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At an American Bar Association program on counterterrorism and privacy, U.S. Rep. Peter King expressed support for the work of the National Security Agency, arguing that there are misconceptions about the scope of the NSA’s surveillance programs and calling criticism of the agency a “totally distorted issue.”
“The misinformation that is out there and the type of hysterical debate that we’ve been having diminish what we should be trying to do as a society,” the New York Republican said.
King, a member of the House Homeland Security Committee and chairman of the Counterterrorism and Intelligence Subcommittee, said homeland security should be a top priority for members of Congress and the American public.
“You have people on the right sounding like 1960s antiwar Democrats, and you have people on the left sounding like Ayn Rand,” he said. “The world’s coming full circle … and if we keep digging circles, we’ll open ourselves up to another attack.”
King said that amid the debate, people have lost sight of the fact that the NSA faces a high level of federal oversight. Instead, the tone of the debate has been “that the NSA somewhere is the enemy.”
“I, for the most part, support what the NSA is doing,” King said. “It’s probably the most carefully scrutinized or closely scrutinized department or agency anywhere in the federal government.”
“Everything the NSA does is subject to court scrutiny,” he added.
King said the information provided by the NSA has been essential in a number of cases and has helped to focus efforts in preventing attacks. He dismissed claims that the NSA could abuse its power and suggested instead focusing on the role of the NSA in preserving homeland security.
“I wish we could have an intelligent discussion,” he said. “I believe that the precautions that are in place are adequate.”
“We can certainly have a debate over what should be balanced, what should be done,” King added. “Right now, neither the media nor the politicians are serving the country well with the level of debate that we have.”
The ABA Standing Committee on Law and National Security sponsored the program and a video of the event can be found online. The committee’s next event, “Women in National Security Law,” will take place from 6 – 8 p.m. Feb. 25 at the Capitol.