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Continued: Seeking to tamp fears, confusion, intelligence officials defend spy programs as safeguards

  • Article by: LARA JAKES , AP National Security Writer
  • Last update: June 11, 2013 - 10:50 PM

"The American people have the right to expect straight answers from the intelligence leadership to the questions asked by their representatives," Wyden said.

Clapper's spokesman did not comment on Wyden's statement. But in an interview with NBC News earlier this week, Clapper said he "responded in what I thought was the most truthful or least most untruthful manner, by saying, 'No,'" because the program was classified.

The Senate Intelligence Committee will be briefed on the programs again Thursday.

Congressional leaders and intelligence committee members have been routinely briefed about the spy programs, officials said, and Capitol Hill has at least twice renewed laws approving them. But the disclosure of their sheer scope stunned some lawmakers, shocked foreign allies from nations with strict privacy protections and emboldened civil liberties advocates who long have accused the government of being too invasive in the name of national security.

On the heels of new polls showing a majority of Americans support some aspects of the spy programs, lawmakers defended the daily surveillance of billions of phone and Internet records that they said have helped make the U.S. safer in the years after the 9/11 attacks. A poll by The Washington Post and the Pew Research Center conducted over the weekend found Americans generally prioritize the government's need to investigate terrorist threats over the need to protect personal privacy.

But a CBS News poll conducted June 9-10 showed that while most approve of government collection of phone records of Americans suspected of terrorist activity and Internet activities of foreigners, a majority disapproved of federal agencies collecting the phone records of ordinary Americans. Thirty percent agreed with the government's assessment that the revelation of the programs would hurt the U.S.' ability to prevent future terrorist attacks, while 57 percent said it would have no impact.

Instead, ire focused on Snowden, the CIA employee-turned-NSA contractor who admitted in an online interview that he exposed the programs in an attempt to safeguard American privacy rights from government snooping.

"He's a traitor," Boehner said on ABC's "Good Morning America."

"The disclosure of this information puts Americans at risk," Boehner said. "It shows our adversaries what our capabilities are. And it's a giant violation of the law."

His comments echoed a growing chorus in Congress condemning Snowden's actions.

"This is treason," Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., said late Monday.

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., also chimed in Monday, calling the disclosure "an act of treason," and that Snowden should be prosecuted.

Only one American — fugitive al-Qaida propaganda chief Adam Gadahn — has been charged with treason since the World War II era. A law enforcement official said prosecutors were building a case against Snowden on Tuesday and had not decided what charges would be brought against him.

The official spoke on condition of anonymity because there is no final decision on the charges. But it's unlikely that Snowden would be charged with treason, which carries the death penalty as a punishment, and therefore could complicate extradition from foreign countries.

Snowden, who was formally fired Tuesday from his job with government contracting firm Booz Allen Hamilton, was last seen in Hong Kong. In a video interview with The Guardian newspaper, Snowden admitted to revealing the two classified NSA programs. U.S. officials have said Snowden would have had to sign a non-disclosure agreement to handle the classified material, and at the least could be prosecuted for violating it.

Snowden's exact whereabouts were unknown Tuesday.

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