House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Thursday said she’s preparing a fact sheet for Democrats on the differences between President Obama’s and President George W. Bush’s spying activities.
Pelosi called for leaker Edward Snowden to be prosecuted and suggested the Obama-backed programs had stopped terrorist plots, but was quick to contrast the secret surveillance programs of Obama to those under Bush.
She also reiterated her calls to strengthen a long-dormant government panel, the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, which is designed to ensure that the NSA's surveillances activities don't encroach too far on civil liberties.
“We have to have the balance between liberty and security,” she said.
Pelosi said Snowden, the former defense contractor and CIA employee who outed himself as the source of the leaks, violated sections of the Patriot Act and FISA and should be held accountable.
“On the strength of leaking that [information], yes, that would be a prosecutable offense, and I think that he should be prosecuted,” Pelosi said Thursday at a press conference in the Capitol.
Pelosi joined a growing list of congressional leaders – including Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) – who have condemned Snowden for uncovering several National Security Agency surveillance programs, even as others are calling him a hero.
The secret operations were uncovered last week in a series of articles in The Guardian and The Washington Post. Under one program, the NSA is sweeping up information related to every phone call being place on the Verizon network – an effort supported by an order from the FISA court. A separate NSA program, dubbed PRISM, has been gathering internet data from foreign users.
Pelosi, a former head of the House Intelligence Committee, seemed to defend the PRISM program Thursday, suggesting that it might have helped national security officials gather more information prior to the 911 attacks.
“Certainly it would have improved the chances of doing that. I can't say with certainty that it would have, but it certainly would have improved the chance,” she said. “It did give more opportunity to surveil.” But she also suggested the administration's blanket sweep of domestic phone records was not authorized by current law.
“That is not what either of these bills does, not the Patriot Act nor 702 [of the FISA law],” she said.
The Snowden episode has also sparked questions about the role private contractors play in defending the nation from terrorist attacks.
Pelosi on Thursday wondered how one contractor could singlehandedly make off with enough information to expose the NSA programs.
“How on earth can we have a situation where we are so vulnerable, so exposed … by one person walking out the door with access to so much information?” she added. “That's a question that Congress has to ask.”
She floated the notion of transferring some of the contractor jobs to the government.
“Maybe we should bring more of that in-house,” she said.
“I'm not saying that we shouldn't have some private [contractors] because that can facilitate our security,” she added. “But let's take a measure of how much … intelligence that is in the hands of the private sector.”
This story was updated at 1:32 p.m.