Lynch: US 'less safe' without NSA programs

Attorney General Loretta Lynch said Friday the country would be “less safe” if Congress fails to renew surveillance programs included in the Patriot Act.

Lynch joined other top Obama administration officials, who are urging the Senate to pass the USA Freedom Act, which would reform the National Security Agency’s (NSA) bulk phone records collection program while renewing other key parts of the post-Sept. 11 law.

“Our biggest fear is that we will lose important eyes on people who have made it clear that their mission is to harm American people here and abroad,” Lynch told CBS News in her first interview since becoming attorney general.

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If NSA’s phone metadata program expires completely, Lynch said the U.S. government would lose “important tools” to identify terror threats.

"I think that we run the risk of essentially being less safe," Lynch added. "I think that we lose the ability to intercept these communications, which have proven very important in cases that we have built in the past. And I am very concerned that the American people will be unprotected if this law expires."

Senate Republicans are facing growing pressure to move forward with the NSA reform bill, along with provisions that authorize surveillance programs set to expire on June 1.

The Senate is scheduled to hold votes over Memorial Day weekend in a last-minute bid to reauthorize the programs.

The White House has furiously lobbied Congress to pass the USA Freedom Act, fearing that law enforcement and intelligence agencies could be hamstrung if the spy programs are allowed to expire.

In order to sway civil liberties advocates, Lynch said she was hopeful the administration would provide “more clarity” on what intelligence agencies do with the phone data.

“It’s information about telephone calls, it’s not the content, it’s not what’s being said, it’s not the voices that are there,” she said.

A majority of the Senate supports the bipartisan USA Freedom Act, which passed the House 338-88, but it’s unclear if 60 votes exist to overcome procedural obstacles.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellBiden: A good coach knows when to change up the team McConnell says he made 'inadvertent omission' in voting remarks amid backlash These Senate seats are up for election in 2022 MORE (R-Ky.) has pushed to extend the Patriot Act without changes for two months, but it’s not clear if that, either, has the votes to pass the Senate.

Even if the Senate were to pass a short-term extension, the House is on Memorial Day recess and may not be able to act before the provisions lapse on June 1.

Supporters of the reform measure expressed confidence the Senate would pass the NSA reform bill.

“We’re building momentum. We’re not there yet but there’s a path,” Sen. Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeePut partisan politics aside — The Child Tax Credit must be renewed immediately These Senate seats are up for election in 2022 Senate panel advances bill blocking tech giants from favoring own products MORE (R-Utah) told reporters Thursday evening. “We’re getting more and more support — getting closer to 60 every minute.”

— Julian Hattem contributed