January 19th, 2014

Rep. Mike Rogers “very concerned” about Olympics

Today on CNN’s State of the Union with Candy Crowley, Rep. Mike Rogers (R-MI), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, spoke to Crowley about the future of the NSA and its controversial metadata program. Additionally, Rogers discussed his safety concerns for the 2014 Olympics in Russia.

For additional information, check out the following blog post.

The CNN Political Ticker

U.S. lawmakers: Winter Olympics aren’t safe

A transcript of the interview is available after the jump.



CROWLEY:  But first, in Washington, they call something that pleases no one a compromise.  In an election year, they often call it politics as well.  Joining me now, Mike Rogers, the Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.  Thank you for being here.

ROGERS:  Thanks, Candy.  It is great to be here.

CROWLEY:  One of the biggest sort of thing in this and the thing that’s concerned so many people is this bulk gathering of data on what phone numbers call what phone numbers in what manner of time and, et cetera, et cetera.  So the so-called metadata phone program.  The president essentially said, I’m going to take all that data and put it somewhere else.  Where is somewhere else?

ROGERS:  That’s a good point.  Two things about that speech.  First, I thought it was very important that the president laid out, no abuses, this was not an illegal program, it wasn’t a rogue agency.

CROWLEY:  Can I just stop you there?  Because every time somebody says something like that, I think that’s because the people there are — believe that they shouldn’t do that.  But an agency is only as trustworthy as its employees.  And as we all know from Mr. Snowden — although he was a contractor — that can change in a moment.

ROGERS:  No, I understand.  But what they didn’t understand — certainly Snowden didn’t understand — was all the levels of oversight.  A court reviewed it, Congress reviewed it, DOJ reviewed it, the IG reviewed it.  And even with the independent review board, found no abuses, legal program.

The problem was the sensationalism of a rogue agency or domestic spying.  None of that was true.  And so I thought it was important that the president laid that case out, hey, this was not true.  You may not like the fact that this happens, but this was a legal program.  Seventeen judges, 36 times approved it.  Congress reviewed it.  So there was plenty of oversight on this program that you don’t find in other places.  And I think that’s why we’ve had no abuses in the program, No. 1.

But No. 2 in this speech — and I think this is important — I think only in Washington, D.C., can you announce you have a review board, and then announce in your big decision that you’re going to review the review board, and then review the decision in 70 days.  I’m for it, but I don’t think it should go here, somebody else is going to have to figure this out.  That’s been the problem, I think, with the president on this particular issue.

We really did need a decision on Friday, and what we got was lots of uncertainty.  And just in my conversations over the weekend with intelligence officials, this new level of uncertainty is already having a bit of an impact on our ability to protect Americans by finding terrorists who are trying to reach into the United States.

CROWLEY:  What does it tell you that it wasn’t really an end to this?  Like here’s what we’re going to do, it’s all done, I’m moving forward.  Then he did have, well, in 60 days we’ll figure out where to put this data.  What does that tell you about the president’s intent?

ROGERS:  Well, again, it took I think a long time to come to the conclusion where he needed to come out and say, hey, this is a legal program.  Yes, it is impactful, yes, it is important to national security.

And remember, the reason we got here is there was a gap right after 9/11.  And when all of Americans were saying how does this happen, well, the fact that a phone call from a known terrorist location came into the United States, the NSA could only get half of that equation.  And so we needed something to fill this gap.  This was the program, and I think clearly through all of this turmoil and all of the spotlight, people found out, well, I guess it is a huge degree of oversight on this particular program, where you didn’t even see this in other parts of the government.

So that’s how we got here.  And I do think that the president is tugged (ph).  He certainly is listening to the voices who say we shouldn’t do any of this at any time for any reason, and I think he’s trying to listen to the voices, the national security voices, which are bipartisan, saying you know what, this is an important program.  We can do this with proper oversight.  And you do need the oversight, but we can do it with proper oversight and protect Americans’ privacy.

CROWLEY:  But the truth of the matter is that his advisory board said, look, there’s no real — there’s no real evidence we can point to that this program has helped stop a terrorist attack.  Others will differ, but that’s what his advisory board found.  So therefore, there is collection of private data, what was thought to be private data, on almost every American for a program that hasn’t turned up a terrorist.  Does that not seem — and the president sort of chose to then put it into private hands or someplace.  Where is that place?  It can’t be at Target or at any of these places that end up being hacked into.  Where is that place?

ROGERS:  Let me just say one thing about the report.  One of the failings of the report was not to have long conversations with the FBI.  As a matter of fact, they had no personal relationship with the FBI in the conducting of the report.  Pretty hard to come to a conclusion there was no impact.  And when you do an investigation, it is as important to have some clue line up with the next clue.  And this program clearly has done that.  And it has clearly had an impact, they argue a significant impact, on eight of the cases in the affirmative, meaning it led to a disruption.  And in four of the cases — I found this interesting, we forgot about this part of the debate — is that it stopped hundreds of thousands of FBI man-hours chasing down radicals.  That’s hugely important.  We don’t have resources to waste when we know we have these targets.

Now, here’s the problem with the president’s proposal.  He said he’s for the program.  It works.  He has very serious privacy concerns by a lot (ph) of mandating that the private sector keep it, as do it.  But we’re going to find the difference between now and 70 days.  That’s interjected a level of uncertainty and having a whole bunch of us scratch our head.  We have looked at this issue.

CROWLEY:  So not private and not government.

ROGERS:  I don’t know where that goes.  I don’t know where that goes.  I think we have to come to the conclusion as Americans, can you put the proper oversight on these programs?  I think we have.  I think we did.  Both under Bush and under Mr. Obama, to make sure we have a program that fills the gap that we know we missed on the 9/11 September attacks.  I just don’t think we want to go to pre-9/11 because we haven’t had an attack.  Why?  I argue because we have all of the tools on the table to protect Americans, and you can do it with protecting privacy and civil liberties.

CROWLEY:  Bottom line here — the president’s proposals.  Will they make Americans less safe in your opinion?

ROGERS:  I think some of it is unworkable, and I do believe — the machinations about going to the court is — that is not going to make us less safe necessarily.  It adds confusion.  On the 215 program, I do think the way —

CROWLEY:  That would be the phone records.

ROGERS:  The phone records, the metadata, business records.  That slows down the process.  When you slow down the process, that causes problems.  And the other piece is, should we be giving foreigners who you are trying to collect intelligence to keep Americans safe, the same rights as United States citizens.

CROWLEY:  We’re going to extend some privacy rights to non-Americans.

ROGERS:  So we’re going to have to work through that proposal.  It wasn’t very clear, so we’re going to have to work through it to make sure that that doesn’t hinder our ability.  We want our spy agencies spying on foreigners.  That’s why we have them.  And it is important that they do that in a way that’s helpful to the United States, and that doesn’t mean grabbing everything.  It means grabbing–

CROWLEY:  Is this a political document, do you think?  More to speak to the progressives and those that were criticizing the program in general than to actually make any big changes, particularly in the metadata program?

ROGERS:  Well, from what you see he recommended, there are big changes he recommended.  He said he doesn’t think it can stay with the government, but he’s not sure going to the private sector.  That is a huge problem as we move forward.

CROWLEY:  But it hasn’t happened.

ROGERS:  Here is the problem, in discussing over the weekend.  By interjecting this new level of having to go get a warrant for what in the private sector you’d use a subpoena, two different significant levels of legal authority or the ability to prove a point, probable cause versus reasonable articulable suspicion, that creates some uncertainty in the program.  So some have already argued this weekend, I think we have to shut it down until you go and get a warrant for each.

That’s a problem.  That means that there will be a period of time that we will not be able to query a very secure and safe database that only 20 people have the ability to get in and are accountable to the court and to Congress until we get this fixed.  So that part I’m concerned about, and we’ve got to fix that.  We better fix this tomorrow.

CROWLEY:  Let me turn you to the Olympics.  Lots of safety concerns as we have seen, there have been a number of terrorist attacks, from Chechnya, largely.  Would you go to the Olympics?  Would you feel safe?  Are you going?

ROGERS:  Well, that’s unfair question.  If I went to the Olympics, I would have security.  I think the question is–

CROWLEY:  How about your Michigan athletes?

ROGERS:  Yeah.  I am very concerned about the security status of the Olympics.  I do believe that the Russian government needs to be more cooperative with the United States when it comes to the security of the games.  We have found a departure of cooperation that’s very concerning to me.

CROWLEY:  Can you tell me what a departure of cooperation is?  What does that mean?  What are they doing?

ROGERS:  Well, think about the problems they’ve had.  So they’ve had several bombings.  They disrupted plots.  They’ve now moved some 30,000 armed troops down to the region.  That tells you that their level of concern is great, but we don’t seem to be getting all of the information we need to protect our athletes in the games.  I think this needs to change, and it should change soon.  This is not going to be a political problem for the Russians to share, although they apparently don’t think so.  It will be a problem–

CROWLEY:  They don’t want to share their intelligence with U.S. intelligence.

ROGERS:  That’s correct.  So what we’re finding is they aren’t giving us the full story about what are the threat streams, who do we need to worry about, are those groups, the terrorist groups who have had some success, are they still plotting?  There’s a missing gap, and you never want that when you go into something I think as important as the Olympic Games and the security of the athletes, and the participants and those who come to watch the games.

CROWLEY:  Just quickly if I can, if that does not change, would you worry about U.S. participation in the Olympics?

ROGERS:  If I don’t see a higher level of cooperation, I’m concerned today.  I don’t think anything would abate that concern short of full cooperation from the Russian security services.

CROWLEY:  Congressman Mike Rogers, from the great state of Michigan, thanks for being here.

ROGERS:  Thanks for having me.