Seeking to quell fears about government electronic surveillance, the newest Republican member of the U.S. House Intelligence Committee said Wednesday the programs are critical to keeping the country safe.
U.S. Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Wichita, said there is a concerted effort to inform the public about the need for the surveillance programs by people, like him, who believe the fight against radical Islamic terrorism continues. He said the two programs leaked by a National Security Agency contractor have adequate oversight from all three branches of government and do not look at the content of communications by Americans.
“Those of us that are conservative – and have a long tradition of understanding that the primary mission of the federal government is to make sure that America is strong and capable of defending its homeland – want to make sure we don’t lose the capability to do that,” he said.
His comments came a day after the committee held a rare, open hearing amid debate over national security and personal privacy in the wake of disclosures about the programs by Edward Snowden, a former systems analyst on contract to the NSA. One of the programs exposed gathers U.S. phone records, and the other tracks the use of U.S.-based Internet servers by foreigners with possible links to terrorism.
During the hearing, Deputy FBI Director Sean Joyce said the NSA was able to identify an extremist in Yemen who was in touch with Khalid Ouazzani in Kansas City, Mo., purportedly enabling authorities to identify co-conspirators and thwart a plot to bomb the New York Stock Exchange.
That case provided “the classic example” of why this matters to people in the Midwest, Pompeo said.
Ouazzani is scheduled for sentencing in Kansas City on July 25 – more than three years after he pleaded guilty to charges of providing material support to a terrorist organization, bank fraud and money laundering. He was not charged with the alleged plot against the stock exchange. Joyce credited the surveillance program for making the arrest possible.
Ouazzani’s attorney, Robin Fowler, said Wednesday that he was not in a position to discuss the case at this time. But he told the Kansas City Star on Tuesday that his client had no knowledge of or role in the plot to blow up the exchange.
Army Gen. Keith Alexander, director of the NSA, told the intelligence committee that more than 50 attacks were averted because of the surveillance. The Intelligence Committee is working to declassify many of those cases to demonstrate that the surveillance programs are invaluable to saving lives, Pompeo said.