Ex-CIA Official: NSA Officers are Necessary 'Patriots'

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Sunday, 22 Dec 2013 12:41 PM

By Sandy Fitzgerald

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Former CIA Deputy Director Michael Morell Sunday defended the National Security Agency's procedures, calling officers "patriots" who are needed to keep the country safe.

"The NSA is not spying on Americans," Morell, who was a member of a presidential panel that this week recommended sweeping limits on the government's surveillance programs, insisted to CBS "Face the Nation" host Bob Schieffer Sunday. "It is not focused on any single American. It is not reading the content of my phone calls, or yours, or anyone else. It is focused on the metadata only."

But even though the panel had concerns about how Americans' information is gathered, the programs should not be outlawed, said Morell, who was also acting CIA director.

"There has not been a successful terrorist attack in the United States since 9-11," Morell said Sunday. But that doesn't mean that the NSA's work should stop, he said.

"The officers that work there are patriots," Morell said, noting that the threat of terrorism still exists, and while the danger dropped some in recent years, it could grow again.

Further, the NSA was not acting on its own, but was "doing the things the government asked it to do," Morell said, noting that the agency was overseen by Congress and the nation's intelligence services.

"There was no abuse here," he said.

Further, Morell said the NSA's data gathering is done to ensure overseas terrorists aren't making contact with Americans. But what's being collected, said Morell, are telephone numbers and when they're called and the duration of the calls.

"There are no names attached to it," he said.

He noted that many people think the presidential review panel didn't see value in the program, when that is not the case.

Morell said the investigation panel found out that out of a "couple hundred times a year, there are dozen, maybe 15 times a year where they [the NSA] has tipped information to the FBI… It is very important for our government to be able to look into that database to see if that terrorist is talking to anyone in the United States."

However, the panel said that the government should not hold on to the telephone data that's being gathered, but instead, the information should be held outside the government, and the NSA would have to go to court and give justification to access it.

The process could take a few days, unless the search is under an emergency situation, Morell said.

"We think this better protects privacy and civil liberties while allowing the government to protect this country," said Morell.

Morell does not believe NSA leaker Edward Snowden should get amnesty for his disclosures, which exposed many of the agency's more sensitive intelligence activities.

"No, I feel strongly about that," said Morell. "He violated the trust put in him by the U.S. government. He has committed a crime."

Further, he denied that Snowden is a whistleblower, saying that "a whistleblower doesn't run. A whistleblower does not disclose information that has nothing to do without what he says his cause is."

Morell said that if he could talk to the young fugitive, who has been given temporary sanctuary in Russia, he would tell him to "come home and be judged."

"I would say, 'Edward, you say you are a patriot, you say you want to protect the privacy and civil liberties of Americans, you say you want Americans to have a debate. If you really believe that Americans should be the judge of this program, then you should also believe that Americans should be the judge of your behavior,'" Morell said.

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