Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, calling on Americans to reject “a commander-in-chief that wants to weaken our intelligence programs,” lobbed a new attack at Republican 2016 presidential opponent Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, dinging his congressional colleague for praising the actions of National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden.
In an interview Sunday with George Stephanopoulos on ABC, the host of “This Week” asked Rubio if he stood by a statement he made last week, when he said, “If ISIS had lobbyists in Washington, they would’ve spent millions to support the anti-intelligence law that was just passed with the help of some Republicans now running for president.”
“Absolutely,” Rubio answered. “There is no doubt that groups like ISIS will benefit from us having a diminished intelligence capacity.”
The statement was the latest in the back-and-forth between Cruz and Rubio over the former’s support of the U.S.A. Freedom Act passed by Congress last year. The bill restricted and restructured NSA’s divisive telephone metadata surveillance program by moving the storage of bulk records to telephone companies, and requiring the signals intelligence agency to acquire specific court orders for narrowed search results.
“We’re running for commander-in-chief here. And no, we should not have a commander-in-chief that wants to weaken our intelligence programs,” Rubio said. “But my quarrel with Ted on these issues of national security are not limited just to the intelligence bill.”
The Freedom Act was drafted and passed in direct response to the leak of mass surveillance programs by Snowden, including the bulk telephony metadata gathering program.
“I never believed Edward Snowden was a good public servant the way that Ted Cruz once said, that he had done a public service for America,” Rubio told Stephanopoulos. “Edward Snowden is a traitor. He took our intelligence information and gave it to the Chinese and gave it to the Russians. We cannot afford to have a commander-in-chief who thinks people like Edward Snowden are doing a good public service.”
In June 2013 shortly after the Snowden leaks became public, Cruz stepped back from the fierce rhetoric of his many conservative colleagues in Congress including then-Speaker John Boehner, and refused to deem Snowden the “traitor” his national security-hawkish contemporaries labeled him.
“If it is the case that the federal government is seizing millions of personal records about law-abiding citizens, and if it is the case that there are minimal restrictions on accessing or reviewing those records, then I think Mr. Snowden has done a considerable public service by bringing it to light,” Cruz said during an event hosted by The Blaze in Washington.
He went on to say regardless of Snowden’s intentions, he should be held accountable to the law.
“If Mr. Snowden has violated the laws of this country, there are consequences to violating laws and that is something he has publicly stated he understands and I think the law needs to be enforced,” the Texas senator added.
How followed up on those comments shortly after on Fox, where he advocated withholding judgement on the former NSA contractor.
“You know, [the Snowden leak] certainly is cause for concern,” Cruz said. “I think it depends what the contours of the program are. And I don’t think we should rush to judgment or jump to conclusion.”
Rubio reiterated he not only wants to repeal the restrictions supported by Cruz and others, but wants to expand the U.S. surveillance apparatus by making permanent even broader authorities set to expire in 2017, and taking advantage of ad targeting technology to track potential terrorists online.
“Look at what happened in Philadelphia on Friday,” Rubio said referring to the shooting of a police officer in Pennsylvania Friday by a self-proclaimed Islamic State supporter. “The attacker says, ‘I did this for ISIS. I’ve been inspired by ISIS.’ And we have a White House that refuses to acknowledge it as a terror attack. It was a terror attack. And this is the kind of threat we now face in this country. We need additional tools for intelligence.”
While sparring with Rubio during the last GOP presidential debate in December, Cruz said the Freedom Act grants NSA access to a broader range of records than it had under the old program — an assertion an agency representative backed up last week.
“Largely overlooked in the debate that has ensued in the wake of recent attacks is the fact that under the new arrangement, our national security professionals will have access to a greater volume of call records subject to query in a way that is consistent with our regard for civil liberties,” NSA General Counsel Glenn Gerstell said.