WASHINGTON — Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell on Tuesday joined the chorus of GOP congressional leaders supporting the National Security Agency surveillance programs leaked last week, and the prosecution of the former intelligence contractor who disclosed them.
Citing details declassified by Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, McConnell said law and the courts enacted the controversial programs legitimately, and that 29-year-old former CIA and NSA contractor Edward Snowden should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law for divulging them.
The Republican senator from Kentucky told reporters Tuesday the vast surveillance programs brought to light late last week are both legal and subject to intense congressional oversight — echoing sentiments by both House Speaker John Boehner and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor earlier this week.
“He’s a traitor,” Ohio Republican Rep. John Boehner said Tuesday on “Good Morning America.” “The disclosure of this information puts Americans at risk. It shows our adversaries what our capabilities are. And it’s a giant violation of the law.”
“The investigation will be very serious,” Virginia Republican Rep. Eric Cantor said Monday on CBS. “If anyone were to violate the law by releasing classified information, outside the legal avenues, certainly that individual should be prosecuted at the full extent of the law.”
Snowden, equipped with a top-secret clearance, exposed the two programs last week, which include collecting mobile phone and Internet data usage of private citizens from companies like Verizon and Google.
In response to a similar question about the level of government oversight covering the NSA programs, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said “Enough is also something that’s in the eye of the beholder.”
“No one has worked harder on issues in this Senate than Senator Feinstein and the members of the Intelligence Committee, Democrats and Republicans,” the Democratic senator from Nevada told reporters Tuesday. “They have done their very utmost, in my opinion, to conduct oversight. And that’s why the American people, in two polls that I saw today, support what is happening with trying to stop terrorists from doing bad things to us.”
According to a Washington Post-Pew Research Center poll released yesterday, 56 percent of Americans believe the tracking of phone data by the NSA is “acceptable,” while 62 percent say investigating terrorist threats is more important than maintaining privacy.
Before concluding his statements Reid addressed the claim by some senators that they were not aware of the surveillance programs prior to the stories broken by The Washington Post and Guardian newspapers last week.
“And for senators to complain that ‘I didn’t know this was happening,’ — we’ve had many, many meetings that have been both classified and unclassified that members have been invited to,” Reid said. “If they don’t come and take advantage of this… they shouldn’t come and say, ‘I wasn’t aware of this,’ because they’ve had every opportunity to be aware of these programs.”