House Homeland Security Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Texas) on Sunday said disclosures about the National Security Agency’s surveillance of phone and Internet data, coupled with recent White House scandals, would only intensify the public’s concern over the administration’s record on civil liberties.
“The optics are terrible in this case when you consider the recent scandals,” said McCaul on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”
McCaul on Sunday, though, acknowledged that the program had saved lives and thwarted terrorism.
His statements come days after reports that the NSA sought data on phone numbers and the location and duration of calls from Verizon to help identify possible terror threats. A separate program, PRISM, sought information on foreign Internet users from American tech companies.
The disclosures unleashed a firestorm of criticism at the Obama administration’s record on civil liberties, coming weeks after news that the Justice Department had seized reporter records in leak investigations and after the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) admitted targeting Tea Party groups seeking tax exemption.
President Obama defended the programs on Friday, saying that Congress had known about the surveillance and that all measures were carried out according to the law.
McCaul also raised concerns about the disclosure of the top secret programs, calling it a “serious breach” of national security.
“While some may applaud the person for doing that and it will give us a chance to provide additional oversight into what the administration is doing, I do think, in terms of when you look at national security law, this is a serious breach and a serious violation,” said McCaul.
Reports said the Obama administration is likely to investigate and possibly prosecute the source of the leaks, a move a number of senior lawmakers endorsed.
Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) said on Sunday they wanted a criminal prosecution of the NSA leaker.
“Taking a very sensitive classified program that targets foreign person on foreign lands, and putting just enough out there to be dangerous, is dangerous to us, it's dangerous to our national security and it violates the oath of which that person took,” Rogers said. “I absolutely think they should be prosecuted.”