HERSHEY, Pa. – House Speaker John Boehner said Thursday that a far-reaching U.S. surveillance program helped thwart a recent, alleged plot to bomb the Capitol and defended the federal government’s efforts to look out for domestic terror threats.
He said law enforcement officials “would have never known” about the Capitol Hill threat without the program, in which U.S. intelligence officials collect information under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. The law lets investigators eavesdrop on Americans under certain conditions.
Boehner’s comments are the latest from a senior lawmaker voicing support for U.S. surveillance, despite the fierce controversy over NSA data collection and other operations revealed by the Edward Snowden leaks.
“Our government doesn’t spy on Americans unless they are Americans who are doing things that tip off law enforcement about an imminent threat,” Boehner, R-Ohio, said at a GOP congressional policy retreat, in Hershey, Pa.
His remarks come a day after the FBI announced the arrest of a 20-year-old Ohio man in connection with an alleged plot to bomb the Capitol and shoot officials. He allegedly was a sympathizer of the Islamic State terror group.
While steady leaks about the scope of the NSA program -- which collects data on Americans’ Internet and cell phone use -- have resulted in a national debate over the balance between privacy and security, recent developments have shifted the tone in Washington.
The Islamist terror attack in Paris earlier this month that killed 17 people drove calls from some lawmakers to shore up intelligence and law enforcement efforts.
Belgium officials also said Thursday that they foiled a “major imminent terror attack."
"This should be a wake-up call to the Congress and the president," Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., told Fox News last week.
He also argued that President Obama's policies are making the United States less safe.
“It's just a matter of time that we're going to get [hit] here at home if somebody doesn't adjust soon," Graham said.
The overall federal budget for intelligence activities has fallen since 2010, when it peaked at $80 billion. It dropped to $63 billion last year and ticked up to $66 billion for fiscal 2015.
The number includes the budgets for both military intelligence and the rest of the intelligence community, comprising the CIA and other agencies.
Graham urged funding to be restored for the U.S. intelligence community.