Today on CNN’s State of the Union with Candy Crowley, Rep. Mike Rogers (R-MI), chair of the House Intelligence Committee, spoke EXCLUSIVELY to CNN about the U.S. – Saudi Arabia rift over U.S. policy in Syria, drones, and NSA spying. Additionally, Rogers discussed his concerns about the security of the Obamacare computer system.
A transcript is available after the jump.
CROWLEY: Good morning from Washington. I’m Candy Crowley. The oh so polite world of diplomacy has been rocked by a document dumped from NSA leaker Edward Snowden revealing the U.S. has spied on at least 30 world leaders, including friends.
The German magazine Der Spiegel reports that for a decade the NSA monitored German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s phone calls. Merkel placed what has been described as an angry phone call to President Obama. Our CNN chief national security correspondent Jim Sciutto joins me now.
Jim, the administration (INAUDIBLE), everybody spies on everybody, has been kind of their pushback. But the reaction says to me that it is not what friends and allies expected.
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: No question. This has gone beyond public posturing. You have a German delegation of intelligence officials coming here this week to discuss the limits on this. And you can see the administration admitting to some overreach here.
All week long administration officials were promising a review, in their words, to get a better balance between security concerns and privacy concerns, which would indicate that they haven’t got that balance right. Moved a step forward on Friday when Lisa Monaco, the president’s homeland security adviser, wrote in USA Today that the president instructed the NSA to be going after intelligence because we need it, not just because we can.
So it seems that the administration is acknowledging that this has been a step too far, although they have also made the point that, hey, wait a second, this kind of thing does go on.
CROWLEY: Mr. Snowden has proven to be quite the treasure trove of information. It seems to me that the real danger here may not be, yes, we listened in, however horrible she feels it was, to Chancellor Merkel, but the idea of, what did the chancellor provide the U.S.?
SCIUTTO: And also more sensitive relationships, worries that further document releases from Snowden will reveal intelligence cooperation with countries not publicly allied in the U.S. Think of countries in the Middle East, South Asia, providing American help on some of our most sensitive intelligence targets. Iran, for instance.
For these countries, when it’s revealed how deeply they’re involved with the U.S., that can be more damaging at home. And that’s a real concern, because it also could be more damaging to these key intelligence relationships.
You remember the Snowden release — the WikiLeaks release, rather, of diplomatic cables, which cast a pall over some of the diplomatic information sharing relationships, something I ran into during my time at the embassy in China. And that was a problem.
You can imagine more damage from revelations like this because the information is more sensitive. The relationships are more sensitive. And the administration clearly cares because they’re sending out warnings to these countries.
CROWLEY: Jim Sciutto, thanks for joining us this morning.
Joining me now, Congressman Mike Rogers. He is the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.
Congressman, thanks for joining us. It seems that there is no end to these revelations that increasingly look as though they may be damaging at least to U.S. relations with friends. Scale of one to 10, if can you do it, how damaging is it for the German chancellor or the French president to know that we’ve been keyed into their phone calls?
ROGERS: Well, I think the bigger news story here would be, Candy, if the United States intelligence services weren’t trying to collect information that would protect U.S. interests both home and abroad, number one.
But number two, here’s the most frustrating thing about this, and I think is so important to understand. So the kerfuffle with the French is the greatest example to me. So there was a one slide that the news media was provided and those who were interpreting it to the news media saw that the word “France” was on the top of it, and started a huge amount of discussion about Americans collecting phone calls in France with French citizens.
That is 100 percent wrong. And that’s why this is so dangerous. So when you just go and do a smash and grab, grab a whole bunch of information, see the word “France,” they misinterpreted some of the acronyms at the bottom of the slide and saw this 70 million phone call figure, this was about a counter-terrorism program that had nothing to do with French citizens.
CROWLEY: On the other hand, are you saying…
ROGERS: … I read the paper even as of yesterday — but, listen. But this is why it’s so important, though, Candy. Is that that’s just wrong. And so now you’ve created an international incident on something that’s absolutely wrong and incorrect.
And that’s why we need to be very careful as we move forward in this debate and in this discussion.
CROWLEY: So you think it’s entirely appropriate for the U.S. to have monitored the phone calls of a very strong U.S. ally in Angela Merkel? You think that’s appropriate?
ROGERS: Well, I would tell you this, the intelligence services of which was outlined in some of the so-called disclosures doesn’t necessarily fit with what is actually happening, right? So it’s not an exact correct interpretation of what they’re seeing.
They’re seeing three or four pieces of 1,000-piece puzzle and trying to come to a conclusion. (INAUDIBLE) talk about the individual decisions on what is and what isn’t collected.
But think about this. In the 1930s, we had this debate before. And we decided we were going to kind of turn off our ability to even listen to friends who have — you know, remember, sometimes our friends have relationships with our adversaries.
And so we say, well, we’re not going to do any of those kinds of things, that would not be appropriate. Look what happened in the ’30s, the rise of fascism, the rise of communism, the rise of imperialism, and we didn’t see any of it.
And it resulted in the death of, really, tens of millions of people. And our argument is, all right, let’s — we need to be respectful but we also need to be — and we need to be accurate. It needs to be overseen. And we need to make sure that we’re not collecting information we don’t need. But we should collect information that is helpful to the United States’s interest.
CROWLEY: Well, you never know what kind of information…
CROWLEY: … you need until you get it, do you?
ROGERS: Well, that’s true. But there’s a reason that the president of the United States’s’ Blackberry is encrypted. There are a lot of people would like to get those conversations. And here’s one thing that I have learned is in this debate…
CROWLEY: So you think that Germany is…
ROGERS: Here’s the one thing I have learned in this debate…
CROWLEY: … tapping into the president’s phone calls? Do you think Germany is looking at the president’s Blackberry?
ROGERS: Here’s the one thing that — well, here’s the one thing that I learned in this — through these discussions and discussions with my European friends and allies. And, believe me, they’re still friends and allies, nobody should make that distinction.
Is that they don’t have necessarily the same type of oversight of their intelligence services that we do. And their government is — their compartmentalization is much smaller than ours.
We have a separate but equal branch of government involved in the oversight plus all the executive branch oversight of our intelligence services. Oh, and by the way, we have to get court orders for certain activities for phone collection and other things.
So you have in all of this levels of oversight so you have a big group of people sitting at the table deciding if what we should do is right or wrong. They don’t have that in our — some of our European capitals.
And some of this has been shocking not to the intelligence services of which some of these disclosures but certainly to the government of which they work. To me, that’s the biggest issue here.
I think they need to have a better oversight structure in Europe. I think they would be enlightened to find out what their intelligence services may or may not be doing…
CROWLEY: So essentially our spying on them…
ROGERS: … in the interests of their own national security.
CROWLEY: Right. So our spying on them is essentially their fault because their spying isn’t as good? Is that what you’re saying? ROGERS: No, no, no. No. I wouldn’t say that. No, no, no. Listen, our intelligence services are designed to collect information that allow the United States to protect itself in all cases.
And, again, think about where we are now. It’s called the World Wide Web, right? So we are now engaged in a level of communication around the world that we’ve never seen before. And that includes phone calls and other things.
So a bad guy in Afghanistan can use networks in France or Germany or Great Britain or the United States and plan operations with somebody else who may be in Afghanistan. But you could still use all of those networks.
So the complication of what the United States intelligence services are doing is so much more difficult than it was even 10 years ago. But what we have to understand is that, again, and that French slide tells — really should make everyone stop and pause for a second.
If it wasn’t French citizens and it was a counter-terrorism program, maybe we should stop and go, hmm, maybe there is something more to that. And I would argue, by the way, if the French citizens knew exactly what that was about, they would be applauding and popping champagne corks.
It’s a good thing. It keeps the French safe. It keeps the U.S. safe. It keeps our European allies safe. And so…
CROWLEY: Let me move you on to…
ROGERS: … this whole notion that we’re going to go after each other on what is really legitimate protection of nation-state interests I think is disingenuous.
CROWLEY: Let me move you quickly to Saudi Arabia and recent signals and, in fact, sound from Saudi officials saying we need to distance ourselves from the U.S., particularly on Syria, particularly on Iran.
We’re now learning that Syria has met, according to officials, its first deadline on a plan for destroying its chemical weapons. But I want to bring to your attention a quote from Saudi Prince Turki Faisal who said this week:
“The current charade of international control over Bashar’s chemical arsenal would be funny if it were not so blatantly perfidious and designed not only to give Mr. Obama an opportunity to back down from military strikes, but also to help Assad to butcher his people.”
First of all, what do you make of the current state of Saudi- U.S. affairs? And second of all, is this a charade?
ROGERS: Well, two things. I mean, this friction has been developing over the last two years. The Saudis, among others, were trying to organize the Arab League to come together on a solution in Syria. And two years ago they wanted American smart soft power engaged meaning intelligence, training, leadership. And candidly that didn’t happen. Everybody wanted to make sure we tried to stay as far away from what was a regional growing conflict as they could. And I thought it was not a good decision by the administration at that time.
And so this — as it has gotten worse, and it has gotten worse, the situation on the ground today is not even close to what it was two years ago.
So here’s what the Saudis saw. They saw a quick rush to deal with the Russians when they thought that the president what not in a good place — so this is their perception — on this chemical weapons agreement. And they saw a quick rush to the sweet talk of Mr. Rouhani from Iran about his ability to slow down the nuclear program.
Those are critical issues to the Saudis, to the Qataris, to the Jordanians to others in the Arab League that I think rattled their faith in the administration’s ability to protect them in a very dangerous world.
And so what you see is that friction starting to take hold and we have to repair this and repair it soon. We have to have allies in the Middle East. It’s good for our national security interests. And seeing that fraying means that they haven’t — they’re starting to doubt what we have been doing for the last 60 years, which was be certain with our allies and be strong with our adversaries. And they’re seeing that equation that has served us well for last 60 years start to fall apart.
They’re going to find other friends. I argue that’s not good for the United States.
CROWLEY: On the subject of health care, you are hearing this week you expressed again your real fear about the security of Obamacare as we call it, especially with the hub with seven sort of federal entities gathering information in one place.
We’re now told that they should have the computer system and the software fixed by the end of November. Can they fix the security problems by the end of November?
ROGERS: Boy, I don’t — this worries me a lot, Candy. The fact that they have different segments of people controlling pieces of information and they say well we don’t store information but they have to store your application at some point. And that’s a lot of your very personal information. And it was very clear to me in the hearing that they do not have an overarching solid cybersecurity plan to prevent the loss of private information.
I’m even more concerned today than I was even last week. I know that they’ve called in another private entity to try to help with the security of it. The problem is they may have to redesign the entire system. The way the system is designed, it is not secure. It is something called a boundary. So every time one agency goes to another agency with a piece of information, that is called a boundary. That’s the most — that’s the weakest, most vulnerable part of that conversation. And it was clear to me that they don’t have those boundaries secure. And that’s what I’m concerned about.
CROWLEY: Congressman Mike Rogers, chairman of the select committee on the House intelligence. Thank you so much.