Rep. Mike Pompeo told Wichita State University students on Monday they have nothing to fear from National Security Agency wiretapping and everything to fear from the people the agency is trying to track.
Pompeo, R-Wichita, sits on the House Intelligence Committee that oversees the NSA.
Pompeo said the classified documents he’s seen have convinced him that adequate legal protection is in place and the people of the United States need not worry about the federal government’s surveillance of phone and Internet communication records.
“The NSA is not intentionally listening to your phone calls,” Pompeo said. “Feel free to talk to your friend. Tell him or her anything you’d like. Your government is not recording those phone calls.”
Likewise, “the government doesn’t care what’s in your e-mails,” he said. However, he quickly amended that to note that prosecutors may be interested if they suspect someone of a crime but that they have to follow constitutional and legal processes to get at the information in criminal cases.
“We have to observe those constitutional rights every time. No excuses, 100 percent perfection, gotta get it right,” he said.
He also sought to assure the students that federal spy agencies take great pains to protect the privacy rights of U.S. citizens.
“I only wish that the Internal Revenue Service had similar processes and controls to protect your privacy rights. They don’t,” he said. “You’re at much more risk from the IRS than you are from the NSA about getting your data.”
Pompeo was strongly critical of Edward Snowden, the former NSA analyst who launched the national debate over domestic spying by obtaining and releasing agency documents and who then fled to Hong Kong and later Russia to escape arrest.
“One, he has an incredible motive to impugn the actions of the National Security Agency, whose rules and laws he violated,” Pompeo said. “And second, he doesn’t understand the information that he has. ... He doesn’t understand what it is he has in front of him.
“You should first of all never believe what you read in the newspaper in regard to issues about what our government is doing in its intelligence collection pod,” Pompeo added. “When you read ‘NSA,’ know two things: mostly military and trying to do really, really good and important work.”
Pompeo made his remarks in a speech to professor Ken Ciboski’s class in American politics.
Pompeo also dismissed the ongoing controversy over reports that U.S. spies tapped into German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s personal cellphone, saying it was business as usual across the globe.
“Go back 2,000 years. Sparta and Athens spied on each other endlessly,” Pompeo said. “It is going on, folks, let me assure you. Our country’s spying on their country, their countries are spying on our country. It is absolutely happening, and you all should thank the men and women who are involved in doing it on behalf of the United States of America.”
He also said it was important that the U.S. track allied countries as well as enemy ones.
“Why would you spy on Germany? It turns out that’s where al-Qaida is hanging out,” he said. “Why would you spy on friends? Because it’s a place where you find people who are trying to do enormous harm to America.”
On the domestic front, Pompeo told students that President Obama lied about people being able to keep their current insurance to gain passage of the Affordable Care Act.
“In my opinion, he (Obama) sold us a bill of goods,” Pompeo said.
He said he has received many calls and e-mails from Kansans whose policies have been canceled because they don’t meet the coverage standards required by the ACA.
“The vast majority of them will end up with plans they don’t like as well,” he said.
Under questioning by the students, Pompeo confirmed that he and his staff will be buying their insurance through the ACA marketplace as soon as the Department of Health and Human Services gets it working properly.
“I’ve tried eight times; I’m O for eight,” he said. “I’ll keep trying, and I’ll push through.”
He said he’s sure the marketplace website will be fixed in time for him and his staff to enroll by Jan. 1.
However, he reiterated his call for former Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius to resign as Health and Human Services secretary over the chaotic start to the health care marketplace site, which has been plagued with technical glitches since launching last month.
He said he doesn’t blame Sebelius for the technical problems but for failing to disclose the issues and assuring Congress that the department was ready to launch the website.
“She continued to tell this story, and she knew it wasn’t true,” he said.