Former CIA Deputy Director: NSA "is not spying on Americans"

A former deputy director of the CIA said definitively that the National Security Agency (NSA) “is not spying on Americans.”

“I think that is a perception that's somehow out there.  It is not focused on any single American.  It is not reading the content of your phone calls or my phone calls or anybody else's phone calls.  It is focused on this metadata for one purpose only and that is to make sure that foreign terrorists aren't in contact with anybody in the United States,” said Michael Morell on CBS’ “Face the Nation.” 

Morell served on the Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies commissioned by President Obama to recommend reforms to surveillance programs after documents leaked by former government contractor Edward Snowden revealed the extent of the NSA’s surveillance.

Last week, the review group issued a report outlining dozens of potential changes, including a recommendation that the NSA cede control of the phone-records database to a third party or the telephone companies that originally provided the data.

“The current storage by the government of bulk meta-data creates potential risks to public trust, personal privacy, and civil liberty,” the report said.

Morell expanded on that recommendation on Sunday.

“We believe that the government should not hold this data any longer. We will leave it an open question who should.  But we say the government shouldn't hold this data, somebody else should,” Morell said. “The second thing we say is that NSA should have to get a court order for every individual time they want to query this data, not operate under a blanket court order. We think that better protects privacy and civil liberties, while at the same time allowing the government to do what it needs to protect the country.”

Turning over the phone data to another party – his preference would be a private consortia, he said – would only add two to four days to the process of the NSA being able to obtain the data, and would have an emergency exception for data that was needed very quickly.

Morell largely defended the NSA, saying it was merely doing what it was told to by the U.S. government and that it had extensive oversight from congressional committees. 

“There was no abuse here,” he said. “They were doing exactly what they were told to do. I think that’s important context for people to know.”

Regarding the possibility that Snowden might receive amnesty if he returned to the U.S., Morell said he felt strongly that the alleged whistleblower should not.

“He violated the trust put in him by the United States government.  He has committed a crime in my view. You know, a whistleblower doesn't run. A whistleblower does not disclose information that has nothing to do with what he says his cause is, which is the privacy and civil liberties of Americans,” he said. “If you really believe that Americans should be the judge of this program, then you should also believe that the Americans should be the judge of your behavior in this regard.  So if you are the patriot that you say you are, you should come home and be judged."

  • Rebecca Kaplan

    Rebecca Kaplan is a political reporter for CBSNews.com.

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