All-Star Panel: Privacy under attack by government run amok?

'Special Report' All-Star panel weighs in


This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," August 16, 2013. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


CAROL LEONNIG, WASHINGTON POST: The NSA doesn't seem to want to explain or elaborate on the details of why this happens so frequently that they appear to be searching on the wrong names or searching on U.S. persons improperly.


JOHN ROBERTS, GUEST HOST: Carol Leonnig from The Washington Post talking about the newly revealed problems at the NSA with them violating privacy rules thousands of times in just one year.

Let's bring in our panel to talk more about this. Don't forget to join us on Bing Pulse. Rich Lowry is the editor of The National Review, Kirsten Powers, columnist for The Daily Beast, and syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer.

So a week ago the president insisted there didn't appear to be any abuses on the part of the NSA regarding the surveillance program. Now we find out not only have they been violating privacy rules, Kirsten, but they have not been reporting it as they're supposed to.

KIRSTEN POWERS, COLUMNIST, NEW YORK POST: Yes. I think it is pretty obvious there needs to be some sort of major investigation, maybe like a Church Committee style investigation of what's going on here because we just keep getting different stories that keep being proven wrong. And I think that everybody should read The Washington Post story to really understand how out of control this program is. One incident involved 3,000 people. So when you start to think about how much of these 2,776 incidents, how many people we're actually talking about, it's very serious.

ROBERTS: Charles, the NSA and the White House have said these were all unintentional. But where the intent seems to have happened here was the NSA took a look at a lot of the violations and said, you know, we're supposed to report these to the appropriate authorities, the Federal International Surveillance Court, but let's not tell them about this.

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: I agree, that is where the problem really lies. It is with oversight, it is with reporting. It's good that they investigated themselves. It's not good that the story was kept inside and kind of glossed over so people wouldn't know. I think that's obviously where we have to go.

Look, I think it is probably true the overwhelming number of these instances was inadvertent, you enter in the wrong number. If you do trillions of searches every year, you're going to have thousands of errors. But they have to be looked at.  You have to be sure they're inadvertent and none of this is deliberate. 

The last point, what Kirsten is talking about, Snowden is obviously sitting on a ton of other stuff. We have only seen the 10 percent of the iceberg here. Knowing that he has all this stuff, why don't they come out right now and tell us everything that we know Snowden has and start with a clean slate? The fact that they're doing this in a drip, drip, drip way can only hurt the credibility of the NSA and the administration.

ROBERTS: I misspoke myself. I should have said the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. Nancy Pelosi says this is extremely disturbing. This is what she said in a statement today, quote, "Congress must conduct rigorous oversight to ensure that all incidents of noncompliance are reported to oversight committees and FISA court in a timely and comprehensive manner and that appropriate steps are taken to ensure violations are not repeated. What should happen here?

RICH LOWRY, THE NATIONAL REVIEW: I agree with everything that's been said, but this isn't exactly dystopian stuff. A lot of it genuinely does seem to be innocent mistakes. And 10 percent I believe according to The Washington Post are typographical errors. A big batch was Chinese people who were overseas being monitored, and then they came to the United States for a holiday, and NSA has no way to know they're coming here.

But the basic problem is you're trusting a bureaucracy and trusting it with extremely sensitive data, essentially, you don't want to go too far here, but basically to police itself. There is some accountability with the intelligence committees and with the secret FISA court, but basically this entire program needs to be more fully subjected to checks, balances and the transparency of our Madisonian system of government.

ROBERTS: We're talking about a government that some people say has run amuck. Another example to many people is recent news on climate change and that the administration is going try to do an end run around Congress to implement some of its climate change policies. And a recent statement by Sally Jewell, the new secretary of the interior, what she said at a recent speech in Colorado. Let's play a little of that and get some reaction from you.


SALLY JEWELL, INTERIOR SECRETARY: I hope there are no climate change deniers in Department of Interior. If you don't believe in it, come out into the resources, go on to some land, go up to Alaska where the permafrost is melting, go into the Sierra, which used to retain a lot more water in its frozen form.


ROBERTS: She said, "I hope there are no climate deniers" in Department of Interior, which is leading some people to think dissenting opinions aren't welcome here at the department.

POWERS: I don't think they are. I mean, the Obama administration is clear, I am in the same camp with them, that the science points in the direction of all sorts of issues in terms of climate change, and I think that she was being very straightforward that they probably aren't going to entertain alternative viewpoints. And I don't know anybody would be surprised by that, frankly.

ROBERTS: Is this getting into the realm of thought police, Charles?

KRAUTHAMMER: No, not totalitarian, but it is shockingly arrogant and anti-scientific. The idea that science is closed, that science is settled, and that anybody who brings evidence or questions is somehow a flat-Earther is appalling.

Freeman Dyson is one of the great physicists of our time.  He's a climate skeptic. He has more IQ in his pinky than the entire political echelon of the EPA put together, and they are saying this man is a scientific illiterate? The entire idea of science is that you are open to contrary evidence.  It's the definition of a scientific theory.

And particularly climate science, which is young, it's new, built on all kinds of assumptions and data which contradicts each other, the idea that it is a closed issue is incredibly unscientific and arrogant. And that these bureaucrats and political hacks are decreeing this I think is scandalous.

LOWRY: The very term is odious, "denier," because it is meant to evoke Holocaust denial, which is an entirely different moral phenomenon.  This is orthodoxy on the left at the very same time the consensus science is under doubt in a way it hasn't been before because we basically haven't had global warming in a significant way in 15 years.

ROBERTS: Some people are predicting a mini ice age.

By the way, just reflecting back, Kirsten, a lot of people agree with your idea on Bing Pulse that there have you been investigation of NSA, and a lot of people disagree with Nancy Pelosi's statement.

But just to finish this out here with a few seconds left, Gina McCarthy, the EPA administrator says, we're going to implement a lot of these policies ourselves, basically indicating an end run around Congress. Is that the appropriate approach here?

POWERS: They shouldn't be doing it unconstitutionally. If there's a way to get things done they think are important, then it is understandable they want to do it.

But I have to say the science, there may be disagreements on the science of this, but let's not pretend there aren't a lot of scientists, I would venture to say the majority of scientists who actually probably agree with what she said. And how are you supposed to make policy if you're not going to pick a side? Fine, people can come out and argue about it, but ultimately they want to do something to try to mitigate impact on the environment.

ROBERTS: And on Bing Pulse you said not surprising that the secretary of interior would not want any doubters in the Department of the Interior, people on Bing Pulse strongly disagree with the idea --

POWERS: Shocked. Shocked.

ROBERTS -- that there shouldn't be dissenters.

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