1. Headline
  1. Headline
updated 6/16/2013 12:18:36 PM ET 2013-06-16T16:18:36

DAVID GREGORY:

  1. More from TODAY.com
    1. Willie Geist and Carson Daly to get 'family jewels' checked on TODAY

      Willie Geist and Carson Daly are really serious about bringing awareness to men's health. Coming up Friday the TODAY ancho...

    2. 'Out of the shadows': Obama acts on deportation relief for millions
    3. Winter storm dumps seven feet of snow in Buffalo
    4. Why I hope my mixed-race son doesn't stay 'white'
    5. The best way to cut onions without crying is...

This Sunday, are we ramping up for war in Syria?  How far will President Obama go to stop the bloodshed?  A red-line cost by the Assad regime.  Confirmation this week that chemical weapons were used.  The president agrees to start arming the Syrian rebels.  But as the war reaches staggering heights, more than 90,000 killed so far.  What is the strategy and the limit of U.S. involvement?  Joining me is Senior Senator from South Carolina, Republican Lindsey Graham.  Also, the surveillance debate.

What's next for Edward Snowden?  And what's the future of the government's sweeping counter-terror program?  With us, two key voices from the Senate Intelligence Committee, the Republican Vice-Chair Saxby Chambliss from Georgia, as supporter of the government's dragnet, and a prominent skeptic, Colorado Democrat Mark Udall.  Then our roundtable, on the broader questions raised by the leaks, is Snowden a hero or a traitor?  How much political damage has been done?  And is this the dawn of a new age of "Big Brother?"

ANNOUNCER:

From NBC News in Washington, the world's longest-running television program, this is Meet the Press, with David Gregory.                               

DAVID GREGORY:

Hey, good Sunday morning.  As the president prepares to depart this evening for the G8 Summit in Northern Ireland, global issues are certainly taking center stage.  Overnight in Iran, celebrations in the street after moderate Hassan Rohani was elected president.  We'll be talking about that.

Quite a different scene in Turkey, riot police used tear gas and clubs to clear anti-government protesters from a public square there.  And news out of Jordan this morning, where King Abdullah warning that the kingdom is ready to fight any threat to its security and the growing conflict in neighboring Syria.  A sign that that conflict could spill over its borders.

And the conflict, of course in Syria, will be top of mind at the G8 Summit.  President Obama sitting down face-to-face with Russian President Vladimir Putin tomorrow.  That's going to be a difficult discussion.  They are at odds over Syria.  That's where we start this morning.  We've got a key voice in the debate over what our next steps should be in Syria.

Senator Lindsey Graham from South Carolina this morning here with me in the studio.  NBC News Chief Foreign Affairs Correspondent Andrea Mitchell, and columnist for The Washington Post, David Ignatius.  Good morning to all of you.  Senator Graham, let me start with you.  The key step has been taken by this administration.  The president saying he is now willing to arm the Syrian rebels.

SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM:

Right.

DAVID GREGORY:

So what is the goal and how much closer to the goal does this step take us?

SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM:

I really don't know.  It seems to be not being breeches our foreign policy.  But the goal should be to basically make sure Assad leaves.  Last year, Assad was isolated, he had very few friends, he was hanging by a thread.  This year, he's entrenched with Hezbollah, Iran, and Russia.  Stronger behind that ever.  I think our goal should be in the short term is to balance the military power and providing small arms won't do it.  So we need to create a no-fly zone to neutralize the Assad's air power, in that view--

DAVID GREGORY:

Well, so you're saying this is too late, this is too little, that Syrian rebels cannot--

SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM:

Right.

DAVID GREGORY:

--prevail, with this step by the administration?

SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM:

Under this construct, they can't.  And what does it means if they lose?  I think it's-- Syria's become a powder keg for the region.  There is 60,000 Syrian children in Jordan.  The kingdom is under siege in terms of refugees.  Hezbollah is all in in Syria, so Lebanon's even more destable (SIC).  This has been a nightmare year for Syria.

Egypt's going backwards, Lebanon's becoming unstable, Russia's introducing into Syria, threatening to very sophisticated weapons, the chemical weapons caches that I fear the most could fall in the hands of Hezbollah.  You've got Al Qaeda now roaming all over Syria.  It's a powder keg for the region.  Our policies are not working.  And AK-47s will not neutralize the--

So--

SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM:

--the advantage that Assad has over the rebels.  We need to do more.

DAVID GREGORY:

So only by taking out Assad can we have peace in this civil war?

That's what the president says.  The president says--

DAVID GREGORY:

Well, what do you say?

SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM:

--"Assad must go."  I say a political solution is the only solve to this.  And Assad has to go to get a political solution.  No rebel group's going to partition Syria with Assad still in power.  So yes, he has to go.  Then you find a political solution.  But if the war lists six, four months, Jordan going to go.  And Israel's going to be surrounded by a Syria on fire, Jordan more radical, and Egypt becoming more radical.  The whole region's about to blow up.  And our foreign policy to me, I don't understand it.  Whatever it is is not working.

DAVID GREGORY:

David Ignatius, what forced the president's hand on this?

DAVID IGNATIUS:

I think when the decision that chemical weapons had been used by the Assad regime was completed by the intelligence analysts and ready to go, it forced a decision that really already was made in embryo within the administration.  I would add to what Senator Graham said, yes our policy is to force Assad to leave.  But a policy at a deeper level is to build up the moderate opposition to Assad.

If Assad left tomorrow, that would be bad for us because the strongest forces in Syria would be the jihadists.  And you'd have complete chaos.  So in a sense, you want to wait a little bit for these forces to get stronger, for the U.S. arms to flow through.  I was told by my Syrian forces that just in the last few days after this announcement, 60 Syrian officers defected because they thought maybe there's a chance, six generals, 22 colonels.  So there's one concrete side on what difference it makes when the U.S. says, "We're with you."

DAVID GREGORY:

But on the other side of that, our colleague Jeff Goldberg making the point that we're going to send small arms into Syria, where are they going to go?  We don't know who has guns in the United States.  Are we really going to be able to track guns inside of Syria?

ANDREA MITCHELL:

Exactly.  Now one of the questions that I think also precipitated this is Iran.  I think the administration has the intelligence about chemical weapons and we're slow-walking it.  They were hoping that they could get to a political negotiations in Geneva, that they've now given up on.  And in fact, they want to delay it.

They realize that Assad has gained so much strength with Hezbollah, all in, that if they were to go to negotiations now, there'd be no way to remove him.  And I think what really precipitated this, moving on that red line, which they really knew about and which Britain and France had plenty evidence of, was Iran.  They realize that they are now at war with Iran.

And that with Hezbollah and Russian support, that there was no way that Assad was going to lose.  And in fact, it wouldn't just be stalemate, Assad would win.  The biggest problem they have now going into the G8 is that Russia has categorically denied it, and the U.N.'s secretary general agrees with Russia.  So they are challenging the American intelligence and frankly, after the last decade, U.S. intelligence on weapons of mass destruction-- don't have a whole lot of credibility around the world.

DAVID GREGORY:

Senator, back to you.  The question and the stakes, or rather the consequences of staying on the sidelines.  I mean, one of the things that is troubling, I think, to a lot of Americans who hear you, who hear Senator McCain, Senator McCain on the floor this week saying, "Look, we should have a no-fly zone.  We should neutralize the advantages that Assad has.  And we could do so," he said, "basically risk free."  He said, "We can do that without risking a single American airplane."  Isn't that irresponsible, given the Iraq experience, to say that we can take that first step on a slippery slope and it won't be that dangerous?

SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM:

I don't think so, David.  No boots on the ground is sort of everyone's position, including mine, because the rebels don't want us in there.  I think you can neutralize the air power by cratering the runways with cruise missiles.  You can set up a no-fly zone by having a aircraft and patriot missile batteries operating out of Turkey and Jordan to neutralize the air power.

And here's what I would suggest, that if the war continues, how likely is it that Iran will take us seriously when it comes to their nuclear program if we continue to act indecisively regarding Assad Syria.  Look what's happened to Israel over the last year.  Their world is melting down.  The Russians are not hesitating in helping Assad.

Hezbollah helped take back a town the rebels had just a few weeks ago.  So the balance of power is really now on Assad's side.  As Andrea said, he is winning.  And it is not in our interest for him to win.  And if we don't do more than add AK-47s into the mix, he will continue to win.  And the King of Jordan is going to become toast.

DAVID GREGORY:

David, I have questions for you as well.  I just want to put the staggering cost of this war.  I mentioned it in the open, let me put up a full-screen graphic of this.  We are talking about more than 90,000 Syrians killed over the last couple of years.  This is online with Bosnia now, as you look at that.  And the number of kids under ten years old being killed, it's very hard for Americans to pay attention to something, sectarian conflict, so complicated and so insoluble in some ways.  But those are the real costs.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

And those are the costs, and a question for you Senator Graham, I don't know how we resolve this, but if the Jordanians, for instance, with F16 were the crater the runways through a no-fly zone, how do we know where those chemical stockpiles are?  How do we know they're not prepositioned on those very runways?

SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM:

Well, see that's the ultimate question.  You ask me about my biggest fear would be lose the King of Jordan for prolonged war, that the Al Qaeda elements of the rebels could wind up seizing the chemical weapons cache, that Assad would share chemical weapons or advance Russian weapons with Hezbollah, which would be a direct threat.

All I can say is that a political negotiation can only happen when the calculations on the ground change militarily.  And the only way you do that is to stop the air power advantage Assad has.  So there are no good answers.  I'm not hear-- I say there's bipartisan support for more involvement in the Senate than there was six months ago.

I think everybody in America who watches this understands we can't just sit around and do nothing and give the rebels AK-47s.  So think you can't take the air power advantage off the table by using cruise missiles.  And they don’t (BACKGROUND TALKING) have to be Jordanian in nature.

DAVID GREGORY:

So Senator, shouldn't politicians like you and the president himself be more honest with the people and say, "We are the slippery slope.  That if in a few months, the rebels that we supplied with these arms, heavy or light, are losing on the battlefield, but we're going to have to do more, that we're committed to them now."  Is that right?

SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM:

Yes.

DAVID GREGORY:

So what does that mean?

SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM:

Well, I think there's two wars.  The first war is to displace Assad, to change the balance of military power vis-à-vis Assad so we can get a political solution.  The second war is to deal with a radical Islamist who have flown in to aid the rebels.  Unfortunately, you're going to have two wars.  When Assad falls, you're going to have a war between the average Syrian and the Al Qaeda elements who've come into Syria.

Here's the good news, David.  I don't think the average Syrian wants to displace Assad and have an Al Qaeda state to replace him.  These radical Islamists are coming to the fight because of the security vacuum.  They, in my view, do not represent the average Syrian person.  Hezbollah, neither does Al Qaeda represent the average Syrian.  That's the good news.  But they have to be fought.

DAVID GREGORY:

I've just got a couple minutes left, Senator, and just on a couple of other matters.  Edward Snowden, is he a traitor in your mind, and what would you like to see the administration do at this point to get him back to face justice?

SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM:

Bring him to justice and let a prosecutor make that decision, not a politician.  But I think what he did compromised our national security.  And I've got a very simple view of the world and you can blame me for being simple in complex times.  I believe we should be listening to terrorists, known terrorist emails, following their emails and following their phone calls.

And if they're emailing somebody and the United States or calling a number in the United States, I would like to get a judge's position to monitor that phone call.  If we don't do that, another attack on our homeland is very likely.  We need this program, and he's compromised it, and he should be held accountable.

DAVID GREGORY:

The immigration debate, are you going to get a bill in the Senate that is strong enough to get passage as well in the House?

SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM:

After this interview, I'm going to leave you on a positive note.  I think we're going to have a political breakthrough, that Congress is going to pass immigration reform.  I think we're going to get plus 70 votes.  I've never been more optimistic about it.

So it would be great if we could pass immigration.  And finally as to Syria, there is a bipartisan coalition growing around Senator Mendendez (SIC) that understands we need to get more involved as a nation to prevent the spillover from Syria into the entire region taking down all of our allies.

DAVID GREGORY:

One on politics, the gathering of religious leaders in Washington and potential entrance into the 2016 but Chris Christie was at Bill Clinton a  C.G.I.  Who is, do you think, got the most momentum in your party as representative of a state with an early primary?

SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM:

You know, that's a really good question.  You know, Bill Clinton doesn't have a whole lot of sway, but he's a popular figure.  The faith-based groups were courted by probably the leading candidates, I would suggest a guy like Jeb Bush would have a really good chance in 2016, a former governor, or a governor, but you got Marco, you got Paul Ryan.

The good news is we have a deep bench.  And after eight years of President Obama's economic policies, and quite frankly foreign policy, people are going to be looking around.  But if we don't pass immigration reform, if we don't get it off the table in a reasonable, practical way, it doesn't matter who you run in 2016.  We're in a demographic death spiral as a party and the only way we can get back in good graces with the Hispanic community in my view is pass comprehensive immigration reform.  If you don't do that, it really doesn't matter who we run in my view.

DAVID GREGORY:

All right, Senator Graham, thank you as always.  Just to button this up, we'll see you both back in our roundtable.  But David, you wrote this weekend about the importance of backing moderate forces.  A moderate has run in Iran.  This is important--

DAVID IGNATIUS:

I think this is the wildcard in this very complicated Middle East puzzle.  Suddenly we have in Tehran a key state driving a conflict in Syria.  A person who as far as we can tell has been repudiating the foreign policies of the current government, saying, you know, "You need to do negotiations more, you're too distant from the West.  You're relying on Russia and China."  It's absolutely fascinating that we are going to have a man who's associated with the Reformist Wing in Iran in power as president.

DAVID GREGORY:

All right, you're back in just a couple of minutes.  We're going to take a break here.  We're going to come back and (MUSIC) take on the debate over government surveillance in the wake of the N.S.A. leak, that former government contractor Edward Snowden, what is next for him, how much damage did he do, we're joined by the top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, Saxby Chambliss from Georgia.  One of the Senate's most vocal skeptics of the top-secret data mining program is Democrat Mark Udall of Colorado.  They are coming up.

* * *TRANSCRIBER'S NOTE:  COMMERCIALS NOT TRANSCRIBED.* * *

DAVID GREGORY:

(MUSIC) Coming up here, should more details about how the government collects data on American citizens be disclosed and released to the public?  To key members in the Senator Intelligence Committee, Senator Saxby Chambliss, and Mark Udall will answer that question and more right after this short break.

* * *TRANSCRIBER'S NOTE:  COMMERCIALS NOT TRANSCRIBED.* * *

DAVID GREGORY:

We are back.  Joining me now, the Vice Chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Republican Senator from Georgia, Saxby Chambliss, and the Democrat senator from Colorado, Mark Udall.  Gentlemen, welcome to you both.  Senator Chambliss, let me start with you.  And I just want to pick up on the news of this weekend over Syria and the president's decision to start arming the Syrian rebels.  What is the end game and what limits do you think should be placed on what the United States does in Syria?

SENATOR SAXBY CHAMBLISS:

Well, I don't think you can place any limits on it right now, David.  I do think it's imperative that Assad be removed.  It's pretty obvious that he is pretty well entrenched now.  He has gone to the extreme of letting Hezbollah have the run of Syria.  That is simply not good.  And while I know there are bad guys involved in the opposition rebels, we've done a pretty good job of ferreting out who are the good guys or who are the more moderate guys within that opposition.  And I'm certain that's who the president's talking about providing arms to.

Should the president go farther--                   

(OVERTALK)

DAVID GREGORY:

--in your judgment?

SENATOR SAXBY CHAMBLISS:

Well, I think that the military alternatives have got to be examined almost day to day.  And I assume that's what he's doing.  And if the military says that we need to implement a no-fly zone, we ought to do it right away.  It's pretty obvious they're using air power to take out some of these 90,000 to 100,000 folks who are innocent people in Syria that have been killed.  And a no-fly zone maybe the ultimately tactic that has to be taken.

DAVID GREGORY:

Senator Udall, what do you say?  You have raised concerns about exactly who the arms would go to.  And we have a pretty rough history with regard to that, when you think about Afghanistan trying to arm rebels, and then having those weapons used against us later on.  Deputy National Security advisor in the White House Ben Rhodes answered that question this week, here's what he said:

BEN RHODES (ON TAPE):

We have relationships today in Syria that we didn't have six months ago that gives us greater certainty, not just that we can get stuff into the country, but also that we can put it in the right hands, so that it's not falling into the hands of extremists.

DAVID GREGORY:

Senator Udall, do you believe him?

SENATOR MARK UDALL:

I agree with Senator Graham and Senator Chambliss that we ought to ensure that our ultimate goal is a political settlement.  We've got to tie up the unconventional and advanced conventional weapons that are there.  We've got to protect the Syrian people.  And above all, we've got to make sure that the Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups don't take root in Syria.

David, I'm open to all options.  But I think that we oughta be listening to the president, we oughta be listening to military leadership.  You know, though, a no-fly zone and other involvement may lead to this slippery slope that others talked about.  But this is a very dangerous, very fragile situation.  If Jordan falls, I fear for the region.

DAVID GREGORY:

Let me ask you two about the other big debate back home over the N.S.A. surveillance and Edward Snowden.  Senator Chambliss, is he a traitor?  Should he be tried as a traitor back in this country, and what do you think is next for him?  How hard is it going be to get him back to face justice?

Well, it depends on exactly what he's charged with and the process that's followed by the prosecutorial team.  I'm going to leave it to them to decide whether or not he ought to be charged for treason.  But as I said earlier this week, if he's not a traitor, then he's pretty darn close to it.

And as far as getting him back here, he needs to look an American jury in the eye and explain why he has disclosed sources and methods that are going to put American lives in danger.  I mean, there's no question about it.  We know now that because of his disclosure that the terrorists, the bad guys around the world are taking some different tactics and they know a little bit more about how we're gathering information on them.  And I think it's important that we bring him to justice.

DAVID GREGORY:

Are you skeptical, Senator Udall, of the government's claims, the head of the N.S.A. saying, "This has done real damage, that it harms national security, and with these programs, that terrorist plots have been foiled"?

SENATOR MARK UDALL:

David, if I might take a moment before I answer your question, I did want to say that my thoughts are with all the victims of the wildfires we've had here in Colorado. And I want to ensure them that I know the federal government will be there for them just like the federal government was there for the victims of Hurricane Sandy and the recent tornados in Oklahoma.

We stand together as Americans, and I hope Americans will send their prayers and thoughts out here to Colorado.  But let me turn to your question.  I am skeptical that the 215 business records program of the N.S.A. is effective.  We are talking about prison program, that's the second program, it has been effective.  It surviels foreigners who are interested in terrorist activity.

But I have to tell you that on the 215 business records front, I don't think collecting millions and millions of Americans' phone calls, now this is the metadata, this is time, place, to whom you direct the calls, is making us any safer.  And I think it's ultimately perhaps a violation of the Fourth Amendment.  I think we ought to have this debate.

I'm going to introduce a bill this week that would narrow the reach of 215 to those who have a link to terrorism.  A similar amendment passed in 2005.  It has support from people like Senator Hagel, Senator Durbin, and Senator Barack Obama.  I'd like to have that debate.  It's important that the American public know what's being done in their name.

DAVID GREGORY:

You know, but it's very interesting because as some commentators this week have pointed out, those who are concerned about civil liberties, imagine their reaction if there were another 9/11-style attack.  And what the American public would rise up to support in terms of quashing civil liberties.  And you go back to immediate aftermath of 9/11, and we did some checking about that, the joint inquiry in terms of intelligence community activities before and after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, December 2002.

And this is one of the conclusions:  "Prior to 9/11, the intelligence community's ability to produce significant and timely signals in international on counterterrorism was limited by N.S.A.'s failure to address modern communications technology aggressively.  Continuing conflict between intelligence community agencies," and this is important, "N.S.A.'s cautious approach to any collection of intelligence relating to activity in the United States and insufficient collaboration between the N.S.A. and F.B.I. regarding potential terrorist attacks in the U.S."  So the N.S.A. after 9/11 was criticized for being too cautious.  Which is why we got these programs in the first place, isn't that true Senator Chambliss?

SENATOR SAXBY CHAMBLISS:

Well, no question about it.  I was very involved in the aftermath of September 11th as Chairman of the House Intelligence Subcommittee on Terrorism and Homeland Security, and along with my colleague, Congresswoman Jane Harman from California, we did an investigation.

And we found out exactly that, that N.S.A. did not take advantage of the technology that is out there today.  And had they done so, we'll never be able to say that we could've prevented 9/11 from happening.  But certainly, we weren't doing the things that we were capable of doing to try to make sure that these bad guys don't have all the tools.

And if we utilize the tools that we have to figure out what they're doing, what they're planning, and that we're able other interrupt and disrupt them.  And we've done that time and time again.  I hope we're going to be able to be able to give the American public more examples of those interruptions and disruptions over the next several days.  But the fact is that we know we've done that as a result of utilizing these tools.

DAVID GREGORY:

Is there one that comes to mind?  Is there something that the public does not know yet that you can share that's actually been disrupted?

SENATOR SAXBY CHAMBLISS:

Well, the tool that the N.S.A. has talked about and they've allowed us to talk about are the Zazi case that was generated out of the monitoring of phone calls under 702 initially, where we picked up on a phone call made from Pakistan into the United States.  And then 215 was used after that to coordinate the ultimate monitoring and arrest of Zazi who was headed to New York with backpacks loaded with bombs to blow up the New York subway system.

The other incident that we've been able to talk about is the David Headley case.  Dual citizen, U.S. and Pakistani who lived in Chicago who was involved in the Mumbai bombings.  And those two cases did-- we did pick up information in those two cases with the use of 702 primarily, though particularly in the Zazi case.  Also there was coordinated use of 215.

DAVID GREGORY:

Let me ask Senator Udall, for reaction to what I showed you about the prior criticism of the N.S.A. being too cautious, which is what led to these programs.

SENATOR MARK UDALL:

David, it doesn't have to be all or nothing.  And I talked to Coloradans who want to understand why we're literally collecting millions of phone call data on a daily basis.  My friend Saxby points out how 702 helped us identify Zazi and Headley and the plots they were generating.  It makes sense to me that then you go get a warrant from the FISA court to use those phone records, that so-called metadata to then find out what that network is.

And what I'm proposing is to limit that collection in a way that keeps faith with the Fourth Amendment.  If you think about the Fourth Amendment, the King when the founders wrote the Bill of Rights, could not only take your property and your treasure, but he could take your life and maybe most precious of all, your liberty.

I think we owe it to the American people to have a wholesome debate in the open about the extent of these programs.  You have a law that's been interpreted secretly by a secret court that then issues secret orders to generate a secret program.  I just don't think this is an American approach to a world in which we have great threats.  And my number one goal is to protect the American people.  But we can do it in a way that also respects our civil liberties.

DAVID GREGORY:

All right-- we're going to leave it there this morning, Senator Chambliss, Senator Udall, thank you both very much.  Coming up, we're going to talk (MUSIC) a little bit about how the president's handled all of this and what the politics of it are.  How did we get to this point?

Of course, there were warnings back in 2001 about government overreach when they were debating the Patriot Act.  Was anybody listening?  Our roundtable joins us after the break, it includes one of the country's former top spies, former director of both the C.I.A. and N.S.A., General Michael Hayden.  Our roundtable coming up next.

* * *TRANSCRIBER'S NOTE:  COMMERCIALS NOT TRANSCRIBED.* * *

DAVID GREGORY:

We are back now with our roundtable, joining me former director of both the National Security Administration and the C.I.A., now a principal of the Chertoff Group, General Michael Hayden, Democrat Congressman from Virginia Bobby Scott, National Security Journalist for The New York Times, author of State of War:  The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration James Risen, and back again, David Ignatius to The Washington Post, and our own Andrea Mitchell.

Welcome to all of you.  General Hayden, you have been in the thick of this debate in your past as one of the nation's top spies.  The politics of this are interesting, in terms of where the American people are and we'll put some of the polling on the screen.  Fifty-six percent believe that the secret court ordering, the tracking of calls of millions of Americans is something that is acceptable to the American people.  Do you think that still holds, will it holds as more information is known about it?

GENERAL MICHAEL HAYDEN:

I actually think as more accurate information is known about it, it will hold and perhaps even expand.  Now there's a natural instinct in the United States, a natural instinct by the way we cover these sorts of things to rush the story to the darkest corner of the room.  But I don't think that's where this story belongs.  And as Americans learn about the safeguards and the effects, the products of this program, I bet they'll become even more campaign.

DAVID GREGORY:

So what has been misconstrued from your judgment, having presided over these programs?  What is done that people don't really understand is being asked?

GENERAL MICHAEL HAYDEN:

Well, it's most unfortunate is that both stories, Prism and the metadata story came out at the same time.  And those stories have been interwoven in a bunch of public discourse about it.  The metadata story does touch upon Americans in a massive way with phone records, but not the content.  The prison story is about foreigners.  And it is about content.  And those things have become clues together much to the harm of the rational national debate.

DAVID GREGORY:

I'm starting the conversation about the politics of all of this.  Congressman, you voted against the Patriot Act back in 2001, and we'll talk more about that.  But President Obama is somebody who has presided over the expansion of these programs, had a much different outlook back in 2007 when he was running against, effectively, president bush.  Here's what he said back in August of 2007:

PRESIDENT OBAMA (ON TAPE):

This Administration also puts forward a false choice between the liberties we cherish and the security we provide.  I will provide our intelligence and law enforcement agencies with the tools they need to track and take out the terrorists without undermining our Constitution and our freedom.

DAVID GREGORY:

What has surprised me, and I wonder what you think, is that in light of all of this, he has not come out and said, "You know what?  I did criticize President Bush over all of those programs.  And once I became president, my views changed because I started to look at the threat assessment and I was not willing to accept risk beyond a certain level."

Representative BOBBY SCOTT:

Well, I think you complicate the entire discussion by saying it's President Obama's position or Senator McCain's position.  If you just look at the issue, I think it's a lot easier to discuss.  There are really two questions, one, whether you can collect all this data.  And that's an open question.  Whether all telephone records are relevant to an ongoing investigation, that's an open question, I think.

But even more important is once you get the data, what can you do with it.  And this thing is not limited to terrorism.  If it were limited to terrorism, I think the discussion would go away.  It's not limited to terrorism.  Once the F.B.I. gets the information, then the question is, who can look at it, what can you do with the information.

I mean, there's a lot of stuff you can get if you just run through phone calls.  I mean, somebody's called an escort service, an AIDS doctor, their bankruptcy attorney, I mean, there's a lot of stuff that would be interesting to know about somebody.  We just had a Supreme Court case that said if you're accused of sexual assault, they can get your DNA.

Once they've gotten it, and determined it wasn't you, so they had no information on you, they've got the DNA, they can run it through the database just to see if you've committed a crime.  Now they couldn't get the DNA from you just to run it through.  But once they've got it, they can use it.  Now, the F.B.I. has all this data.  What can they use it for?  Who can look into it?  And who gets to see all these reports about the phone calls that--

DAVID GREGORY:

But Jim Risen, as it's been pointed out, there are a lot of concerns about what the government could do, but there is not actual evidence of abuse of these programs, is there?

JAMES RISEN:

Well, there's some.  There's some limited--

DAVID GREGORY:

And I should point out, your reporting going back into the last decade was instrumental in revealing a lot of these programs at the very start during the Bush years.

JAMES RISEN:

There's some limited evidence of abuse.  It's been anecdotal and there's never been a thorough investigation inside the government of that.  One of the problems going back to the Bush administration was all of this was kept so secret, even after we began to report about it, that the inspectors general and the internal investigations were kept secret.

So there's never been a full public accounting of the level of abuse, the level of-- there's virtually no transparency at all about how much of this really has caught up American citizens.  And I think that's really one of the issues here is you've got the creation of a modern surveillance infrastructure with no debate publicly except on a ad hoc basis whenever someone in the press reports about it.

DAVID GREGORY:

David?

DAVID IGNATIUS:

Well, I don't think it's fair to say that there's been no debate.  After these programs were conducted without legal authorities, essentially warrantless wire tapping under the Bush administration, there was an effort to create this in law.  So laws were passed by bipartisan majorities, two Congress under two presidents, and we now have these surveillance programs in place.

A lot of congresspeople say, "Well, it's confusing, I couldn't bring my staff, I couldn't take notes."  Various reasons why they don't know as much as they'd now like to.  But the point is that this is now established in law.  Parts of these programs are subject to court review by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance court, criticism that had been rebuffed, the Supreme Court actually refused to look at a part of this, which was in a sense affirming it.

So this is part of our system of laws and legal procedures.  And that's what makes me nervous when-- somebody like Edward Snowden just willy-nilly throws it all up in the air for people to see.  That, you know, we are a nation of laws.  This is one of the laws.  And, you know, it's in generally speaking, it's good to follow our legal procedures.  That's how we find things out.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

One of the issues that I have with Snowden that's really not resolved is how he had access to that court ruling on Verizon, a FISA ruling.  He had access to things that were not within his purview.  And what he said in his interview with The Guardian is that he could access anyone's emails, including the President of the United States, if he had an email address.

And what we're discovering is going back and looking at his message boards when he had first dropped out of school and was looking around about a career before he got into the army, before he was hired by the C.I.A., he had a lot of very provocative, sarcastic, sardonic comments about the Patriot Act, hard to tell when you're reading message boards.  But you could tell that this was a very, a really edgy guy.  Brilliant, undeniably.  And I'm wondering how he got hired by the C.I.A., not by the contractor later on, years later, but he first got a top secret here in--

(OVERTALK)

DAVID GREGORY:

Well, and isn't this an issue, General, I mean, you have all these private contractors having access to this kind of classified--

GENERAL MICHAEL HAYDEN:

No, no, that's not the issue.  It's people of this personality type having access to this issue, whether they're--

ANDREA MITCHELL:

What about the clearances and--

GEN. MICHAEL HAYDEN:

--a green badge or a blue badge.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

--the (UNINTEL) system?

GEN. MICHAEL HAYDEN:

Contractor or a government employee, all right?  So it's not so much contractors.  Contractors don't grant themselves clearances, all right?  The government grants government employees and government contractors clearances.  So this is a government issue.  Remember I said as people learn about the facts of the case, they'll only point out facts.

Snowden's wrong.  He could not possibly have done the things he claimed he was able to do in terms of tapping communications.  James, five inspectors general looked at the program I governed and which he wrote about, and a public report said there were no abuses.  Controversial program, but no abuses.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

But General, Snowden--

GEN. MICHAEL HAYDEN:

And c--

ANDREA MITCHELL:

--got into things that you had no idea he was getting into--

GEN. MICHAEL HAYDEN:

Well, I understand.  But let--

ANDREA MITCHELL:

So how do you know he's wrong--

(OVERTALK)

GEN. MICHAEL HAYDEN:

Well, one more point then?  Congressman, it's only terrorism.  The only word you can access, the metadata, is through a terrorist predicate.

Representative BOBBY SCOTT:

Well who-- and where is that written?

GEN. MICHAEL HAYDEN:

It's in the court order.  It's in the broad structure of the data--

(OVERTALK)

Representative BOBBY SCOTT:

But what-- that part-- that's how you get the data.  And once the F.B.I. has it, they have practices and then we asked the F.B.I. director whether it's only used for terrorism, and he said, "Yes, only for terrorism."  The Attorney General Gonzalez said, "Well, we could use it for criminal investigations."

GEN. MICHAEL HAYDEN:

Well, the only reason--

Representative BOBBY SCOTT:

You've got the information.

GEN. MICHAEL HAYDEN:

Now-- now--

JAMES RISEN:

The only reason we've been having these public debates, the only reason these laws have been passed, and that we're now sitting here talking about this is because of a series of whistleblowers.  That the government has never wanted any of this reported, never wanted any of it disclosed.

If it was up to the government over the last ten years, this surveillance infrastructure would have grown enormously with no public debate whatsoever.  And so every time we talk about how someone is a traitor for disclosing something, we have to remember the only reason we're talking about it is because of it.

DAVID GREGORY:

It isn't the root of the problem though, David Ignatius, that Congress, when they debated the Patriot Act after 9/11, everybody's hearing the rush of fear of 9/11, they pass the Patriot Act, they can't agree on any end point for the Patriot Act.  It's reauthorized again in perpetuity.  Congress and Congressman, with respect, I know you voted against the Patriot Act.  Congress doesn't seem to have the guts to say, "We are going to set a date certain to reassess whether this is a state of security that we want to remain in."

DAVID IGNATIOUS:

Well, I-- you raise a good point, David.  And the state of permanent war, permanent anxiety that followed 9/11 should end.  And I think the country wants it to end.  I think these programs and the way that Obama has pursued them are an attempt to establish in law a set of rules the country can live with.

And although General Hayden would've preferred obviously that we'd not had this debate and that these things remain secret, we're now in a debate that will have the useful consequence of people getting to make sensible decisions about the programs that they really add to our security, it looks like the public thinks they do.  Are you willing to give up something--

DAVID GREGORY:

But they--

DAVID IGNATIUS:

--to have that security--

(OVERTALK)

DAVID GREGORY:

Well, respond to Jim, too.  You as head of the C.I.A. or N.S.A., you didn't want to have a debate.

GENERAL MICHAEL HAYDEN:

No, you give up operational capacity the more these programs are known.  And I know honest men argue, "Oh, they knew they were doing that all the time."  But they don't know the details.  And actually, what I fear Al Qaeda learns about this program is not what we're allowed to do, but they learn what we're not allowed to do.  And they learn the limits of the program.

And just one comment, the programs we're talking about here now, prism and the metadata program were established under the court, under President Bush in 2006 and 2008.  And although Candidate Obama had problems with it, President Elect Obama was briefed on it and embraced them as they existed--

ANDREA MITCHELL:

General?

GENERAL MICHAEL HAYDEN:

--when he came to office.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

General, one of the things that I think has been written about from both the left and the right, Peggy Noonan wrote about it this weekend, is that there is a lack of confidence in the government, which has evolved a variety of administrations.

So when you say, "Trust me, this data, the metadata are stored and we're not going to go into it unless there's a court order, unless it's because of a terrorist plot, and then if a judge orders that, it's then turned over to the F.B.I. and then they can pursue and look at the context, so we've got the numbers, but we're not looking, we're not reading."  But people no longer, after Benghazi, after I.R.S. certainly, and after a lot of other things, don't have confidence in their government.  And that is leading to a disaffection and a disconnection.

(MALE VOICE:  UNINTEL)                                  

ANDREA MITCHELL:

And going forward is very troubling.

JAMES RISEN:

I'm sorry.  One of the things that really I think concerns people is that you've created something that never existed in America history before, and that is a surveillance state.  The infrastructure that I'm basically using software technology and data mining and eavesdropping, very sophisticated technology to create an infrastructure that a police state would love.

And that's what really should concern Americans, is because we haven't had a full national debate about the creation of a massive surveillance state and surveillance infrastructure, that if we had some radical change in our politics could lead to a police.

DAVID GREGORY:

You know, when we talk about the politics of this, Congressman, look at some of the well-known leaders or whistleblowers in our more recent history going back to the Pentagon papers and Daniel Ellsberg and Karen Silkwood, Jeffery Wigand at the tobacco industry, Bradley Manning, Julian Assange, who in effect as a country do we like and who don't we like in this capacity?

REPRESENTATIVE BOBBY SCOTT:

Well, all leakers on good-- in this particular, the law on leaking classified information is murky.  Technically, it's not, I mean, it's the law to release classified information if it doesn't do any harm.  It is illegal to release information that's sensitive but not even classified if it does do some hard.

And so the Justice Department has the burden of proving that Snowden's released caused some harm.  And I think they ought to be able to do that.  And therefore, it's illegal, the it's very, very murky.  But one thing, again, there's no separation between getting all this surveillance fighting terrorism, and you got national foreign intelligence.

Foreign intelligence is going to have nothing to do with crime, nothing to do with terrorism, nothing to do with-- could be negotiating a trade deal.  You can get a lot of these information.  But once you get it, are you going to say the F.B.I.'s not going to look into it--

DAVID IGNATIUS:

All right, but--

(OVERTALK)

DAVID IGNATIUS:

I'm asking the question here about who's celebrated, who's not.  I mean, who's a journalist?  What's, you know, real journalist activity versus what David referenced before, which is we are a country where we shouldn't be comfortable with the idea of a 29 year old, disaffected contractor who is personally offended by a program, takes it upon himself to leak government secrets and compromise what the government in three branches thinks is important.

JAMES RISEN:

And I think one of the reasons that's happened and has repeatedly happened throughout the War on Terror is that the system, the internal system for whistle-blowing, for the watchdog and oversight system is broken.  There is no good way for anyone inside the government do go through the chain of command and report about something like this.  They all fear retaliation, they fear prosecution.

And so most whistleblowers, the really, the only way they now have is to go to the press or to go to someone, go outside like Snowden did.  He chose people in the press to go to.  He picked and chose who he wanted.  But the problem is people inside the system who try to go through the chain of command get retaliated against, punished, and they--

ANDREA MITCHELL:

I--

JAMES RISEN:

--eventually learn not to do it anymore.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

Jim, I think they can go to Congress, they can go to the Intelligence Committee.  They can go to--

(OVERTALK)

JAMES RISEN:

If you go-- if you're not in the intelligence community, if you're a low-ranking person in the intelligence community and you go to the Congress, to the Senate, or the House, you'll-- you will be going outside the normal bounds of--

(OVERTALK)

ANDREA MITCHELL:

He gave up his career, he gave up his life, so he didn't have to go to China.

(OVERTALK)

JAMES RISEN:

Going to Congress would be an--

ANDREA MITCHELL:

I do think that.

JAMES RISEN:

--unauthorized dis--

                                                 :

That's-- that's a fixable problem, Jim.  I mean I--

ANDREA MITCHELL:

He's now given the Chinese such a weapon, they are now protesting in Hong Kong, authorized protests--

DAVID GREGORY:

Well, let me--

ANDREA MITCHELL:

--about hacking.

(OVERTALK)

DAVID GREGORY:

Let me into the part of the discussion on this point, General Hayden, the final point, which is do you have to accept from your point of view that, "Hey, we're just not going to be quite as good at chasing the bad guys?"  Or, "We have to accept some limits on this for the sake of bringing the American people along?"

GENERAL MICHAEL HAYDEN:

David, for part of my life when I was running the N.S.A. program, I thought lawful, effective, and appropriate were enough.  By the time I got to C.I.A., I discovered I had a fourth requirement, and that's politically sustainable.  And by the time I got to C.I.A., I was of the belief that I would have to probably have to shave points off of operational or effectiveness to inform enough people that we had the political sustainability and the comfort of the American population concerning what it was we were doing.  So I think it's living in this kind of a democracy, we're going to have to be a little bit less effective in order to be a little bit more transparent to get to do anything to defend the American people.

DAVID GREGORY:

All right, I want to take just a couple of minutes to switch gears a little bit, because it is Father's Day, which is an important day for me to celebrate my dad and celebrate the fact that I have kids and they make me so happy.  So we wanted to start an online discussion, which we did this morning on Twitter and Facebook, the idea of, you know, what did your dad teach you, what do you hope your kids learn from you?

I tweeted something last night, my dad taught me about dedication and perseverance and I hope my kids feel encouraged by me and that they learn resilience.  It's the kind of thing that I think has really gotten a conversation started.  Andrea, as you think about your own beloved dad?

ANDREA MITCHELL:

My dad, Sid Mitchell, is going to be 99 next month.  And he taught me to keep fighting to persevere no matter what, to be strong, but that character is the most important thing that counts.

DAVID GREGORY:

Ninety-nine is pretty impressive--

ANDREA MITCHELL:

Ninety-nine.  (LAUGH)

DAVID GREGORY:

And your dad, David, with a huge honor here at 92 years old--

DAVID IGNATIUS:

He, yes, my dad, Paul Ignatius, who was 92, was celebrated this last week at the Pentagon.  He's a World War II combat veteran in the navy and he served as Navy Secretary under President Johnson.  And this week, he brought his family with him to the Pentagon where a ship was made--

DAVID GREGORY:

Wow.

DAVID IGNATIUS:

--in his honor.  So when I look at my dad, I'm going to think, "USS Paul Ignatius."  (LAUGHTER) So happy Father's Day, pop.

DAVID GREGORY:

Yeah, and Jim, it's good to see your boy with you to today--

JAMES RISEN:

Yeah.  My oldest son came with me this morning, so he's having a good time watching us.  (LAUGH)

DAVID GREGORY:

Yeah, yeah, absolutely.  And what do you think about from your own upbringing?

JAMES RISEN:

Well, my father was a railway mail clerk back when they still had those kind of things.  So I think he-- but he always wanted to be a journalist and wasn't able to do it because of the Depression.  So I think he would be happy.

DAVID GREGORY:

General?

GENERAL MICHAEL HAYDEN:

My dad's 93, birthday this week.  He taught me about the importance of showing up.  (LAUGH) Being tough and doing your job.  Happy Father's Day, dad.

DAVID GREGORY:

Yeah, Congressman?

Representative BOBBY SCOTT:

Let me just make one comment, if you--

DAVID GREGORY:

Yes.

Representative BOBBY SCOTT:

--separate this entire discussion, terrorism and other stuff, I don't think we'd have this complicated of a question--

DAVID GREGORY:

Good, good.  Thank you sir.

Representative BOBBY SCOTT:

I don't think you have to shave points on fighting terrorism.  You do have to shave points if you're using it for criminal investigations, once you've got the information going through it for whatever reason.  I think you've got a different discussion as to developing this database.

And it's sitting there, don't tell me you're not going to use it for kidnapping or any other thing.  Once you start dipping into it, you're dipping into it.  My father served on the Newport News school board.  He was the only African American on the school board and served-- he was in office when Brown v. Board of Education--

DAVID GREGORY:

Wow.

Representative BOBBY SCOTT:

--came down.  And being the only African American, most of the votes were four to one.  He points out that he had a subcommittee, of the five-member board, four members went to Richmond to discuss the segregation and integration with the governor.  You can imagine which one was left out.  But being able to main decorum and keep fighting, whether you're on the losing edge or not is something I learned.

DAVID GREGORY:

Well, one thing I'm trying to learn as a parent is that either way, it doesn't seem like it, your kids really are listening to you.  (LAUGHTER) It's very, it's very important that you try to say the right thing.  We'll take a break here and come back with more in just a moment.

* * *TRANSCRIBER'S NOTE:  COMMERCIALS NOT TRANSCRIBED.* * *

DAVID GREGORY:

That is all for today, thank you all for a very informative discussion, the debate goes on.  Be sure to catch this week's press pass conversation with National Review editor Rich Lowry on his interesting new book Lincoln Unbound, about the leadership decisions of President Lincoln, it's on our blog MeetThePressNBC.com.  A happy Father's Day to mine and to yours, to all the dads out there.  We'll be back next week.  If it's Sunday, it's Meet the Press.

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,

Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments

More on TODAY.com

  1. Jim Bourg / AP

    'Out of the shadows': Obama acts on deportation relief for millions

    11/21/2014 11:54:58 AM +00:00 2014-11-21T11:54:58
  1. Stringer / Reuters

    Winter storm dumps seven feet of snow in Buffalo

    11/21/2014 12:00:51 PM +00:00 2014-11-21T12:00:51
  1. Getty Images file

    Country singer Ty Herndon 'out, proud and happy' as a gay man

    11/20/2014 9:19:38 PM +00:00 2014-11-20T21:19:38
  1. Instagram

    Go, Winnie! Danica McKellar ties knot in 'magical' beach ceremony

    11/21/2014 12:08:31 AM +00:00 2014-11-21T00:08:31