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Obama Speaks About NSA Surveillance; Interview with Senator Rand Paul

Aired January 17, 2014 - 12:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Particular reason. And I think a concern of this administration has been, not just in the wake of Snowden, but before, with the controversy over drones, is that they need to demystify, to a certain degree, just exactly what we are doing.

So what struck me today about what the president said is, we're going to keep this court, OK, but eventually we're going to declassify some of those opinions that they offer. So you lift the veil a little bit so the American people can see just how they deliberate.

What was interesting to me was he didn't suggest that you ought to change the way this court is appointed. Right now the chief justice appoints members of that court. He -- he's going to leave that up to Congress, if Congress wants to change that. Also, he didn't say what we would do with all of this large quantity of data that we collect. He's also sort of punting that over to the Congress.

But, overall, I think what he was trying to do today was say to the American people, look, we're not just willy-nilly spying and snooping on you. We have reasons to do this. But I'm hearing you that you want to understand more about just why we're doing - why we're doing what we're doing.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Spider Marks, General Spider Marks, retired U.S. Army, did he convince you?

GEN. SPIDER MARKS, U.S. ARMY (RET.): Well, he convinced me that there needs to be some changes involved in the program. And as we've discussed, would any of this happened without Snowden? I'd argue that I don't know that the jury has come down hard on that completely and said, without Snowden, we wouldn't be doing any of this.

The intelligence community, as a matter of routine, does internal reviews in terms of how they conduct operations. And there is sufficient oversight. The real issue that Gloria made is that it is not as transparent as maybe we would like it to be. And there are elements of that, that we need kind of exposed to daylight. The declassification of intelligence, we do as a matter of routine. We're doing that with findings. We're going to do that with opinions. I think two things the president --

BLITZER: Well, I just want to interrupt for a second. MARKS: Sure.

BLITZER: So you don't think that Edward Snowden's leaking all this sensitive information six months ago propelled this debate, generated this debate, and as a result of this enormous debate that's been going on, here in the United States and around the world, the president of the United States has now come forward with a series of reforms.

MARKS: The president took ownership of this issue because of the Snowden leaks. What I'm suggesting is that, absent Snowden, there are routine mechanisms in place that are routinely used by our intelligence community to evaluate themselves and to improve their posture in terms of how they do business.

BORGER: But don't you - but don't you think the president was already thinking about this because he was getting a lot of grief from his left about drones, and that when he gave his speech to the National Defense University last May, that was something that he was clearly thinking about. I think Snowden added a whole different level.

MARKS: It was a double punch.

BORGER: Right.

MARKS: Drones, Snowden, I've got to - I've got to embrace this. I've got to take ownership -

BORGER: Exactly.

MARKS: (INAUDIBLE).

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: But I don't think I could imagine this speech today, this - the need for this speech, the intelligence reform panel, the urgency -

BORGER: Right.

SCIUTTO: You know, the turning of what would normally be an internal review into a very external review, shown to the country and to the world without Edward Snowden.

BLITZER: Hold on for a second. We have Senator Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky, potential Republican presidential candidate, joining us right now. He's been a sharp critic of the administration's NSA surveillance program.

So what did you think, Senator? Were you pleased? Were you not so pleased?

SEN. RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: Well, what I think I heard was that if you like your privacy, you can keep it. But in the meantime, we're going to keep collecting your phone records, your e-mails, your text messages, and likely your credit card information.

So I didn't hear any lessening of the spying on Americans or collecting records of Americans. I heard that trust me, I'm going put some more safeguards in place, but I'm going to keep right on collecting every American's records.

This is something that's going to have to be decided by the Supreme Court. I think there's a real fundamental question whether one general warrant can apply to millions of people's records. And I think it's incorrectly being done, and the Supreme Court is going to ultimately have to decide on this.

BLITZER: You've actually filed a lawsuit. Remind our viewers, what is so irritating, upsetting to you?

PAUL: Well, the thing is, is that, you know, he mentioned Paul Revere. But Paul Revere was warning us of the British coming. He wasn't warning us that the Americans are coming. You know, the thing is, is that the lesson from the American Revolution that the president, I think, misunderstands is, that we were upset about British soldiers writing their own general warrants, like national security letters, that allowed them to go into the colonials' house and look at their papers. We didn't like that, so we wrote the Fourth Amendment to say warrants have to be individualized; they have to name specifically the person and the place.

We didn't want a dragnet where everybody's information was held, whether it's held by the government or a private entity. I'm not so sure I'm more or less concerned by having a private entity. Who are we going to hire, Eric Snowden's contractor, to hold all the information? I don't want them collecting the information. It's not about who holds it. I don't want them collecting every American's information.

You know, he mentioned 9/11. The thing about 9/11 is, we didn't do the appropriate things because we didn't do good police work and we never even asked for a warrant. An FBI agent in Minnesota sent 70 letters to his superiors asking, can we get a warrant on this guy who wants to take off planes but not land them, and they didn't do the appropriate thing, they never asked for a warrant, which they could have gotten. We don't need all this extra collection of information.

BLITZER: Here's a -- here's a hypothetical, and we'll get your analysis of potentially what it means, and obviously there were a lot of mistakes leading up to 9/11. What they're trying to do is learn from those mistakes to make sure there isn't another 9/11.

Let's say the U.S. intelligence community learns that there is a terrorist in Yemen or Somalia or Afghanistan or someplace in a sensitive area. They have the cell phone. They're monitoring that individual's cell phone. That individual makes a call to someone in Louisville, Kentucky, in your home state.

What's wrong with the NSA then getting a court order from the FISA Court, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, and trying to find out what that phone conversation between Somalia and Yemen, that terrorist suspect there, and someone in Louisville?

PAUL: I have no objection to having a warrant for a specific person to look at phone calls. And if we then get a warrant, we find out the person in Louisville is connected to the person in Yemen, then we get a warrant for all of their phone calls. If they've called 100 people last month, we look at those 100 and then we ask a judge for another warrant.

So I don't care if it's 10 hops out with a warrant. But for the president to say, oh, we're only going to abuse the Fourth Amendment twice and not get warrants by hopping twice, not three times, it's either proper or improper and there is a proper way of doing this, and this is with a judicial warrant, individualized to the person and then you can go and look at their friends with another warrant.

We do this all the time. At 4:00 a.m., if there's somebody who's a potential murder or rapist or you name it, we just call a judge and get a warrant. But we separate the police power from the judicial power. That's why we have to, I think, really reassess whether or not police officers or FBI agents should write their own warrants. I think only judges should write warrants.

BLITZER: At one point in the speech, and the president spoke for about 45 minutes, senator, he made this point. Let me play this little clip.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: After an extended review of our use of drones in the fight against terrorist networks, I believed a fresh examination of our surveillance programs was a necessary next step in our effort to get off the open-ended war footing that we've maintained since 9/11.

And for these reasons, I indicated in a speech at the National Defense University last May that we needed a more robust, public discussion about the balance between security and liberty. Of course, what I did not know at the time is that within weeks of my speech, an avalanche of unauthorized disclosures would spark controversies at home and abroad that have continued to this day.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: He then went on to mention Edward Snowden specifically. He said, given the fact of an open investigation, I'm not going to dwell on Mr. Snowden's actions or motivations. Where does Edward Snowden, from your perspective, fit into this current debate and these proposed reforms the president put forward today?

PAUL: You know, I think it leads to whether or not you think the president is genuinely concerned or not. I don't think we'd be here and I think there'd be absolutely no reform had there not been the releases by Snowden.

Now, it's a separate question, you know, what to do with him and whether he broke the law, which I think he did, and how he should be punished. The thing is, we wouldn't have any of this information and we wouldn't have any discussion.

But what I think the president misunderstands is, he thinks when there's a problem and there may be a potential for abusive problems, he'll get some lawyers together that all work for him and then they'll review it and put more safeguards on it. The NSA cannot oversee themselves. The administrative - the administration or the executive branch can't oversee themselves.

That's why we separate these powers. But we separated the police power from the judiciary power. So we can't have internal lawyers kind of looking at this and saying, oh, well, let's try to make sure everybody's privacy is taken care. See, really, he's not going to fundamentally change any of this.

Many of us think it's an invasion of our privacy to have our text messages collected, our e-mails collected, our phone records collected, and likely our credit card statements collected. We think that's an invasion of privacy, simply the collection, unless you get a warrant from a judge for a specific person that there's probable cause to think that they've committed a crime. That's the way our country was set up. And so what he's talking about is a different kind of country than our founding fathers envisioned.

BLITZER: He did say at one point that even though there's -- should be a healthy skepticism, he found no evidence that there has been any abuse by anyone at the NSA as far as the personal privacy records of the American -- of American citizens. You heard him say that.

PAUL: You know, I think that if you look back to the record, though, the FISA Court actually has rebuked the NSA on several occasions and said that they were doing things they shouldn't be doing. But I have a fundamental problem with the FISA Court. It's in secret. And so you can't discuss and determine the extent of the Fourth Amendment or the extent or circumspection or circumscription of the Constitution in secret. It has to be done in public.

So one of the reforms that I've proposed, and I have legislation that would do this, would say that if you're given a FISA Court order and you want to challenge the constitutionality of it, it should go to an appellate court and to the Supreme Court.

Right now, it's a dead end and the FISA Court, a secret court and a secret judge, without adversarial -- without arguments on both sides, only the government argues in FISA, that's not the way you can determine what is and what is not constitutional. It has to be in the light of day and I think (INAUDIBLE) before the Supreme Court.

BLITZER: Well, if they - if they add a public -- if they add a public advocate to that FISA Court system, is that going to satisfy you?

PAUL: It's better. And my reform that I'm doing with Senator Wyden does have a public advocate in there. But, ultimately, I think what legal scholars will tell you is that to find truth, we have this adversarial process where someone actually literally works for you on your side of the question and on the government's side of the question and it goes back and forth and it's our way of trying to find truth in our courts. And I don't think you can truly find it if the public advocate still works for the government.

You know, we have an IRS advocate right now and I haven't seen hide nor hair of our IRS advocate during these scandals when they were investigating Tea Party groups. So I don't think it works, necessarily, if they're appointed by the government. To truly have an adversarial process, they have to be hired by someone who thinks that they're being injured by the government.

BLITZER: Senator, give the president a grade for his speech today, A being excellent, F, failure.

PAUL: You know, I always give him an A for effort. I like the president. I like what he says so much. I mean, if you looked at the gist of what he's saying, he was saying all the right things. I can really - I want to stand up and cheer, until I realize what he just told me was all these great things about my privacy, except for he really, between the lines, told me he's going to continue to collect all of my private records without a warrant.

So he says the right thing. I think his heart really is in the right place. And I think his motives are not bad. Neither do I think James Clapper's motives are bad. I think they want to protect the country, but I don't think that there's enough of a healthy respect for the Fourth Amendment. And we -- government needs to be -- there needs to be a limitation to government power. And I see this as virtually unlimited power to look at our records. And it really needs to be reined in.

BLITZER: So the grade would be?

PAUL: Well, A for effort and probably C for content.

BLITZER: Senator Paul, thanks very much for coming in, giving us your immediate reaction to the president's speech. We appreciate it, as always.

PAUL: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: We're going to have a lot more, a lot more analysis of what we just heard from the president, what it means, what it means as far as a potential -- avoiding another 9/11. The president repeatedly referred to 9/11 in this 45-minute address. Jeffrey Toobin, Ashleigh Banfield, a lot of our experts are standing by. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Major speech by the president, outlining a series of reforms to NSA surveillance, the president speaking at the Justice Department, wrapping up just a few moments ago.

Jim Acosta is our senior White House correspondent. You were listening, very closely. I know you're also getting some serious briefings over there by other national security officials over at the White House.

So where do we go from here? When the president says he's got a new idea to collect all this information, not let the NSA store it, not necessarily let the private companies store it, but who is going to store it? And he's got this two-month deadline now between and March 28th when the current law expires to come up with some formula.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Right. And that's why I would characterize this next stage, Wolf, as fill in the blanks, because at this point, the administration does not have the answers to fill in those blanks.

You mentioned the question of where to store this metadata. If not at the NSA, then where? A senior administration official on a phone call with reporters before the speech, the information was embargoed before the president delivered it, said, by the way, this cannot be implemented at the flip of a switch.

They cannot all of a sudden move this to a separate location. They have to begin this process now of consulting with the intelligence communities, consulting with the carriers, consulting with lawmakers as to where to put that data.

The other issue of the privacy advocate, that this is going to be a panel of privacy advocates on the surveillance court. Senior administration official said, these are non-existing panels to the court.

So, at this point, they are recognizing, full well, Wolf. They know these are things that have not been done before, and they're going to take some time to implement. So when we hear the president say, you know, he's announcing all of these changes today, keep in mind, it's going to take some time to implement those changes.

And, Wolf, the other thing that stood out in the speech is that the president did directly address former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, didn't get into the details, didn't tip his hand one way or another whether Mr. Snowden should be granted leniency.

But did say, for all practical intents and purposes, it is not possible to have employees of your national security apparatus leaking information and just getting away with it.

And here's some of what the president had to say earlier.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And given the fact of an open investigation, I'm not going to dwell on Mr. Snowden's actions or his motivations. I will say that our nation's defense depends in part on the fidelity of those entrusted with our nation's secrets.

If any individual who objects to government policy can take it into their own hands to publicly disclose classified information, then we will not be able to keep our people safe or conduct foreign policy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ACOSTA: So there you have the president talking about Edward Snowden, Wolf.

And one thing that, you know, sort of related to Edward Snowden is this -- one of the revelations he produced, the fact the United States has been doing a lot of surveillance on foreign leaders.

One thing that was mentioned in that conference call with reporters, senior administration official characterized the quantity of those leaders that they will not be surrender veiling anymore, as, quote, dozens.

And so they're talking about dozens of foreign leaders they're no longer going to be doing this type of surveillance on.

At the same time, we should also mention that John Podesta, recent hire at the White House, veteran of the Clinton administration, but brought on as top adviser, will be conducting review of management of surveillance data, and that is something that is going to be going on here, as well.

So I would characterize these next several weeks and maybe months, Wolf, as a fill-in-the-blanks period. They don't have the answers yet.

BLITZER: A lot of questions raised, as well, when the president says the U.S. is going to stop spying on the personal phone conversations of foreign leaders.

There is a huge caveat there, when he did say, and I have it right in front of me, he said, "Unless there is a compelling national security purpose, we will not monitor the communications of heads of state government, of our close friends and allies."

So --

ACOSTA: That's right.

BLITZER: First caveat, what is the compelling national security purpose, and who are America's close friends and allies?

We have viewers watching us right now here in the United States and around the world who will want to fill in the blank on that sensitive point, as well.

Which country has a leader who is described as a close friend and ally of the United States, and which countries do not? I suspect we'll be getting more on that in the days to come, as well.

Stand by for a moment. Ashleigh Banfield is watching all of this, together with Jeffrey Toobin in New York. There are going to be a lot of legal questions, Ashleigh, coming up right now, especially going forward with these new reforms.

ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN ANCHOR, "LEGAL VIEW": Yes, and I think Jim just touched on that beautifully. I think the next, you know, few months are going to be pretty significant in how much more we're going to have added to this 45-minute speech. The president stated that the work has just begun.

Jeffrey Toobin and I discussing this throughout the speech, two big things we're waiting to hear, not sure we were satisfied on this.

Number one, just how much of this material might end up before the FISA court. Where will this metadata ultimately be stored?

And number two, how adversarial is this FISA court going to be, this panel of ombudsmen? Will they get to argue or be part of that office where you send your complaint?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Here is an interesting situation, because when an ordinary prosecutor -- when I was an assistant U.S. Attorney and wanted a search warrant, I would just go to a magistrate and say, here's the affidavit, we want to search this house.

What the president seemed to be suggesting is that the FISA court could become more of an adversarial process, where the government, the NSA, through Department of Justice, would say, we want to look at this data, and there would be some privacy participant, some committee, some lawyers, and what that role would be, and at what stage in the process is very important.

Also, what information would they have access to? Are you saying they're government lawyers? Are you saying they're outside lawyers?

BANFIELD: He did say they were outside the government, so there's step one. At least that's -- as Senator Paul outlined, that's critical. These are outside the government.

TOOBIN: But if they're outside -- if they're outside the government, do they have access to all the information in this super-secret court?

And if that's true, that would be an enormous change. And so I think that's something very much to keep an eye on, whether it becomes a true adversary process in terms of whether the FISA -- in terms of what the FISA court decides.

Are they really going to be hearing from two informed sides on this issue?

BANFIELD: And if they get to actually argue and be part of that ultimate process.

I'm always, always brought back to 1755 and Ben Franklin's comments, and they're always parsed differently and re-quoted differently, but the best I can come up with to the Pennsylvania assembly is, "Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety."

And Ben Franklin never walked around with one of those, what I call, "mobile life devices." Everything now is digital. Everything has changed. Our adversaries now have things that we need to keep up with, keeping up with the Joneses. And the president alluded to that.

But in doing that, he spoke in very broad strokes. And I feel like we still don't have the answers as to how much of this new process will be overseen by the courts.

TOOBIN: And the big question, which Jim just referred to, and I thought Rand Paul had a very interesting perspective on this, is, OK, the metadata will no longer be at the NSA. It will be somewhere else. Where? How?

And one of the things I thought Senator Paul made -- point he made, if you put it somewhere else, then it could be just as insecure there, and you have a whole new set of -- is this part of the government? Is it a private contractor?

So the idea of keeping it away from the NSA may sound good. But you could create a whole new set of problems, as well.

BANFIELD: How secure is the new vault?

TOOBIN: Now, the committee suggested, the outside committee that the president appointed, said, just leave it with the companies.

BANFIELD: They don't want it.

TOOBIN: Well, they don't want it. And, also, it's not clear how easy it would be to get there. So that's a real open question heading forward.

BANFIELD: And for the audience who -- this is pretty arcane stuff. And when they talk about the national security letters, is that sort of a fancy term for, it's a subpoena without a judge. Effectively, it's a subpoena, I just get to write, send and receive.

What, effectively, did the president say about the national security letters, and just how much more strict they're going to become, if anything?

TOOBIN: Right. We're going to try to do fewer of them, he said, and also we're going to put time limits on them. You know, we will get access for a certain defined period of time.

But, again, subpoenas are not an adversarial process in normal circumstances. Again, when I was a prosecutor, prosecutors every day, you want a subpoena for bank records --

BANFIELD: They can become public later. That's the issue.

TOOBIN: Not necessarily.

BANFIELD: Maybe of those things become public later. These -

TOOBIN: Not necessarily.

BANFIELD -- they just don't. FISA material just stays secret. And that's a big concern, as well.

TOOBIN: It is. But, you know, I think a lot of people expect things to be more public than they are.

You know, the grand jury process, the government criminal investigation process is mostly conducted in secret now. And so the idea of bringing in an adversary process is very different.

And so, we'll see if the president -- and his team can come up with one. But let's not kid ourselves. That's not how the system works now.

BANFIELD: Right. No, and I think a lot of people definitely understand their secrecy, but then to hear what Edward Snowden says is the extent of it.

So, Wolf, effectively, while this is intriguing to listen to, it's great to hear the president take these steps, I think you could say that they're somewhat baby steps. There's a lot more work to do. He even said it, as I mentioned, a lot more work ahead. And a lot of that work, it will be interesting to find out how much we find out about it.

BLITZER: Yeah. There's a lot of questions still that have to be answered, and I'm sure we'll get some answers, probably some of those questions we won't be getting. We won't be getting any answers to for national security considerations.

All right, Ashleigh, Jeffrey, thanks very much.

By the way, Julian Assange, the founder of Wikileaks, he's standing by to speak live to react to what the president has just said. There he is, right there.

He's in London. We'll hear from Julian Assange. We'll get a lot more analysis as our special coverage here on CNN continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: The bottom line is that people around the world, regardless of their nationality, should know that the United States is not spying on ordinary people who don't threaten our national security. And we take their privacy concerns into account in our policies and procedures.

This applies to foreign leaders, as well, and given the understandable attention that this issue has received, I've made clear to the intelligence community that unless there is a compelling national security purpose, we will not monitor the communications of heads of state and government of our close friends and allies.

And I've instructed my national security team, as well as the intelligence community, to work with foreign counterparts to deepen our coordination and cooperation in ways that rebuild trust going forward.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right, so the president speaking to folks all over the world, a lot of them have been upset about U.S. surveillance of some foreign leaders, including friendly foreign leaders like Angela Merkel, the chancellor of Germany.