CAMPBELL BROWN, co-host:
On CLOSE UP this morning, that domestic surveillance program, the NSA’s tracking of phone calls made by ordinary citizens in this country. The issue is sparking a lot of debate, and in the center of it all is the man President Bush has tapped to become the new head of the CIA. NBC’s Kevin Corke joins us with more from the White House. . .
And this issue raise many questions for national security to technology as well as civil and privacy rights. To get into some of them, we have with us Juliette Kayyem, who is a national security expert and NBC News analyst. Arsalan Iftikhar is the legal director for the Council on American Islamic Relations whose organization, by the way, has filed a lawsuit against the NSA for wiretapping. Omar Wasow is a technology expert. Mike Stanfield is a resident of New Orleans who is in favor of the government’s phone call surveillance. And Monica Gabrielle lost her husband in the September 11th attacks and opposes the NSA program.
We appreciate all of you for being here. Good morning.
Mr. ARSALAN IFTIKHAR (Council on American-Islamic Relations): Good morning.
HOLT: Juliette, let me begin with you. This information was stripped of identifying information.
Ms. JULIETTE KAYYEM (National Security Expert): Right.
HOLT: It was simply phone numbers. There was no active monitoring of conversations, just an analysis of the numbers. Based on what we know, does that sound legal?
Ms. KAYYEM: It’s a hard question to answer. I think constitutionally it’s probably legal. But there are all sorts of debates on whether it violates a number of statutory privacy laws including whether the telephone companies violated our own privacy by giving information to the government.
HOLT: That’s a different question, though, isn’t it?
Ms. KAYYEM: Yes.
HOLT: Because we have a contract with our phone companies…
Ms. KAYYEM: Yes.
HOLT: …and we assume that they’ll keep the information private.
Ms. KAYYEM: Well, except for when you sign the contract apparently there’s a line in there that says you consent to the phone company giving information to the government in national security cases. So it’s whether that consent is voluntary or not. So this is very technical, legal stuff. This is what the lawsuits are going to be about. I think the bigger question here is we certainly–certainly know the administration’s argument is that under sort of the war on terror and the support for the war in Afghanistan, they justify their own surveillance, that they can do surveillance against almost anyone or anything. And that’s a–whatever you think about that, it’s highly controversial, and it’s very broad. And what we’re seeing now, two months after the first NSA disclosure in December–what we’re seeing is basically them pushing the envelope a little bit further. So whether it’s legal or not, the lawyers are going to debate it, but whether it sort of violates our own notion of what we are expecting the government is doing and our own sense of privacy, I think that’s why you’re seeing a huge debate right now.
HOLT: One of the questions we’re trying to answer here.
Ms. KAYYEM: Yeah.
BROWN: And, Monica, let me ask you, because for you, of all people, this has got to be very personal. You lost your husband on 9/11. And, as you know, the president has said that the reason behind this is ultimately to prevent another terrorist attack. And, yet, you’re opposed to it, and a lot of people might be surprised to hear that. Explain why.
Ms. MONICA GABRIELLE (Husband Was Killed in 9/11 Attacks): Oh, absolutely. And I, for one, want anyone with any terrorist ties to be caught, to be prosecuted. However, I prefer it to be done under the legal laws that we have. We have FISA. If FISA is not working in today’s post 9/11 world, then President Bush and General Hayden need to go to Congress and ask them to fix it. It’s been four and a half years post 9/11. No debate has been done. It’s been cited that the time limit for the FISA warrants to be processed is too lengthy, the backlog of work. Fix the problem. We don’t break laws and circumvent laws because they don’t work anymore. We go and adjust them. And that is of grave concern for me, and it should be a grave concern for a lot of the citizens.
BROWN: Mike, you’re nodding, but I know you don’t agree with her.
Mr. MIKE STANFIELD (Favors Government Monitoring of Phone Calls): No. I mean, what’s the harm that’s happened? The bottom line, to this point, we haven’t been attacked again. And if it saved one American life, I think it’s worth it, you know, there is nothing–it’s not–I mean, the government doesn’t have a bunch of soup cans on everyone’s telephone. I mean, they’re doing this for a good reason, and I hope people sleep better because they’re doing it.
HOLT: And we should point out, Mike, you’re not alone. You’re actually in the majority. The polls tell us most Americans feel on this issue as you do, that it’s OK.
And, Arsalan, that’s got to worry you a little bit. Because I know that you’re very concerned that Muslim-Americans will be targeted more than others.
Mr. IFTIKHAR: Absolutely. You know, since 9/11 the American Muslim, Arab and South Asian communities have been disparately impacted by the Bush administration’s law enforcement initiatives. And I think that what this policy does is it really shows the true scope of these sorts of issues and how they should be of concern to all Americans. I mean, the question becomes not, you know, can the government store phone numbers of average American citizens, but where do we draw the line? Are we going to turn into a police state similar to the KGB in cold war Soviet Union? Or are we going to allow the government to look through our mail, read through our e-mail? Where do we draw the line? This, unfortunately, I think, opens the floodgates. And I think that’s why we’ve seen a lot of bipartisan opposition to this. This is not a Republican-Democratic issue. You see a lot of Republicans who are just as opposed to the wiretapping as progressive Democrats are as well.