“I’ve told other people that. I don’t think he’s a traitor,” Roe, R-Tenn., said of Snowden, the former government contractor who allegedly disclosed National Security Agency (NSA) information and is reportedly hiding out in Hong Kong.
Roe also took on NSA’s decision to secretly collect millions of telephone records as well as emails and other Internet data.
He pointed out his past votes against the Patriot Act and the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) — two post-9/11 laws that expanded law enforcement powers.
“The reason I could not support these proposals is simple: I am not willing to give up the personal liberty of Americans under the guise of national security,” Roe said in a separate email. “For example, NDAA suspended civil rights for anybody classified as an ‘enemy combatant’ — even if that ‘enemy combatant’ is an American citizen. Our civil rights set us apart from totalitarian governments, and I will fight to protect these rights for all American citizens, even if they stand accused of the worst crimes imaginable. We mustn’t act in fear and abandon the very principles that help make America great. If we continue to nibble away at these rights, sooner or later we won’t have any rights at all.”
Roe said classified discussions over NSA’s phone records seizure and Snowden’s actions began among members of Congress, the NSA, FBI and the Obama administration Monday.
At the front end of the conference call, Roe said of Snowden: “There’s been a lot of discussion about whether he’s a traitor or a patriot. What is he? What he is we’ll find out later as more facts come out. ... I think the thing we need to do right now is find out what is going on.”
Roe later noted that his position on Snowden differs from GOP House Speaker John Boehner, who has called the former government contractor a traitor.
The size and reach of the U.S. government, Roe said, adds to his apprehensions about NSA’s seizure of phone records.
“My concern is these agencies have gotten so big and I’ve seen how big the federal government is up here that they are creating a haystack of information so large that you can’t find the needle. ... I am one who is skeptical, to say the least, about what the federal government has done to its own citizens,” Roe said. “I can’t imagine what kind of information you would possibly need of a phone call of a Verizon customer. ... The claim is there is no name attached, but great goodness if you have a phone number, you’ve got a name.”
NSA’s actions, Roe said, are akin to the Internal Revenue Service’s scrutiny of conservative Tea Party groups and the Justice Department’s move to seize Associated Press phone records.
Roe cited the Tsarnaev brothers — alleged masterminds of the Boston Marathon bombings — as another example of shortcomings within the U.S. intelligence gathering system.
“We had the Russian intelligence community make a phone call to our intelligence community saying ‘We think those guys are terrorists’ and we missed them,” Roe said.