They worry about possible gov't intrusion, but don't support leak of info to press.

Last updated: June 10. 2013 11:36PM - 5509 Views
By ANDREW M. SEDER



Demonstrators hold signs supporting Edward Snowden in New York's Union Square Park on Monday. Snowden, who says he worked as a contractor at the National Security Agency and the CIA, gave classified documents to reporters, making public two sweeping U.S. surveillance programs and touching off a national debate on privacy versus security.
Demonstrators hold signs supporting Edward Snowden in New York's Union Square Park on Monday. Snowden, who says he worked as a contractor at the National Security Agency and the CIA, gave classified documents to reporters, making public two sweeping U.S. surveillance programs and touching off a national debate on privacy versus security.
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In light of a leak confirming that a National Security Agency program has been monitoring communication between people in the United States, members of Northeastern Pennsylvania's congressional delegation are asking questions about the agency's action and whether it crossed a constitutional line.
 
Rep. Matt Cartwright, D-Moosic, said members of Congress have been invited to a classified briefing today at 5 p.m. that will include an NSA official. He said he's anxious to hear more about the program and whether the allegations leveled by Ed Snowden, the 29-year-old Booz Allen Hamilton employee behind last week's series of leaks about the NSA surveillance on fellow Americans, are accurate.
 
“Is this guy a hero or a traitor?” Cartwright said.
 
While he stopped short of condemning Snowden for taking his information to the media, other members of the local congressional delegation are not defending him.
 
“I am in no rush to label Snowden a hero,” said Rep. Tom Marino. “The same way we should constantly question our government, we can rightly question Snowden's motivations in turning over classified information. We all rely on a free press and government whistleblowers to keep government accountable and for that reason we protect and encourage whistleblowers. I want to know why Snowden appears to have ignored proper channels and instead broke the law.”
 
Appearing on Bobby Gunther Walsh's morning show on WAEB in Allentown on Monday, U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey said that while he wants to learn more about the NSA program, he also believes that what Snowden did was improper.
 
“I'll start off with a serious reservation with someone who has a security clearance, they have access to classified information and they turn that over to the press,” said Toomey, R-Zionsville.
 
U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta, R-Hazleton, sits on the House Homeland Security Committee and noted, “Any time we are talking about the release of documents sensitive to national security, the conversation is very difficult and complex.”
 
He said it's his “understanding that we will be looking into what, if any, laws were broken by the leaking of this information. It is disturbing that Edward Snowden went straight to the news media rather than go through the whistle-blower process.”
 
Among Barletta, Cartwright, Marino, Toomey and fellow U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, Toomey was the only Northeastern Pennsylvania representative in Congress at the time the Patriot Act was signed into law. And while he voted for that 2001 law, he said he needs to learn more about the inner workings of the so called PRISM program before he can answer the question about “if this activity is in violation of the Patriot Act or not.”
 
“I believe that absolutely you need a warrant to actually eavesdrop, record to examine the content of communication of Americans,” Toomey said.
 
“Our Constitution has a prohibition against unreasonable searches, and that's a good thing, but the question is what's reasonable and what's not.”
 
Barletta's spokesman Tim Murtagh said “the information about PRISM is limited to Senate and House leadership and members of the Intelligence Committees of the House and Senate. The congressman believes it is something the entire Congress should look into, because there appears to have been overreach.”
 
Barletta said that when it comes to government actions regarding national security, “the key is in striking a balance between liberty and the central responsibility of government, which is to protect the citizenry. It is a line we have been attempting to walk since Sept. 11, 2001.”
 
“On one hand, there is the news that our efforts to keep America safe have been compromised. Any time our information gathering hand is tipped to our enemies around the globe, we perhaps provide assistance and warning to those who would do us harm. This should be of grave concern,” Barletta said. “On the other hand, many Americans are rightly alarmed about potential affronts to their civil liberties and privacy rights.”
 
Marino, R-Lycoming Township, said that as a former federal prosecutor he supports the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court and the USA Patriot Act.
 
“I know how they operate and how they have helped to track down and prosecute those who wish to attack our way of life. They are and will remain important tools we need to confront the continuing threat of terrorism,” Marino said, but he cautioned that a closer eye needs to be kept on the way the government uses its powers.
 
“In light of the recent IRS scandal, I share the concerns of many of my constituents who believe the current Administration is far too willing to abuse any power it is granted. We need to be absolutely certain that strong checks are in place to prevent any future Administration, be it Democrat or Republican, from abusing this power and undermining our expectation of privacy, our civil liberties, and our constitutional rights,” Marino said.
 
Toomey said he supports monitoring what he called communication “facts” such as the number from which a phone call is made, the number it's made to and the duration of the call so the NSA can come up with trends to identify potential terrorist activities.
 
“This is very new … I think we should have a discussion about how we use this, under what circumstances and what are the guidelines,” Toomey told Walsh. “For me, at this point, it's a lot of questions.”
 
While he wants answers, Toomey said he's very concerned about Snowden's actions and the way it could aid terrorists.
 
“One thing for sure that this does is it gives terrorists more information, more knowledge about how we go about getting information about these terrorists and gives their opportunities to change their MOs,” Toomey said.
 
Cartwright said he understands the balancing act of protecting citizens and violating their privacy to reach a sense of security, but “I tend to be a little bit more on the side of privacy.”
 
He said if Snowden's allegations are true and the government was listening to communication of Americans without warrants, “I think it opens a Pandora's Box and it absolutely mandates us to have a new discussion on surveillance in this country.”
 
John Rizzo, a spokesman for Casey, D-Scranton, said the senator “has been briefed on key elements of intelligence gathering efforts and has requested a more detailed briefing to address some of the specific concerns raised recently. As he has stated, we need to make sure that we are taking every appropriate step to keep people safe. It is also essential that the executive branch operate with transparency and ensure that our counter-terrorism efforts do not infringe on the civil liberties of American citizens.”

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