Major political figures are rallying around the government's surveillance programs, arguing that the loss of privacy for everyday Americans is justified because the eavesdropping has thwarted terrorist plots.
Former Vice President Dick Cheney added his voice to the debate by arguing that the surveillance programs are necessary if terrorist attacks are to be stopped. He told Fox News Sunday that Edward Snowden, who leaked classified information about the existence and extent of the surveillance, is a "traitor" who has damaged national security.
As vice president after the 9/11 terrorist attacks that killed 3,000 people in 2001, Cheney helped design the controversial system, leaked by Snowden, for keeping track of the public's emails and phone calls.
Snowden had been working for the Booz Allen Hamilton contracting firm in Hawaii when he leaked the sensitive information obtained from the National Security Agency. He fled to Hong Kong after the leaks were made public last month. Cheney said Snowden might be a Chinese spy. "I'm suspicious because he went to China," the former GOP vice president said.
"That's not a place where you would ordinarily want to go if you are interested in freedom, liberty and so forth. It raises questions whether or not he had that kind of connection before he did this."
Cheney said the disclosure was very harmful to U.S. interests. "I think it's one of the worst occasions in my memory of somebody with access to classified information doing enormous damage to the national security interests of the United States," Cheney said.
He added that President Obama's defense of the eavesdropping programs is ineffective because Obama has been weak on security issues. Cheney complained that under Obama, the Internal Revenue Service had targeted conservative groups for extra scrutiny and the administration had made crucial errors in protecting Americans during terrorist attacks on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, last year. Four Americans, including an ambassador, were killed in those attacks. "He's got no credibility," Cheney said of Obama.
In a separate interview on CNN, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., said the eavesdropping programs are used "sparingly" and are monitored by Congress, the executive branch and the courts.
And White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough told CBS Sunday that Obama doesn't believe the surveillance programs have violated Americans' privacy.
But critics of the programs aren't backing off, suggesting that the debate on the future of the eavesdropping has just begun. Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., told NBC: "We owe it to the American people to have a fulsome debate in the open about the extent of these programs. ... My Number 1 goal is to protect the American people but we can do it in a way that also respects our civil liberties."
Ken Walsh covers the White House and politics for U.S. News. He writes the daily blog "Ken Walsh's Washington" for usnews.com and "The Presidency" column for the U.S. News Weekly. He is the author of the new book "Prisoners of the White House: The Isolation of America's Presidents and the Crisis of Leadership." Ken Walsh can be reached at email@example.com and on Facebook and Twitter.