Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., on Sunday said that young Americans are increasingly distrustful of the federal government and view National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden like the star of a major Hollywood action franchise: Jason Bourne.
The hawkish Republican was asked to weigh in on President Obama’s call to provide greater oversight of American phone and Internet surveillance programs — a move that placed even more of the spotlight on Snowden, now living in Russia.
“There is now a large percentage of Americans, particularly young Americans, who view Mr. Snowden as some kind of a whistle blower when we know that he betrayed his oath of office,” McCain said on “Fox News Sunday.” “There’s a young generation that believe he’s some kind of Jason Bourne.”
McCain went on to lament the fact that so many private contractors, like Snowden, have access to sensitive government secrets. And McCain questioned whether there has been enough congressional oversight of the controversial surveillance tactics.
Obama on Friday called on Congress to improve transparency surrounding the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court and the Patriot Act provision that allows federal officials to seize Americans’ phone data.
McCain welcomed the move.
“There’s a careful balance here between preserving our assets and capabilities and making sure the American people are convinced that their privacy is not being violated,” McCain said. “I don’t disagree with any of those proposals of the president’s.”
Though McCain has shown a growing willingness to work with Obama on domestic issues, he hammered the president for exaggerating the demise of al Qaeda and other factions intent on harming Americans.
“You can’t on the one hand say you have destroyed ‘core al Qaeda’ — by the way, that is semantic gymnastics which are remarkable — you can’t say that and at the same time have to close embassies and consulates all over the Middle East,” McCain said.
The Obama administration closed nearly two dozen American facilities overseas last week in response to a terrorist threat. They have since reopened all the diplomatic posts, except an embassy in Yemen. The U.S. consulate in Lahore, Pakistan, which was closed Thursday because of a separate threat, also will remain closed.
McCain also ripped the president for not being tough enough on Russian President Vladimir Putin. Obama slighted the Russian leader by canceling a one-on-one meeting planned for next month, due mainly to his decision to grant Snowden temporary asylum — but the Arizona senator said that wasn’t enough.
“The president comparing him to a kid in the back of the classroom, I think, is very indicative of the president’s lack of appreciation of who Vladimir Putin is — he’s an old, KGB colonel that has no illusions about our relationship, does not care about a relationship with the United States,” McCain said.
Once Obama’s Republican rival for the presidency, McCain has backed the president on issues ranging from immigration to additional gun restrictions. The self-described maverick said his approach is one that should be emulated by others in an unpopular Congress.
“I think it’s a situation,” McCain said, “where I’ll work with the president … where I can.”