Al Franken defends Prism, says of leaks: "Nothing surprised me"

Categories: Al Franken
al franken rect.jpg
Franken knew things Keith Ellison didn't.
Keith Ellison says Congress knew "almost nothing" about Prism ahead of last week's leaks. But Al Franken says he wasn't at all surprised by The Guardian's string of reports about how the NSA monitors internet and telephone communications.

SEE ALSO: Al Franken concerned about Obama's authority to kill Americans deemed to be terrorists

In comments made to reporters today, Franken said that as a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, he was informed about Prism from the start. He also offered a defense of the program, which he said is ultimately about "having the data available so that if there are suspicions about foreign persons or persons that have connections with terrorist organizations, that we can connect the dots."

Here's a transcript of Franken's remarks (you can watch the video here):
These are classified briefings, so I can only discuss it in limited detail. But because I'm on the Judiciary Committee, and because the Judiciary Committee has jurisdiction on the NSA, and on FISA, and on the Patriot Act, this is something, I availed myself of these briefings. So nothing surprised me and, um, the architecture of these programs I was very well aware of.

There are certain things that [are] appropriate for me to know that it is not appropriate for the bad guys to know. [laughs] You know, so, that makes a lot of sense, so anything that the "American people" know the bad guys know. I have a high level of confidence that this is used to protect us, and I know it has been successful in preventing terrorism.

I don't believe that the American people should have to take the government's word for it. I think there should be enough transparency so that the American people understand what's happening. I think maybe they do to a greater degree now -- understand. But I can assure you that this isn't about spying on the American people. This is about having the data available so that if there are suspicions about foreign persons or persons that have connections with terrorist organizations, that we can connect the dots...

Look, I am chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology and the Law. There is probably no one on the Senate that looks at these issues in terms of Americans' privacy more than I do...

I think we haven't quite hit the exact balance [between security and freedom from government observation] we want to. That's why I've voted the way I have. There are certainly going to be, it's very proper for the Justice Department to do the investigation [into Prism and the leakers who alerted the press about it] and see whether there should be prosecutions or not.
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39 comments
1990reatta
1990reatta

The Federal government now has their own special modified version of the Constitution and Bill of Rights... quite different from the one given us by the Founding Fathers.  Their 4th Amendments now says American citizens are protected against unreasonable searches and seizures UNLESS the Feds feel, in their own minds, it's for "our safety", and of course is not subject to any citizen oversight, and unless they really, really want to ignore it!  Our 2nd Amendment (right to bear arms) is constantly attacked by the Feds and some states as being "obsolete" and "dangerous", and framed as being only about hunting on the frontier by a bunch of crazies.  The 5th and 6th Amendments (rights in criminal cases, right to a fair trial) are pretty much gone when deemed "necessary" by a President or Attorney General...  Ask the guy still sitting in jail who we're told was responsible for the Benghazi attacks and murders, or the Americans targeted by U.S. drones without any due process - a terrorist sitting in Guantanamo has more rights.  Of course the 10th Amendment (states' rights) is constantly eroded by the Feds, it's many agencies and endless, often duplicate or contradictory regulations, federal "czars" without any oversight, and unlimited "Executive orders" that answer to no one but the President!  This is not a Republican vs. Democrat problem.  Unfortunately it's about an overpowering, bloated and out of control and growing Federal government that thinks it's unlimited in it's power.  Would you go on a trip you're not familiar with without a road map?  We've been given one by our Founding Fathers who were very much aware and concerned about how power corrupts.  There is nothing old or outdated about our God given rights, as much as many would like you to believe.  You have these rights unless and until you give them away!  We must be watchful and skeptical of our leaders - Clinton, Bush Obama and others - and demand they honor the oath they swear to when they take office.  Educate yourself - it's your obligation as an American citizen.  The Constitution will become outdated and irrelevant only when we allow it to be.  For the sake of this truly exceptional country we can't allow this to happen.

swmnguy
swmnguy topcommenter

I can't imagine a Republican running against Franken who wouldn't support all this and more.  In all the votes on these secret domestic spying programs, of the Minnesota delegation only Ellison, McCollum and Walz have always supported individual freedom over authoritarianism.  Klobuchar has always voted for more surveillance, but then she used to be a prosecutor.  Bachmann, Kline, Paulsen; all 100% supporters of Big Brother.  Peterson and Franken have been about half-and-half on these measures.  

This is not a Red/Blue issue.  Both parties have enthusiastically sacrificed everything possible to authoritarianism, and then claimed it's in the interest of protecting "freedom."  In Franken's defense, he has been one of the only voices in favor of individual and consumer rights on Internet and other media issues.  But once it's called "National Security," Franken falls right into line with all the rest of them, I see to my disappointment.

Dan Feidt
Dan Feidt

Also Franken and Klobuchar have been all-aboard for CISPA and related programs. Show me gutsy votes against the technical police state measures for the feds and corporate America

Nigel Parry
Nigel Parry

Well here he is Mary, in front of all of our faces, doing the exact opposite to what you are touting him for. I guess you were mistaken.

apuhson
apuhson

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Apparently he doesn't view this as a right, but rather as a privilege he and others in power can dole out and rescind on as they see fit.

Peter Farnsworth
Peter Farnsworth

Well Al, I will not be voting for you next election as you are unable to defend and uphold our constitution and the 4th amendment and I hope that there are many more that do the same.. Data collection from every single American is unacceptable and is un-American at the fullest

Dan Feidt
Dan Feidt

i wonder if he dares explain how this is not a chilling effect on speech

Theodore Peterson
Theodore Peterson

Mary, did you read the piece? He defends the program. He is complicit with the NSA's action. I don't blame him, but he's not innocent either.

Mary Ledingham
Mary Ledingham

Franken has been at the front of these programs, and has voted against them. Anyone trying to lay this on him has not done their homework.

Mike Giralico
Mike Giralico

Al Franken, this is how you cost yourself the next election.

MicheleBachmann
MicheleBachmann topcommenter

@swmnguy  You don't think you are crying wolf using terms like "Big Brother" and "authoritarianism"?   Last I checked Bush stepped down once his term was up.   Obama has used his broad executive powers to give all Americans healthcare and save the auto industry.   Kind of the opposite of what a dictator usually does.  Personally I see gay marriage and pot legalization in our future, not a Big Brother police state.   History is not on your side here you know.  When the Bill of Rights was written it was legal to own other human beings as property and over half the population wasn't legally allowed to vote.  I'm pretty sure we get more and more free every year.  We need good people like Al Franken in government.  Spying technology exists.  You can't put that genie in the bottle.  That's why you need good politicians, good laws, and good judges to keep freedom and safety properly balanced.   Your freedom doesn't always trump safety.  Otherwise we would all own nukes because of the 2nd amendment.  China, Russia, Al Queda, criminals, and corporations will use this technology.  Are you really sure you want America to stop?   As long as there is checks and balances I'd say we are pretty safe.  Obviously the United States has this type of power.  They will never stop using it.  That's why we need leaders like Obama, not Bush in charge so our technology is used for good, not evil.  That's why we need good laws that target those that use violence and punish those that misuse our spying technology.  That's why we need judicial oversight to correct overreach and protect those that need protection.  The government has spied on people since George Washington.   Deal with reality.  If technology exists then America will use it.  

drunkgranny
drunkgranny

@swmnguy Good point. One party is no better than the other. All we can do is remind each party that when they screw up, they will be replaced by the other. Therefore, when Franken screws the american people, he is voted out. And yes, he screwed us. 

MNjoe
MNjoe topcommenter

@Peter Farnsworth I'm sure Al win will the seat again in a landslide without your vote Peter. Did you actually read the article? Try doing that and pay special attention to the part about ""having the data available so that if there are suspicions about foreign persons or persons that have connections with terrorist organizations, that we can connect the dots." If you're not talking on the phone to terrorists, you really have nothing to worry about.

MNjoe
MNjoe topcommenter

@Dan Feidt How about you explain how it is - and try reading the article first.  It has NO effect on speech unless you're a terrorist with foreign connections talking to other known terrorists.  Do you really think the goverment is listening in to your boring conversations?

swmnguy
swmnguy topcommenter

@MicheleBachmann  Well, we're going to disagree on this.  I'm fully aware of the use of spying technology.  I don't expect the government not to use it.  I am alarmed by the attitude that using it is inevitable and something we should put up with.  While knowing it will be used, it should not be presented as being tolerable or legitimate.  We're also trying people on secret evidence; secret even to them and their attorneys.  That too has always been done, and it isn't good.

I think if you look at the overall tenor of society over the past few decades, you'll see it's become increasingly authoritarian, not less.  The police are militarized to a degree unthinkable when I was a kid.  Childhood foolishness is criminalized.  The rate of incarceration is through the roof, though crime is lower than it was.  I could go on but you get the point.

I prefer Obama and Franken to, let's just say, Bush and Bachmann, but I'm not willing to excuse any of them for doing wrong things.  Spying on all Americans is wrong, plain and simple.  The biggest weakness of very intelligent men like Obama and Franken is that they can be bamboozled by complexity.  It's possible to dazzle them with details and they'll get all wound around the axle and not notice that they're now defending things that not so very long ago they were able to perceive were flat-out wrong.

As for actual judicial oversight, don't be naive.  The special court they have (FISA? I forget) hasn't turned down a warrant application yet.  Which isn't surprising; the spooks already have what they are asking for, so they can purpose-write the warrant application.

Frankly, I think you and I have a lot more to fear from misuse of information acquired by spying than we do from terrorism, or the Russians.  Actually, I'm a lot more worried about getting hit by a meteorite than I am by Al Quaeda, and the statistics back me up.

kennyX
kennyX

@MNjoe Normally Joe is the last person I would agree on anything with, but he is right. Everyone is getting their panties in a bunch about this. NEWS FLASH: The government has been doing this (or similar) since 1997. 

MicheleBachmann
MicheleBachmann topcommenter

@qwer Adults are talking.  Go to your room and head to bed tiger.  I know its hard to follow but that's no reason to be rude.  You will understand political discussions better when you are older champ. 

swmnguy
swmnguy topcommenter

@MicheleBachmann Oh, I feel the same way about the discussion, 100%.  You can be vehement with me if you want.  I'm not made of sugar-candy, and I understand and respect where you're coming from.

My opinions on US politics are complex, and change.  I don't think the President has as much power as most people think.  There are a lot of highly influential positions in Washington that never change hands.  That's important.

Also I think words like "Fascism" are as poorly understood, and frequently-misused, as "Socialism" or "Communism."  When you look at the synthesis of corporate and state power, it's pretty frightening.  Not ONE high-level prosecution on Wall Street?  Jon Corzine's theft of investor assets from MFGlobal was actually 100% lawful?  I mean, it was, but no way in hell that should be the case.  And I have little doubt that the NSA stuff is completely permissible under law, and if ever tried would be found so by the courts, because we've allowed all these laws to be passed which essentially negate the Bill of Rights when they become inconvenient.  

One of the more unfortunate quotes in American jurisprudence is "The Constitution is not a suicide pact," which is an expression almost as old, in various forms, as the Constitution itself.  Well, if we're not locked into our fundamental expressions of values, what good are they?  What are we actually defending, in that case?

I haven't actually noticed anybody "giving me healthcare."  I have to pay for my own, and my understanding is that it's now going to become easier (and mandatory) for everyone else to pay a private corporation for insurance.  Insurance is not the same as health care, as you learn the first time a "coding error" results in your getting a bill for something that's clearly covered, and within 30 days calls from collection agencies start coming in (yes, speaking from experience).  Giving everybody healthcare, to me, would look a lot more like everybody being on Medicare, since we're all already paying for it, and most of us who do pay for it are healthy and would add far less to its costs than we would have to pay more in premiums.  The ACA looks to me a lot more like an exercise in kicking the can down the road, allowing the insurance companies to profiteer for a few more years until the whole rotten edifice comes crumbling down as it inevitably will anyway. 

As for restrictions on free speech, I think it's more "free speech that poses an actual challenge."  When it's you and me going back and forth, nobody else cares.  They care a lot about anti-war activists, whistleblowers, and the Occupy folks.  So much so that the Department of Justice is collaborating with the internal security departments of the Wall Street financial firms to coordinate the nationwide assault on Occupy, synch with state and local cops.  Even the wording of the press conferences was the same, city by city, as local sheriffs etc. read the same script.

Fascism isn't all about marching around and cool uniforms.  Although the cops in Lisbon still have some outrageous duds, no doubt left over from the Salazar regime.  They've gotten a lot more clever.  As long as people aren't getting organized and their communication isn't coalescing into a real challenge, they don't care.  Let the "sheeple" blow off steam.  But if people were to start demonstrating on a large scale, I bet we'd find that Twitter and Facebook starting acting weird, and our cell phones would stop working.  They're doing that kind of stuff in Istanbul right now.

 I'm tickled pink about gay marriage, and the advancement of sensible pot laws and things like that.  I do think those are areas where the authoritarians risk looking stupid and becoming irrelevant if they were to stick to it.  They have to keep some measure of consistency with public opinion, because without a critical mass of public consent they can't keep control over the things they want to control.  Even the Nazis, Stalin, and the Stasi had to have the support of most of their people to maintain control.

We're nowhere near the outright dictatorships of history, but I think that has a lot to do with how wealthy the country is.  There's a lot of gravy for the elites to lick up, and still enough left over that we can have our cheap luxury items, bread and circuses, and electronic soup kitchens (making unemployment and welfare into direct-deposit was brilliant; keeps people isolated enough at a subsistence level they can't figure out how many of them have been failed by our socio-economic system).

As I've said before, I'm a malcontent.  From a long line of malcontents.  Proudly so.  There's enough pressure pulling us to the right, I think there needs to be more pressure pulling us to the left, so people don't get lulled and start compromising away the very parts of our values that are worthwhile in the first place.  Yes, it does mean my elected representatives are sick to death of me.  Good.

MicheleBachmann
MicheleBachmann topcommenter

@swmnguy I love this discussion with you and I really respect your thoughts and opinions.  Even if I'm not quite as worried as you I hope you understand I still am glad we are having this discussion and I realize the power of what the NSA is doing.  

MicheleBachmann
MicheleBachmann topcommenter

@swmnguy If we had a "false duopoly" then the richest 1% would have given equally or more to Obama in 2012.  If we had fascism  the corporate money would have picked the next President.  Instead the guy funded by small donations from the middle class beat the guy funded by rich people and corporations.   Fascists don't give everyone healthcare.  Just because Obama bailed out the car companies to save the state of Michigan doesn't make him a fascist   Being President of the United States is a complex job, you might have to do things you don't agree with to keep the ship sailing forward.  All I see is a society where we have passed universal healthcare, gay marriage, and pot legalization laws.  I mean you dismissed the power of the internet in spreading free speech.  Don't you realize that discredits your whole argument    Authoritarianism and fascism can't exist if there is free speech.  Every dictatorship spends all their time trying to end free speech.  No free speech is how those governments work. 

swmnguy
swmnguy topcommenter

@MicheleBachmann  As I said, we're going to disagree.  Taking the long view, society is getting better.  No doubt about that.  I've mentioned my family's history to you.  But COINTELPRO is a bad example.  That never stopped.  I know that personally.

Internet free speech, marijuana legalization and same-sex marriage are matters where the authoritarians are realizing they're not getting the bang for the buck, and it's easier and more efficient in the long run to allow it.  Those are examples of where people are simply ignoring the authoritarians.  That's very dangerous for them.  Even the most repressive regimes have to have a critical mass of consent in order to function.  Look at the Eastern Bloc countries; once that critical mass of people withdrew their consent, they collapsed.  But not before incredible harm was done.

A President doesn't have to make himself "President for Life" here because we have a false duopoly.  Just as small, top-of-the-head examples, both McCain and Obama promised to appoint Geithner as Sec'y. of Treasury.  Obama's Justice Department can't find a single Wall Street executive who has done anything wrong, but they throw open their doors to coordinate the assault on Occupy with local and state law enforcement, and private corporate security firms with ties to mercenary companies.

It's the merger of corporate and State power that I see ongoing, unabated and accelerating.  That's a bipartisan movement.  And while I don't want to toss around scary words, the word for that trend is "Fascism," if the inventor of that term, Mussolini, had any idea what he was talking about.

I'd never vote for the Republican Party either.  They've embraced the most atavistic, vicious and militantly ignorant aspects of American culture. No doubt about that.  But I certainly don't see the Democrats allowing things like the 4th Amendment to stand in the way of enhancing corporate power and influence.

As for Al Quaeda, well, future history on that crew will be very interesting.    You do know we brought them to Libya, right?  And that we then moved them to Syria, and are arming and advising them through our outposts in Jordan and Turkey?  We're playing a very dangerous game with those guys, as we have been since at least the late 1970s in Afghanistan when we ramped up aid to a young CIA asset named Osama bin Laden.

And yes, I realize that this whole comment is going into my NSA file, probably even before I hit "Post Comment."  

You and I will agree on many things.  But I'm not much of a team guy.  It gets me in trouble on lots of sports boards, too.  I root for my team, but when they stink I say so.  A lot of people don't like that.  Doesn't mean I could ever root for the New York Yankees.

MicheleBachmann
MicheleBachmann topcommenter

@swmnguy First off you are way off on your history.  There is no way society has gotten more authoritarian.   Slavery, Jim Crow, The Indian Relocation Act, Japanese Interment, COINTELPRO, and countless other examples of government overreach prove that.  The internet makes free speech so easy that even the corporate takeover of media has done nothing to limit our freedom.  No doubt the War on Drugs is still a massive overreach by the government but even that is changing.  Marijuana will be legal in 10-20 years at most.  When is the last time someone tried to ban art?  When is the last time a President didn't step down after an election?   I really don't see this creeping authoritarian society.  

Secondly, the judge thing just proves my point.  We need better government.  That's why what Senate Republicans are doing with the filibuster is a much bigger threat to our Democracy than the NSA.   When you don't let a twice elected President make reasonable appointments of judges and other government workers you weaken the government and by extension America.   If the judicial system is broken than only good judges will fix that.  The Republicans won't let good judges through the Senate.  Furthermore by allowing their party to be taken over by a bunch of crazy eyed lunatics the Republicans have failed to give people a proper second option if Obama really is out of line on NSA.   We need a political party that actually tries to make the country stronger not a bunch of lunatics trying to repeal Obamacare 37 times while screaming about the secret homosexual agenda.

We have way more to fear from Al Queda than a meteor.  Their goal is to cost death and destruction.  If they set a nuke off in downtown NYC that will kill thousands of people and cause billions in damages.  Al Queda is a complex enemy in a complex world.   I really think you are being unfair to be so absolute in your complaints about the NSA.   Claiming Al Queda isn't a threat is wrong.  3000 dead New Yorkers will tell you that.  We live in a world of religious nuts who will do anything to kill us.  If the NSA is using the metadata to target Al Queda there really is no scandal here.  If the NSA is using the metadata to target Obama's political enemies than that is a scandal.  I am confident that Obama is unlikely to do that.  I am confident that if he does it will be leaked and Obama will be discredited.  All this story shows is that the United States is very powerful so let's be really careful who we give the keys too.   I'm not going to pretend Ted Cruz is the same as Hillary Clinton like some liberal fools seem hellbent on doing.  This technology exists.  There is no way the government will not use it.  That's why we need politicians who will put in proper checks and balances while not abusing that.  That's why I would never vote for a bunch of liars who always have their facts wrong like the modern Republican Party.  

drunkgranny
drunkgranny

@kennyX @MNjoe So that makes it ok? So you're cool with that? Because it's been happening in the past so just fuck it? You're a shithead. 

kennyX
kennyX

@MNjoe  And in my family, cousins are considered like "brothers and sisters", so it was a great loss to the family. But he wanted to fight for his country. Even if you don't believe in the war he was fighting for, a young man lost his life. You can blame Bush all you like, but unlike the both of us, he took the risk that neither of us did. Can you at least respect that? 

kennyX
kennyX

@MNjoe I lost a cousin of mine in the Iraq war. 

kennyX
kennyX

@MNjoe OK, and that I will agree with you on. I thought you were questioning the Afghan war. And yes, the Iraq war was a farce. 

kennyX
kennyX

@MNjoe  Oh, and just out of curiosity, if Afghanistan was the "wrong" country to invade after 911, what would have been the "right" one?

kennyX
kennyX

@MNjoe I'll agree that it is unfair of the GOP to tack on the cost of the wars to Obama's debt, but your first comment about how "they were too incompetent to connect the dots on 9-11".....I won't even go there. I'll just agree to disagree and end it on that note. 

MNjoe
MNjoe topcommenter

@kennyX @MNjoe Exactly, and Bush, Cheney & Rice were too incompetent to connect the dots on 9-11.  And then they invaded the wrong country at a cost to American taxpayers in the trillions of dollars - in fact, we're still paying for it today, yet Republican'ts choose to add that on to President Obama's share of the debt. Agree on that too, Kenny?

MNjoe
MNjoe topcommenter

@drunkgranny @MNjoe Maybe when you sober up, it won't seem so clear. The gov't got a court order from a panel of judges to get these records so I'm thinking no - it's not a violation.

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