The National Journal reports a number of leading Senate Republicans cited Wednesday’s attack on the Paris headquarters of the satirical anti-religion magazine Charlie Hebdo in an effort to drum up support for a heightened state of government surveillance as the United States continues to lead a 14-year global war against terrorism.
“If it can happen in Paris, it can happen in New York again or Washington, DC,” warned Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), the incoming chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. “It’s a lesson to learn.”
“I fear our intelligence capabilities, those designed to prevent such an attack from taking place on our shores, are quickly eroding,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), said. “I believe our national security infrastructure designed to prevent these types of attacks from occurring is under siege.”
Graham was referring to the bipartisan effort to put checks on NSA surveillance in the wake of recent revelations, many of them by exiled whistleblower Edward Snowden, of a massive global spying program in which billions of electronic communications in dozens of nations were monitored. No one was immune from the surveillance — targets included foreign corporations, friendly heads of state, the Pope and even online video gaming communities like World of Warcraft.
The CIA has also come under heavy fire, largely due to revelations about its secret torture and extraordinary rendition programs authorized by the George W. Bush administration in the wake of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Last month, the Senate released a much-anticipated summary of a report detailing the scope and brutality of the CIA ‘enhanced interrogation’ program, under which detainees were tortured and killed, after a long push by then-Intelligence Committee chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and other Democrats.
But Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), the new chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, told the National Journal that allowing the NSA to effectively carry out its duty to protect America is more important than reigning the agency in.
“To me, Congress having oversight certainly is important,” said Corker, “but what is more important relative to these types of events is ensuring we don’t overly hamstring the NSA’s ability to collect this kind of information in advance and keep these kinds of activities from occurring.”
Corker said it was necessary to remind Americans of the security risks posed by terrorism and other threats during this time of waning public trust in the nation’s security and intelligence agencies.
“I think events like [the Paris attack] and people’s recognition that the only way to keep those from happening is through outstanding intelligence-gathering,” he said. “That alone, unfortunately, does shape people’s opinions.”
Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC), who now heads the Intelligence Committee, said he is concerned about President Barack Obama’s ability to provoke adequate fear of terrorism among a war-weary public.
“My only concern is that the language that [Obama] has used does not adequately convey to the American people how severe the threat is from terrorism and that public support of what our intelligence committee does is really crucial to the long term effectiveness of our entire community,” said Burr.
But one prominent GOP senator, the libertarian-leaning Tea Party favorite Rand Paul (KY), warned against surrendering freedom to gain safety.
“I’ve always said that we should defend against terrorism, we should just use it while using the Constitution,” said Paul. “We don’t have to get rid of the constitutional protections of liberty in order to have security.”