Pete Hoekstra, the former chairman of the powerful House Intelligence Committee, tells Newsmax that President Barack Obama’s promises of planned changes to the Patriot Act and other aspects of U.S. surveillance programs were “almost throwaways.”
Hoekstra also said in an exclusive interview on Friday that the president was driven to make the changes by the public uproar surrounding NSA leaker Edward Snowden.
“I think these are things that the president probably pretty much has to do,” Hoekstra explained. “Some would argue that they’re almost throwaways. These are things that will be relatively easy for the president and for Congress to do.”
Hoekstra, who has said he was personally briefed on safeguards with respect to the NSA surveillance of emails and phone calls by then-Vice President Dick Cheney in 2004, accused Obama of not doing enough to publicly defend the programs.
“I mean we just about lost a vote on the floor of the House that would have basically gutted this entire program,” said the Michigan Republican. “The president is now on defense, hasn’t played it all that well, but is on defense to salvage what he can — and the only reason that he’s there is because of Edward Snowden.”
He described Obama’s response to the leaks scandal as “nonchalant” and insisted that Obama can no longer point responsibility for the program back to his predecessor.
“It’s kind of like ‘no Mr. President.’ Stand up defend the program. Defend the people who have been implementing the program and those types of things. You own it. This is no longer George Bush’s program,” Hoekstra observed. “You own this program. I wish you would have been more outspoken early on in the days after Edward Snowden. I think cancelling the meeting with Putin was the right thing to do.”
But Hoekstra also believes that Obama should have cancelled a $500 million purchase of Russian helicopters.
“This president — or this Pentagon — is creating a jobs program for the Russian aerospace industry at the same time that we could be creating those jobs right here in America,” said the former congressman.
“Cancel that order,” he urged the president. “That would be a substantive step immediately that would be in line with what Congress wants him to do.”
Hoekstra, who is on the advisory board of LIGNET, a global intelligence and forecasting service based in Washington, D.C., said that he has always felt that the NSA surveillance programs were in the best interest of America.
“I don’t believe that the American people are being spied upon, at least the program that I was aware of, the first program that I was briefed on when I became chairman of the Intelligence Committee,” he said.
“I didn’t believe it was obtrusive and I didn’t believe that it trampled the civil liberties of Americans and I thought that it had the potential to keep America safe, and it was a vital tool in our toolbox of getting the kind of intelligence that we need to confront, contain, and ultimately defeat al-Qaida.”
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