Policy: National Security

Peter King: Opposing NSA surveillance means GOP is no longer the party of national security

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Beltway Confidential,Opinion,Republican Party,National Security,Rand Paul,NSA,Ashe Schow,Peter King

Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., blasted the Republican National Committee for passing a resolution Friday that called the National Security Agency data collection program “unconstitutional.”

King, a supporter of the NSA and its surveillance programs, said in an interview with the Washington Examiner that the RNC's move was “very damaging” to the party and would shift the party away from being strong on national security.

King further took aim at Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., for his stance against the NSA.

“It’s not just unfortunate, it’s potentially very damaging to the party and to the country,” King said of the resolution.

“The NSA and the policy behind it -- you know, this was the basis of our party policy for the past 12 years,” King said, before mentioning that the policies were supported by former President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Attorney General Michael Mukasey and Gen. Michael Hayden, former NSA and CIA director.

“This goes right to our policy of counterterrorism and homeland security, and to have people like Rand Paul undermining it and doing it in a way -- talking about ‘spying' and investigations and lawsuits -- to me that's what you would expect from the [American] Civil Liberties Union or the New York Times editorial board, not from Republicans,” King said.

“The collection of data is essential,” King added.

He insisted the NSA doesn't listen to phone calls or read emails, and that the agency can only access the numbers if the Justice Department obtains a warrant from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. Even then, King said, the calls must be “directly tied to terrorists.”

The idea that the NSA is directly spying on American citizens is “totally misleading,” and “creates a sense of paranoia,” according to King.

But the fears that citizens have about the NSA’s data collection aren’t just that the agency may be listening to their phone calls. The collection of phone records is believed by some, including Paul, to be an invasion of privacy and a window into Americans' personal lives, regardless of whether names and content are included.

The fear comes not just from the revelations of Edward Snowden, but from events in 2013 showing the federal government targeted citizens for apparent retribution -- most notably, the fact that the IRS targeted conservative political groups for more scrutiny.

Asked about the connection between the IRS and NSA scandals, King said there is none.

“I understand why people feel that way and that’s why it’s important for us in the public life to make the distinction,” King said. “There’s no connection between the IRS and the NSA.”

Just how are the two scandals different? King said that the NSA is monitored by the Justice Department and federal courts, whereas the IRS is not.

“Nothing the IRS does is monitored,” King said.

Clearly there is a divide in the Republican party between the defense hawks like King, who believe the NSA data collection program is vital to national security, and libertarians like Paul. But how does the party heal that divide?

“We have to have the debate,” King said. “We have to have it out in the open, and that’s why I thought it was important to respond very quickly [to the RNC resolution.]”

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