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Hoekstra: Dick Cheney Briefed Me on NSA Surveillance

Image: Hoekstra: Dick Cheney Briefed Me on NSA Surveillance

By Paul Scicchitano   |   Wednesday, 12 Jun 2013 08:22 PM

Pete Hoekstra, the former chairman of the powerful House Intelligence Committee, tells Newsmax TV that NSA surveillance of emails and phone calls dates back to the Bush administration and that he was personally briefed on safeguards by then-Vice President Dick Cheney in 2004.

“I was briefed by the vice president and then-head of the NSA, Michael Hayden, and it was from my perspective a very thorough briefing,” recalled Hoekstra in an exclusive interview on Wednesday. “They talked about what the capabilities of the program were, how the programs functioned, and the protections that were put in place to make sure that American civil liberties were protected.”

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The Michigan Republican said he met with some of the people who administered the programs and came away convinced “they clearly understood the responsibilities that they had to No. 1, do their job, but also to protect Americans' civil liberties.”

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He believed that the only people at risk would be “foreigners who were outside of the U.S. legal boundaries.” His committee subsequently voted in favor of the cyber snooping, recalled Hoekstra.

“Every time I had the opportunity to — or it was called into question about reauthorizing or supporting this program — moving it into the future, I always supported the program,” he said. “It was a very, very valuable and essential tool to keep us safe.”

Not all members of his committee, however, agreed.

“By and large, the vast majority of people on the committee supported this program. There were some that always expressed some reservation. Put it this way,” Hoekstra said.. “If there had been a majority of people in the Intelligence Committee who were opposed to the program, the program would not have continued.”

Hoekstra — who is on the advisory board of LIGNET, a global intelligence and forecasting service based in Washington, D.C. — said he believes National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden is a traitor who should be punished.

“I think he’s become much closer to a traitor,” said Hoekstra. “If he had problems with it, there were other avenues that he could have taken to highlight his concerns rather than going to the media. He’s jeopardizing our national security.”

Hoekstra said that the Obama administration should do “everything that we can” to extradite Snowden and then prosecute him to the fullest extent of the law.

He expressed concern that the 29-year-old had been given so much access to classified information.

“Obviously we need to be concerned that Snowden was provided access to this much information,” according to Hoekstra. “There is a real question about, 'What does a young man like this need access to the kind of information it appears he has at his fingertips, and that he is now releasing to the media?'”

In view of the leaks, Hoekstra said, there are questions that should be raised with respect to how the intelligence community is “stratifying access to very, very sensitive information.”

He is less concerned that the U.S. government appears to have so much access to the phone records and emails of its citizens. “Although with the recent IRS scandals, I’m a little bit more concerned,” he acknowledged.

The NSA initiative should be looked at as one piece of a larger puzzle.

“It’s not the total puzzle, but it's a piece of that puzzle and when you put it together with the other capabilities that we have in the intelligence community. It's basically been very effective in keeping America safe over the last 12 years,” said Hoekstra.

The NSA program, Hoekstra said, "was the first he was briefed on soon after taking the reins of the Intelligence Committee in September of 2004.

“Clearly, the NSA has a tremendous amount of information and data at its fingertips, and in the wrong hands that could be very, very dangerous,” he cautioned, particularly following allegations that the IRS targeted conservative groups for added scrutiny.

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Wednesday’s revelation from Snowden, that the U.S. had hacked into some 60,000 targets around the world, including a number in China, was a further breach of national security, he said.

“If he has more specific data that may identify some of these targets, or why they were targeted, and these types of things, that would be a more severe compromise,” according to Hoekstra. “But the basic thing that’s happening here is he is confirming publicly what many people have suspected.”

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