NBC's Williams: Shouldn't NSA Be 'On Guard for A Perversion' of Surveillance After 'Bush and Cheney'?

During a live webcast on NBCNews.com immediately following Wednesday's 10 p.m. ET airing of his interview with Edward Snowden, Nightly News anchor Brian Williams wondered why the National Security Agency was not more receptive to Snowden's claims of unconstitutional spying: "Knowing that in war powers times...the Bush administration use of war powers with Bush and Cheney, isn't the general counsel at the NSA a little bit on guard for a perversion, as Snowden put it?" [Listen to the audio or watch the video after the jump]

That question was prompted by national security analyst Michael Leiter observing: "Imagine you're the general counsel at the National Security Agency and you get an email which says, 'Listen, I think that you're violating the law here, this is unconstitutional.' And the general counsel gets this note and he says, 'Well, gosh, the Congress has authorized this over and over, the FISA court says it's okay.'"

Moments later in the panel discussion, Williams fretted that the leaks by Snowden were "embarrassing for the President." Chief White House correspondent Chuck Todd responded in part by taking another swipe at the Bush presidency: "There are some people you talk to in Europe who say America's image in Europe now is as bad today, post-Snowden, as it was during the Iraq war. That all of the goodwill that President Obama essentially was promising to bring back, restore America's reputation around the world, completely erased by Snowden."


Here is an excerpt of the May 28 webcast:

11:13 PM ET

(...)

MICHAEL LEITER: I'll play the recovered lawyer, because that's what I am. Imagine you're the general counsel at the National Security Agency and you get an email which says, "Listen, I think that you're violating the law here, this is unconstitutional." And the general counsel gets this note and he says, "Well, gosh, the Congress has authorized this over and over, the FISA court says it's okay. Well, Mr. Snowden, I appreciate your interest, but I've got two other branches of government who are pretty good at understanding the Constitution and they say it's just fine." So regardless of what he raised, this is an awfully odd whistle-blowing act for them to know what to do with.

BRIAN WILLIAMS: Is that really what that counsel says? Knowing that in war powers times – this was not FDR telling Chrysler they're gonna switch to making tanks – but the Bush administration use of war powers with Bush and Cheney, isn't the general counsel at the NSA a little bit on guard for a perversion as...

LEITER: Probably.

WILLIAMS: ...as Snowden put it?

LEITER: And I think when – if that email comes in, in 2004, 2005, before some other revelations in the New York Times about initial collection programs, that comes up and then you get scared. But post-2004, 2005, 2006, the Congress has been told about this, the Congress has approved it, the FISA courts have approved it.

So, yeah, maybe the general counsel kind of wonders, but he still says, "Should I listen to Edward Snowden or should I listen to the FISA court judges that have repeatedly approved this for the past five years?"

WILLIAMS: Chuck Todd in Washington so patiently. We're talking about Snowden's contention, "If somebody could just show me harm." Earlier tonight, from the White House lawn on Nightly News, you were talking about something readily understandable to all civilians, and that is how tough these documents have made it for the White House to do business around the world. It has been, for lack of a more grandiose term, embarrassing for the President, for his career foreign service officers, for the Secretary of State, diplomats everywhere.

CHUCK TODD: Well, I was trying to – I was trying to explain why was John Kerry so personally mad. And it was the same, you sort poke, and when you do Snowden inquiries to the White House staff, to national security folks in the White House, you know, the first inquiry will be sort of, you know, "We're not going to get into it." And then you keep poking and they just explode with anger.

And the anger all centers on not what he took, but it is – goes to this embarrassment of how this has set back America's image around the world, particularly in Europe. You know, there are some – there are some people you talk to in Europe who say America's image in Europe now is as bad today, post-Snowden, as it was during the Iraq war. That all of the goodwill that President Obama essentially was promising to bring back, restore America's reputation around the world, completely erased by Snowden. And folks in the White House believe this, they say, unfortunately. And they blame Snowden and they blame these revelations.

(...)

Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen is a News Analyst for MRC