Former Vice President Dick Cheney defended the National Security Agency’s surveillance programs today, saying that had they been in effect over a decade ago, the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks might have been prevented.
“Now, as everybody has been associated with the program said if we had this before 9/11, when there were two terrorists in San Diego, two hijackers able to use that program, that capability against the target, we might have been able to prevent 9/11,” Cheney said on “FOX News Sunday.” “If we had been able to read their mail and intercept those communications and pick up from the calls overseas the numbers here that they were using in the United States, we would then probably have been able to thwart that attack.”
Cheney’s defense of the programs, which he advocated for following the attacks on 9/11, come shortly after top U.S. intelligence officials said the information obtained from the NSA surveillance program thwarted potential terrorist plots in the U.S. and over 20 other countries.
Cheney described Edward Snowden, the NSA contractor who leaked details about the agency’s surveillance programs, as a “traitor” and said this incident is one of the worst security breaches in U.S. history.
“I think he’s a traitor. I think he has committed crimes in effect by violating agreements, given the position he had. He was a contractor employee, but he obviously had been granted top secret clearance,” Cheney said. “I think it’s one of the worst occasions in my memory of somebody with access to classified information doing enormous damage to the national security interests of the United States.”
Though he sided with the current administration’s execution of the electronic monitoring, Cheney still criticized President Obama. He said the president is unable to defend the program because he lacks credibility due to his handling of the IRS scandal and the response to the attacks on the American diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya.
“We have got an important point where the president of the United States ought to be able to stand up and say, this is a righteous program, it is a good program, it is saving American lives, and I support it. And the problem is the guy has failed to be forthright and honest and credible on things like Benghazi and the IRS. So he’s got no credibility,” Cheney said.
White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough said today that the president does not believe the NSA program violates the privacy of Americans and said Obama will discuss the electronic surveillance “in the days ahead.”
“We find ourselves communicating in different ways, but that means the bad guys are doing that as well, so we have to find the right the balance between protecting our privacy, which is sacrosanct to the president, and protecting the country from the very real risks and threats that we face,” McDonough said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”