Greenwald vs. Ari Fleischer On NSA Surveillance, Potential For Abuse Of Power

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CNN: Glenn Greenwald says when the govt. operates in secret, officials abuse power. Ari Fleischer defends President Obama and the surveillance programs that monitor citizens' online activities and phone records.

"The Verizon program, the one you just referenced, is a program in which the government collects all of our phone records so that they will always know with whom we're speaking, where we are when we're having those conversations. And really the ultimate question is: do we have a society, a government, that operates almost entirely in the dark while knowing virtually everything about us? And when governments can operate almost entirely in the dark, what you got is a government full of Ari Fleischers, who can go before the world and spew falsehoods," Greenwald said.

ANDERSON COOPER: Ari, why are some Republicans who support this then not supporting the idea of, you know, if you buy a gun, having a register of who's buying a gun? If that seems to be too much of an intrusion, which I understand that argument of why people say that's too much of an intrusion, why is that an intrusion, but this not?

FLEISCHER: Look, I don't know what the exact comparison is on that. I think you have to ask that to the people who hold that point of view. Everybody has a different view on that. I'm proud on this one to defend President Obama because I think he's continuing those policies that kept us safe.

COOPER: Glenn, is it akin to, you know, the TSA taking off your shoes?

GREENWALD: Does it really require any effort to see why it's massively radically different to take off your shoes when you go through a metal detector versus having the government be able to troll through your private e-mails and listen in on your telephone conversations? The difference is obvious.

COOPER: President Obama is saying no one is listening in on phone conversations.

GREENWALD: Can I just finish? The prism program that we're talking about that I reported on is a program in which the United States government goes directly into the servers of companies like Facebook and Skype in order to surveil in real-time both text and telephone conversations.

The Verizon program which is the one that you just referenced is a one in which the government collects all of our phone records so that we can -- they will always know with whom we're speaking, where we are when we're having those conversations, and really, the ultimate question is we have a society, a government, that operates almost entirely in the dark while knowing virtually everything about us.

When governments can operate almost entirely in the dark, what you get is a government full of Ari Fleischers who can go before the world and spew falsehoods. There are weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Saddam Hussein has an alliance with Osama Bin Laden. When government officials operate in secret, they abuse their power.

COOPER: Ari, abuses do seem to happen time and time again.

FLEISCHER: Well, first of all, I'm not going to make this personal. This is a good policy debate to be engaged in and I'm proud actually as a Republican to be backing with President Obama has done and what I'm most proud of is we now have 16 years of a bipartisan template for whoever succeeds President Obama to continue. One of the reasons we have not suffered another 9/11 is because we are vigilant and have these important programs in place.

COOPER: But all things lead to -- things that are not out in the public, things that do have a veil of secrecy can end up being abused.

FLEISCHER: That's why this is a good debate to have and it's incumbent on the president to defend it. If you take that argument to an extreme there should be no classified information in the government whatsoever, the military, the CIA. There should be no secrets when the SEALs go to get Bin Laden, it should be publicly reported when the helicopters take off. There is a legitimacy to government secrecy. It's how we keep ourselves safe.

COOPER: Glenn, I want you to comment on that and I have one more question for you.

GREENWALD: I mean, I'll find an area of agreement with Ari Fleischer, which I didn't think was possible. I think he's right that we should debate it. The only reason we are debating it is because there was a source or sources within the United States government who saw what the government was doing, collecting all of our phone records without any evidence of wrongdoing, tapping directly into the servers of the largest internet giants and eavesdropping on those conversations with no oversight or checks of any kind and decided that his fellow citizens should be warned about what it was that we're doing precisely so we can have this debate.

That's why whistleblowers like that should be praised and not prosecuted because it's what enables journalists to then shine a light on those programs so that we can have the debates that both Ari Fleischer and I both agree we should be having.

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