BERKELEY, Calif. – Republican Sen. Rand Paul's criticisms of President Obama and other government leaders over recent surveillance disclosures were warmly received on Wednesday at the University of California, Berkeley.
Paul, who is considering a presidential bid and is seen as one of several GOP front-runners ahead of 2016, held forth for 30 minutes on what he perceives to be abuses of government spy programs and a lack of oversight of the National Security Agency.
"I find it ironic that the first African-American president has without compunction allowed this vast exercise of raw power by the NSA," said Paul, noting that other black heroes such as Martin Luther King Jr. were targets of illegal government spying.
Paul called for the creation of a bipartisan congressional committee to address allegations raised by Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California that CIA agents secretly searched Senate computers.
He said he hoped that such a commission would be similar to the Church Committee of the 1970s, referring to the special Senate panel that exposed CIA abuses and pushed through laws limiting the intelligence community's powers.
Dressed in blue jeans, white Ralph Lauren shirt with logo, red tie and cowboy boots, Paul spent much of his time trying to connect with his college-age audience, warning several times that their phones and computers were easily accessed by government snoops.
"I believe what you do on a cellphone is none of their damn business," he said to applause.
He compared the Republican Party to a Domino Pizza's ad campaign in which the company admits to having made bad dough in the past but promising change in the future.
"We need a different kind of party," he said.
Paul was asked his thoughts on Edward Snowden, the NSA contractor who leaked thousands of pages of sensitive documents exposing embarrassing intelligence practices. Snowden is living in Moscow, afraid of criminal prosecution if he returns to the United States.
Paul said that he had "mixed emotions" about Snowden. On the one hand, Paul said Snowden broke the law, but that he shouldn't "be shot or stung up." On the other hand, Paul said Snowden helped expose "an intelligence community that's drunk with power, unrepentant and unwilling to relinquish power."
He said that "they're only sorry that they got caught. Without the Snowden leaks, these spies would still be doing whatever they please."
The event, which drew about 400 people, was organized by the campus Republican club, who filled the hall to capacity. Still, no protesters at this famously demonstrative campus were visible and he drew a large crowd of well-wishers on his way off campus.