Bob's Blog: Unintelligent intelligence takes over DC

Ever since Edward Snowden leaked top-secret National Security Agency surveillance programs, a debate has been raging here in Washington. Everyone is wondering if this government snooping wrongfully intrudes our privacy, or if it is necessary to keep the country safe in a post-9/11 world.

But before we try to answer that question -- and definitely before lawmakers start bickering in Congress -- it's crucial that everyone step back and actually try to understand this complex story.

There's a classic quote from Winston Churchill, uttered in the midst of World War II and the Battle of Britain: "Never was so much owed by so many to so few." You only need to tweak a few words to get an accurate description of Washington today: "Never have so many known so little about so much."

At some of these hearings on Capitol Hill, when intelligence officials go up to brief lawmakers, members of Congress have asked for their dossier, or "official NSA file." Well, the government just doesn't have that sort of thing. Very few people actually understand exactly what they are talking about in all of this.

Let's be clear about the NSA's intelligence-gathering operation. They don't have a dossier on every citizen. They don't have tape-recorded messages of people talking to their boyfriends or girlfriends. And they definitely don't have copies of the photos Anthony Weiner has been sending around.

What the NSA does have is a storehouse of telephone numbers. They have a list, but they don't know who the numbers belong to. And if a terrorist suspect is captured, authorities will check the numbers on his phone to look for connections in the United States. Then the government has to go before a court and convince a judge to let them find out the identity of the people on the other end of the numbers.

So the debate will go on, and it's taken very seriously by both sides.

This Sunday on "Face The Nation," I will sit down with Rep. Mike Rogers, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, who says the surveillance program has prevented attacks and saved lives. The Michigan Republican earlier this week helped defeat an amendment that stripped crucial NSA funding.

On the other side of the debate is Sen. Mark Udall, a Colorado Democrat who thinks the NSA has gone too far. Udall and his allies want to stop the NSA from collecting these phone numbers, and they're preparing a bill that could be introduced as soon as this week. He'll be on the show Sunday to make his case.

We will also have our weekly panel, and there's plenty to talk about. Joining me will be Dee Dee Myers of Vanity Fair, David Gergen of Harvard University and Michael Gerson of The Washington Post.

Finally, we're on double duty this week and will have a special sports panel to break down the widening steroid scandal that has plagued Major League Baseball. We're lucky to have Bob Nightengale of USA Today and Bill Rhoden of The New York Times on the show to talk about all the latest developments.

Be sure to tune in for these guests, plus a rare report from inside North Korea, this Sunday morning on CBS. Check your local listings.


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