(WASHINGTON) -- As the NSA faces new scrutiny over its surveillance activities, House Intelligence Committee Chair Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., said he would “personally pay” for former NSA contractor Edward Snowden’s plane ticket back to the U.S. to face charges for stealing agency secrets, adding that Snowden’s writing of an open letter to Brazil asking for asylum in exchange for information amounts to the actions of a traitor.
“I do think he should come home – I’d personally pay for his plane ticket – and be held accountable for his actions,” Rogers told George Stephanopoulos on This Week Sunday, amid new calls for amnesty for Snowden. “Here’s where I think he’s crossed the line now, George, he has contacted a foreign country and said, ‘I will sell you classified information for something of value.’ That’s what we call a traitor in this country,” Rogers said of Snowden’s letter to Brazil last week requesting asylum in exchange for helping the country investigate NSA spying on its soil.
Senate Intelligence Committee member Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., interviewed on This Week following Rogers, agreed that Snowden should return to the U.S., saying, “he broke his oath. He broke the law.”
“He ought to stand on his own two feet. He ought to make his case,” said Udall, who has been a longtime critic of the NSA’s surveillance activities. “Come home, make the case that somehow there was a higher purpose here, but Edward Snowden ought to come back to the United States.”
The NSA’s surveillance programs are facing new criticism after a federal judge ruled last week that the agency’s phone data collection program was unconstitutional, while an expert panel commissioned by President Obama released a report Thursday making 46 recommendations to reform the NSA’s surveillance activities, including curbing its collection of telephone metadata.
Rogers said he disagreed with those who believe the report was “devastating” to the NSA, noting that it found no abuses, and only recommended changing how phone call data was collected and stored.
“They found no violations, no unlawful activity, no scandal, none of that was found in this report, but what they said maybe it shouldn’t be with the government, maybe it should be mandated by the government that it’s held by the private companies. And I think that’s a very different debate and a debate that we should have.”
“So I think this is not the ‘Holy Grail’ of reports, but I do think it crossed a very important milestone in saying, hey, no scandal, no law-breaking, now let’s just have an honest debate about where we think we ought to go in trying to stop terrorists from blowing up American citizens here in the United States,” Rogers added.
But Rogers questioned whether having private phone companies or a third party hold phone data instead of the NSA and requiring a court order for access would provide greater privacy for Americans.
“I’m reluctant, because I think it opens it up to more privacy violations when the companies hold it,” Rogers said. “They don’t have somebody directly controlling that information.”
Udall expressed more support for the recommendations by the White House panel, including for ending the NSA’s collection of phone data of Americans.
“The arguments for the status quo, George, fell apart this week in Washington,” Udall said in response to the panel’s report. “The NSA has overreached.”
“I think we need to look at all 46 [recommendations] – I’m still studying the report myself. But there are many, many important reforms,” Udall added. ”It’s time on to have real reform, not a veneer of reform. You know why? Because we have got to rebuild the American people’s trust in our intelligence committee so we can be safe, so we can meet the threats that are all over the world. But we don’t do that by bulk data collection that violates the privacy of Americans, that’s unconstitutional, and has shown to not be effective.”
When asked if the country would be engaged in a debate over the NSA’s surveillance without Snowden’s revelations, Udall called it a “conundrum.”
“That’s a conundrum. That’s an important question,” Udall said. “We have a lot of wilderness here in Colorado. I feel like Senator [Ron] Wyden and I have been shouting from the wilderness for a number of years about the violations of Americans’ privacy conducted by the NSA. Finally, our point of view has been affirmed, and it’s now time to really fundamentally reform the way in which the NSA operates. The president’s panel made that very, very clear.”
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