McDonough Says Some Snowden Claims Are 'Incorrect'

Sunday, 16 Jun 2013 12:59 PM

By Sandy Fitzgerald

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White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough said that some of the claims made by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden about the agency's surveillance program are not correct.

McDonough, in an interview Sunday on CBS' "Face the Nation," denied that authorities are able to wiretap anyone "from you or your accountant, to a federal judge, to even the president if he had a personal email is incorrect," contradicting a statement made by Snowden after leaking details of the NSA program to the media.

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McDonough refused comment about whether the government was right to collect phone records and mine Internet data, but said the president will continue to strike a balance.


"The president recognizes more than anybody that he has a fundamental obligation to the American people, and that's to keep them safe, but he also swore an oath to uphold the Constitution," said McDonough. "He believes that we can do both, he believes that we are doing both, and he's proud of the work that we've been able to undertake to do that."

House Intelligence Chairman Mike Rogers said the CBS' "Face the Nation" show that electronic surveillance programs are legal and do not violate Americans' rights, but said the "pattern of deception" coming from the White House has made people wary.

The Benghazi scandal, a "dragnet" around the Associated Press, the IRS' targeting of conservative group and the "criminalization" of a Fox News reporter have made it "almost impossible, very difficult to explain the difference to the American people," said Rogers.

McDonough said that President Barack Obama believes the government's surveillance programs are protecting Americans while keeping them safe, and does not believe anybody's privacy has been violated as a result.

"We do have to find the right balance, especially in this new situation when we find ourselves, with all of use reliant on Internet, on email, on texting. We find ourselves communicating in different ways, but that means the bad guys are doing that as well," said McDonough.

Rogers explained how tracking terrorists works without violating Americans' privacy or civil liberties.

"We take the business records by a court order, and it's just phone numbers -- no names, no addresses and put it in a lock box," Rogers said. "And if they get a foreign terrorist overseas that's dialing in to the United Sates, they take that phone number, and they plug it into this big pile, if you will, of just phone numbers. It's like a phonebook without any names and any addresses with it -- to see if there's a connection, a foreign terrorist connection to the United States."

Rogers said the lists have "no names, no address," and if a match occurs, the NSA gives the information to the FBI, "and then it's on the FBI to go out and meet all the legal standards to even get whose phone number that is.

Meanwhile, McDonough said Obama isn't asking Americans to simply trust him, but is saying "I want every member of Congress, on whose authority we are running this program, to understand it, to be briefed on it, and to be comfortable with it.'"

Further, McDonough pointed out the programs are overseen by the Foreign Surveillance Intelligence court, along with independent audits.

He admitted Obama, when he took office in 2009, was skeptical about the reach of federal surveillance programs that had been in effect for several years before he took office, and in 2009 and 2011 presented a classified white paper to all 525 U.S. lawmakers to explain the programs and their reach.

"At the end of the day, it was bipartisan majorities that enacted these," said McDonough.

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