Edward Snowden, the contract employee who revealed National Security Agency data-gathering methods is being hailed as a hero by some and condemned as a traitor by others.
Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, tells Newsmax TV in an interview that it's not clear-cut. Snowden took an oath of secrecy when he took his job with contractor Booz Allen Hamilton, and appears to have violated it. That was likely a crime. The company officially fired the 29-year-old on Monday.
"At the same time, he may well have provided a service for us so that now we know what's going on and now Congress can actually address it," King said in an exclusive interview.
Snowden told the press about an NSA program code-named PRISM which allows the government to secretly gather data on phone records, emails, videos, photographs and more posted online. Critics say that while the program technically grabs communications of American citizens, it is used only on non-citizens to prevent terrorism.
King responded to critics who say Congress doesn't do enough to learn what the nation's spy agencies are up to. When members attend classified meetings, they are given some secret information, but only what the agencies want to share with them. It is up to Senators and representatives to ask the right questions to get anything else out of them – and "if you don't already have the information, you're not going to know the right questions to ask."
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Snowden has given Congress information that will allow it to focus on the NSA's policies, King said. "To some degree we've been snowed by the federal government and the executive branch of government," he said.
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper denied in a March Senate Intelligence Committee hearing that the NSA collects data on Americans on a widescale basis. It might happen "inadvertently" from time to time, Clapper said.
King said the "dragnet" of scooping up all information, including on Americans, is not an accident. He was involved in the crafting of the Patriot Act after 9/11, he said, and the language of the law clearly states that only communications between non-citizens not on American soil apply. Defenders of the program say that while all information is gathered and stored, only that of foreign nationals suspected of terrorism can be looked at, and then only after a warrant is issued by a secret FISA court.
With the PRISM program capable of tracking everyone's Internet activity, the post office photographing the front and the back of every letter, the potential of abuse is huge, King tells Newsmax.
Republicans must push for more congressional oversight to ensure civil liberties are not being violated, King said, and a balance of security from terror threats must be weighed against the threat of government intrusion.
Further, King warned, Congress must be concerned that threat of IRS audit or a government wiretap might curtail people's lawful activiities.
"How many people have decided they're just going to hunker down and stay out of activism and what happens to the political center of America if we let that happen?" King said, referring the IRS targeting of conservative groups. "It's a huge danger to us. We're going to have to examine all of this and reassess it."
Attorney General Eric Holder and his staff have not been helpful when they testify to Congress, King said.
"Instead, they've taken the posture that they're going to endure the testimony, the questions from Congress, rather than inform us. That's been Eric Holder's posture. How many times has he said, I don't know? I don't know? I don't know?"
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