In this Fox News Sunday Show With Chris Wallace: Former Vice President Dick Cheney talks NSA surveillance program
WALLACE: Hello again, and happy Father’s Day from Fox News in Washington.
For much of the eight years Dick Cheney was a heartbeat from the presidency, he was the driving force behind increased government surveillance as part of the war on terror. In the next segment, we’ll ask the former vice president about the changing U.S. policy on Syria and the Obama administration scandals.
We want to begin by discussing the revelations about sweeping NSA data collection and the renewed debate about whether it’s an invasion of privacy.
Vice President Dick Cheney, welcome back to “Fox News Sunday.”
DICK CHENEY, FORMER U.S. VICE PRESIDENT: It’s good to be back, Chris.
WALLACE: Let’s start with Edward Snowden, a 29-year-old private contractor who disclosed these programs to the world. Here’s how he justified his actions.
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SNOWDEN: Eventually you realize that these things need to be determined by the public, not by somebody who was simply hired by the government. When you are subverting the power of government, that’s a fundamentally dangerous thing to democracy.
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WALLACE: What do you think of Edward Snowden?
CHENEY: 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. And 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.
WALLACE: We believe — believe that Snowden is still in Hong Kong and apparently giving the Chinese information about alleged U.S. cyber hacking into Chinese computers.
Just a couple of questions: do you think he was a spy all along for the Chinese? Do you think he’s using this information to try to buy asylum from the Chinese? And how firm should the U.S. government be with the Chinese about turning this guy back to us?
CHENEY: Well, I’m deeply suspicious obviously because he went to China. That’s not a place where you ordinarily want to go if you’re interested in freedom, and liberty and so forth. So, it raises questions whether or not he had that kind of connection before he did this.
The other concern I have is whether or not he had help from inside the agency. That is to say, was there somebody else in NSA who had access to a lot of this stuff and passed it to him? That’s presumably one of the things to look at in the course of the investigation.
But I — I am very, very worried that he still has additional information that he hasn’t released yet, that the Chinese would welcome the opportunity and probably willing to provide immunity for him or sanctuary for him, if you will, in exchange for what he presumably knows or doesn’t know. So, it’s going to be a continuing problem. I don’t think this is just a one-off disclosure. I think there’s a real danger here that he’ll go beyond that.
And I have trouble believing that somebody in his position as a contract employee had access to the kind of things he’s talking about.
WALLACE: So, you don’t think he was acting alone?
CHENEY: I don’t know. I think you have to ask that question.
WALLACE: Now, what about the U.S.-Chinese relationship. We saw President Obama meet with President Xi last weekend out in Palm Springs, supposedly trying to rebuild a relationship. How much should we put that relationship on the line to demand that they turn Snowden back to us?
CHENEY: Well, I think — I think you need to be very aggressive about it. I’m not sure it will do any good. It depends, obviously, on whether or not the Chinese believes he still has value from an intelligence standpoint. I’ve got to believe they will work that angle first before they decide whether or not they’re going to turn him over.
WALLACE: Since the leaks, there’s been a lot of criticism of the NSA program from both the right and left. I want to focus on conservatives though — people like Senator Rand Paul who says, “Fine, let the government target terrorists but leave law abiding Americans alone.”
Take a look.
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SEN. RAND PAUL, R – KY: This is what we objected to and what our Founding Fathers partly fought the revolution over is they did not want generalized warrants where you could go from house to house with soldiers looking for things or now from computer to computer, to phone to phone, without specifying who you’re targeting.
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WALLACE: Question: is Senator Paul wrong?
CHENEY: I believe he is. Two-thirds of the Congress today, Chris, wasn’t here on 9/11 or for that period immediately after when we got into this program. And the reason we got into it was because we’ve been attacked — and worse attack than Pearl Harbor. Nineteen guys armed with box cutters and airline tickets.
The worry is that the next attack, there will expect — we then expected, not expected today, sooner or later, there’s going to be another attack and they’ll have deadlier weapons than ever before, that we’ve got to consider the possibility of a nuclear device or biological agent. We made the decision based on 9/11 that we no longer had a law enforcement problem, we are at war. And Congress, in fact, authorizes the president to use military force to deal with the crisis.
And that puts you in the category of using your military assets, your intelligence assets and so forth to protect the country against another attack. And when you consider somebody smuggling a nuclear device into the United States, it becomes very important to gather intelligence on your enemies and stop that attack before it ever gets launched.
WALLACE: Let me ask you the question that Rand Paul and a lot of other people on both the right and the left are raising. Fine, if you find the bad guys, so you have reason to suspect, them, go after their numbers, go after their e-mails. But why do you have to vacuum up information on every law-abiding American in the country?
CHENEY: First, what information? The answer is phone numbers, and who contacted who. We don’t have any names associated. It’s just a big bag of numbers that have been collected.
WALLACE: He still says that’s an intrusion.
CHENEY: Well, I don’t believe it is. In fact, that’s not private information. According to the Supreme Court, those are business records of the telephone company. You don’t go into that box of numbers, if you will, to look for connections unless you break up some place a suspicious number. You capture Khalid Sheik Mohamed in Karachi, or bin Laden in Abbottabad and Pakistan. You look at their cell phones, you look at their rolodex in effect and see what numbers had connections back into the United States. And by preserving that database you are able to come back, check and see if they have been talking to somebody inside.
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. So, we’re not — the allegation is out there that somehow we’ve got all this personal information on Aunt Fanny or Chris Wallace or whoever it might be and reported through it. Not true, that’s not the way it works. It’s been explained by Mike Hayden who was involved in setting it up. By Keith Alexander who is a superb guy, both of them are now running the program that we have collected a lot of numbers, but they are business records and the phone companies, they have been determined by the Supreme Court not to be private individual records, the way they are oftentimes described by critics.
WALLACE: OK, let’s assume that’s right. Now, the question is being asked, why does this all of this have to be kept so secret? The terrorists clearly assumed we’re trying to intercept their phone calls and intercept their e-mails. So why not let the American public know the outlines, the general program — obviously, not sources, methods and how you go in and the algorithms and all of that — but the blueprint, the outline of the program, so we as Americans can debate it?
CHENEY: Well, I have problems with respect to that concern. I understand people’s concern about it. But an intelligence program that does reveal sources and methods which, in fact, is what you’re talking about is significantly less effective because you’re not just revealing it to the American people. You’re revealing it to your targets, to your adversaries, to the enemy. There are reasons for secrecy in conduct of intelligence operations.
We set up this program back in the weeks after ’01. We briefed members of Congress, chairmen and ranking members of the intelligence committees. We did it in my office, in the West Wing. Mike Hayden come in, George Tenet, I was there, and we’d give them the layout of what we were doing and what we were learning from it.
Eventually we did it for the elected leadership of the Congress, both parties, both houses. So, we had senior officials in Congress and eventually, obviously, the FISA courts, who read into the program, knew what we were doing and had in effect signed off on it.
I once asked a collected group, the big nine in the spring of ’04 in the briefing. First we briefed them and said, do you think we ought to continue the program? They said absolutely yes. Then we said, do you think we ought to come back to the Congress and get additional legislative authorization? They said absolutely not, it will leak. Those were the senior leaders in the Congress at the time.
WALLACE: So what right do you think the American people have to know what government is doing?
CHENEY: Well, they get to choose, they get to vote for senior officials, like the president of the United States, or like the senior officials in Congress. And you have to have some trust in them. You don’t go out when you find an intelligence operation trying to collect data, and in effect tell the enemy what you’re doing. It would be a dumb idea. It makes the program significantly less effective and it reveals to our adversaries crucial information that they shouldn’t have.
WALLACE: All right, well, let me ask you about that, because top U.S. intelligence officials have released more information to try to explain and defend these programs. They have released it Saturday. Let’s put some of it up on the screen. They say data from these programs help break up terror plots in the U.S. and 20 other countries. Last year, they say fewer than 300 phone numbers were checked against the huge database, and that all the data is destroyed every five years.
Given the leaks, given that information, do you think that provides useful information to our enemies?
CHENEY: I think it does. I mean, we have now laid out — they have no choice. I don’t quarrel with what they are now putting out; they are forced to put it out because an individual, in this case Snowden, took it upon himself to decide the United States no longer needed to maintain this secret. You cannot — you can’t operate that way. It just doesn’t function. If you think about what we were able to do in World War II, reading Ultra, the Germans’ coded communications. Vital in our success in that venture. We could have announced it to the world, could have had this kind of debate, but obviously it would have destroyed the ability to collect it. You are telling your adversary about your sources and methods and how it is we are reading their mail. And the same thing is true here.
What’s different now is the threat, and the threat now isn’t just overseas or just a foreign power. The threat now is terrorists coming back into the United States using deadlier weapons than ever before to launch an attack. We have to know what they are doing, we need to know who they are in contact with here in the United States. And what this program allows us to do, and the reason it’s been set up and the way it’s been operated was when we went to Karachi and captured Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, we could get his Rolodex and see who he was talking to inside the United States. When you had the two guys in San Diego who were future hijackers on 9/11, they were in contact overseas with their leadership overseas, as well as some of the rest of the organization here in the States. 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.
WALLACE: Back when he was running for president in 2008, Barack Obama talked about what he called the false choice between liberty and security. And when this program was revealed last week, he said, well, I scrubbed a lot of what I inherited from you. Let’s take a look.
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PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I came in with a healthy skepticism about these programs. My team evaluated them. We scrubbed them thoroughly. We actually expanded some of the oversight, increased some of the safeguards.
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WALLACE: How much has President Obama scrubbed what you guys gave him?
CHENEY: I can’t — I don’t know. Obviously I’ve not been in the loop on classified information since I left the White House. But I, I guess one of the keys for me, Chris, is I know Keith Alexander. He’s one of the finest officers–
WALLACE: Head of the National Security Agency.
CHENEY: Head of the National Security Agency. Now in charge of the program. I know Mike Hayden very well, he was his predecessor. Mike later became CIA director. I worked with Mike Hayden when we set this program up. He came to me, and — he and George Tenet. And we said that there were additional things we could gather if we had more authority. And then I took it to the president and he signed off on it with some very strict limitations and restrictions on what we could do.
These men are as fine officers as you are going to find any place in the United States military. And I have met a lot of them over the years. I trust these guys implicitly with my life.
WALLACE: So what do you make of —
CHENEY: And what I make of what they are saying is they are to be believed. They are good, honest Americans, they’re patriotic, but they also care very much about their responsibility to safeguard civil liberties.
WALLACE: What I’m asking is what do you make of the president suggesting, well, I had to scrub up what these guys left me?
CHENEY: I don’t pay a lot of attention, frankly, to what Barack Obama says. I find a lot of it’s in its (ph) various (ph) forms — for example, IRS, Benghazi — not credible. I’m obviously not a fan of the incumbent president. I don’t know what he did to the program. The program obviously from what’s now been released is still in operation. I think it’s good that it is in operation. I think it has, in fact, saved lives and kept us free from other attacks.
WALLACE: One last question in this area. Some critics say there is a disconnect between the president defending this vast surveillance as he has since it was revealed, and his recent remarks in which he seemed to indicate that the war on terror is winding down. Take a look.
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OBAMA: Our systematic effort to dismantle terrorist organizations must continue. But this war, like all wars, must end.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WALLACE: Couple of questions. First of all, what do you think of the president suggesting where we are now in the war on terror, and as he put it we are at a crossroads. And doesn’t it make it harder to justify this mass surveillance if the war on terror is winding down?
CHENEY: Well, first of all, he’s wrong. It’s not winding down. If you look at the part of the world now that’s available as safe harbor, sanctuary for terrorists to plan and train and launch attacks against the United States. It now runs all across North Africa. All those places that the, for example, the Muslim Brotherhood have come to power. So the threat is bigger than ever.
Other problem we’ve got is the proliferation of nuclear weapons and weapons of mass destruction. Today we are all concerned about Syria. Think of what a problem would it be if the North Korean-built nuclear reactor were still in Syria and hadn’t been destroyed by the Israelis six years ago. We would have a huge mess on our hands. But the problem, from the standpoint of terror is, bin Laden may be dead, but we have got al Qaeda and a lot of al Qaeda wannabes and al Qaeda affiliates out there operating. Benghazi is proof positive that al Qaeda is operating in this case in Libya. So he’s just dead wrong on the status of the threat.
In terms of credibility, I don’t think he has credibility. I think one of the biggest problems we have is, 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.
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