saw frequently Secretary Clinton and the Defense Secretary Gates line up, for example, against Vice President Biden and some of the political – that’s particularly over Afghanistan. In this case, we haven’t seen much friction yet between John Kerry, for example, and Secretary Hagel at Defense. And so we don’t know quite how this is going to play out.But there is very much the sense that the president isn’t going to hear as much contention in the system as he did in the first term. And that can be bad news because sometimes you need that contention in the system to air out not only differences but other policy options.
MS. IFILL: On the other hand, if you’re Chuck Hagel and John Kerry, who wasn’t part of that Obama inner circle in a way that Samantha Power and Susan Rice were, might you be fearing your influence is fading?
MR. WILLIAMS: Shouldn’t you be?
MS. IFILL: Shouldn’t you be?
MR. SANGER: Yes. My guess is that this probably was not surprising news because everybody believed that President Obama was going to reach for Susan Rice. The timing was a big surprising. I think this happened faster than many people even in the White House expected would.
MS. RADDATZ: Any indication why?
MR. SANGER: Well, we haven’t quite figured that quite out yet. And we don’t know if perhaps President Obama made some commitments to Susan Rice, would hope that she would become secretary of state, but Benghazi and her statements derailed that. Maybe he just felt like he wanted one national security adviser in for his whole second term. It’s not entirely clear.
MS. IFILL: Or maybe he just figured that it was the end of – he could do whatever he wants now. He’s been reelected and this is who he wants. So that could be –
MR. SANGER: That could well be it.
MS. IFILL: Thank you very much. We have to leave a bit early again this week to give you the opportunity to support your local station’s pledge week. But before we go, we want to take note of two milestones.
One is the passing of Frank Lautenberg, the five-term New Jersey senator. If no one is smoking on your plane and fewer drunk teenagers are behind the wheel of your cars, you have him to thank.
The other milestone belongs to John Dingell, who today became the longest serving member of the United States Congress. That’s 57 years, five months and 26 days of services in the House on behalf of the state of Michigan. He succeeded his father, who was elected to the seat in 1933. That’s 80 years of Dingells. Congratulations.
We’ll keep talking on the “Washington Week Webcast Extra,” which streams like at 8:30 p.m. Eastern Time. And we’ll see the rest of you next week on “Washington Week.” Good night.