This week we celebrate the anniversary of America’s break with tyranny. I’m currently in the Middle East visiting our military and intelligence warriors. These men and women uphold a long and important tradition of fighting those who wish to destroy our freedom.
To accomplish that mission, they rely on intelligence collection, and its accuracy can mean life or death. As a veteran, I’ve seen intelligence in action, and have always regarded it as a powerful and necessary tool to defend against our enemies. As a conservative and an attorney, I want to ensure that we collect intelligence according to the standards set forth in the Constitution.
While a cadet at West Point, I learned how intelligence has long been critical to securing our liberty. During the American Revolution, the Continental Army entrusted Gen. Benedict Arnold with command of West Point, New York. There, he deliberately weakened the fort’s defenses and provided intelligence that led to a successful British siege.
What Arnold did was wrong. It perpetuated misery. It lengthened the war. It cost American lives. Arnold later accused patriot leadership of “corruption, lies and tyranny” and predicted the new republic would fail. Wrong again.
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Edward Snowden is a modern-day Benedict Arnold. He is a traitor, not a whistle-blower. He has provided intelligence to America’s adversaries, enabling them to change tactics and avoid detection. After being entrusted with a six-figure salary to maintain the National Security Agency’s classified computers, he has given up secrets about an effective program that has stopped terrorist attacks on Americans. In violating his oath and weakening our defenses, he committed treason, plain and simple.
Snowden’s lies have also misled Americans. Facts matter, so let me clarify.
While on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, I have come to know the valorous professionals at the NSA who operate programs critical to defeating radical Islamic terrorism and keeping other threats at bay. They work through all three branches of government for oversight and input, and all three share responsibility for the programs in question.
The “business records program” is a database of phone numbers – without any personal identifying information – dates and call times. It can only be accessed with a court order. Snowden never had access to it. No citizen’s phone calls, e-mails or electronic communications are monitored without a court-issued search warrant with probable cause established. The Patriot Act authorized this program, consistent with Fourth Amendment privacy guarantees and Supreme Court precedent.
Separately, under Section 702 of the Patriot Act, the federal government investigates non-U.S. citizens located in foreign countries linked to specific terrorist organizations or activities. Both of these programs have been critical in saving American lives by foiling dozens of terrorist attacks – including one plot based out of Kansas City.
Unlike the Internal Revenue Service, which targeted political critics of the administration, these NSA programs had explicit, bipartisan support from Congress. All members of Congress were offered briefings prior to voting for the authorizing legislation. Don’t be fooled by career politicians claiming otherwise.
Few Americans distrust government more than I do. The IRS scandal and the actions of this administration after four American deaths in Benghazi provide no reason to trust or have confidence in this White House. But these intelligence collection programs are not about President Obama. The programs are effective and important to protecting our soldiers in the field, our families at home and our beloved Constitution.
Americans can and should debate the details of these programs. But we must not pretend our adversaries will leave the battlefield. I remain dedicated to ensuring this administration fulfills its central mission of keeping Americans safe. Congress must continue effective oversight to uphold the Constitution, ensure the privacy of American citizens, win the war on terror – and make sure Snowden answers for what he has done.