Former Vice President Dick Cheney defended the National Security Agency’s controversial surveillance practices, saying in an interview broadcast Sunday that 9/11 could have been prevented had such measures had been in place in 2001.
"As everybody who's been associated with the program's said, if we had had this before 9/11, when there were two terrorists in San Diego — two hijackers — had been able to use that program, that capability, against that target, we might well have been able to prevent 9/11," Cheney said on "Fox News Sunday."
Many of the broad surveillance practices now under scrutiny after NSA contract employee Edward Snowden disclosed details to the press were initiated following the 9/11 attacks. President George W. Bush argued for broader government powers to prevent future attacks. However, revelations that the government was routinely collecting so-called “meta-data” from phone providers like Verizon and other communications companies has prompted debate over whether limits should be imposed on domestic government surveillance.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., warned of another terrorist attack if NSA monitoring is curtailed.
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"I believe we should be listening to terrorists, known terrorist emails, following their emails and following their phone calls. And if they're emailing somebody and the United States or calling a number in the United States, I would like to get a judge's position to monitor that phone call," Graham said on "Meet the Press" on NBC. "If we don't do that, another attack on our homeland is very likely."
President Barack Obama also has defended the NSA’s surveillance practices on his watch but has asserted that he has scaled back some practices undertaken during the Bush administration. That drew a sharp rebuke from Cheney, according to NBC News.
"I don't pay a lot of attention, frankly, to what Barack Obama says," Cheney said. "I find a lot of it is, in other areas — the IRS, Benghazi — not credible. I'm obviously not a fan of the incumbent president."
As for Snowden, the former Booz Allen analyst who leaked details of the classified programs, Cheney labeled him a traitor.
"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," Cheney said of Snowden.
Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that Snowden should face prosecution.
"He needs to look an American jury in the eye and explain why he has disclosed sources and methods that are going to put American lives in danger," said Chambliss.
Cheney also suggested, as others have, that Snowden’s flight to Hong Kong could be connected to the Chinese government.
"I'm suspicious because he went to China. That's not a place where you would ordinarily want to go if you are interested in freedom, liberty and so forth," Cheney said, according to Politico. "It raises questions whether or not he had that kind of connection before he did this."
Cheney said he is also "very, very worried that [Snowden] 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,” Politico reported.