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Tester: Country needs ‘best of both worlds’ in surveillance balance


Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) has long been a skeptic of government surveillance, particularly taking opposition to the wide-reaching Patriot Act. But as Congress enters a new debate over National Security Agency’s surveillance tactics, the Montana Democrat says Congress must tread lightly between protecting citizen’s rights and safety.

“I think we can have the best of both worlds. We can have our freedoms and we can have our civil liberties and we can also have our security,” Tester said on Thursday’s The Daily Rundown. “But we need to have the debate to make sure we’re heading the right direction as a country.”

As part of that debate, Tester has focused on the role of contractors working in the most covert sectors of the U.S. government, after Booz Allen Hamilton contractor Edward Snowden leaked information about NSA surveillance programs. Tester asked NSA Chairman Gen. Keith Alexander about contractors in a Senate hearing Wednesday, bringing up an issue that Alexander admitted needs more review.

“We spend a lot of money keeping information out of the hands of folks who are trying to do harm on us from the outside. When in fact we need to pay attention to the folks on the inside too. I think the Edward Snowden incident is proof of that,” said Tester.

Tester also said on the issue of sexual assault in the military, stronger leadership in the military could be the solution.

“I believe that you need to have leadership at the top that says zero- tolerance. I think if that happens— If they say no and they truly mean it, I think the military sexual assault will stop tomorrow,” he added.

Fresh off his own tough re-election bid, Tester said he’s hopeful that a Democrat will join him next year from his home state, with his colleague Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) announcing his retirement in April. And, Tester said he’s confident the Democrat on the ticket will be former Gov. Brian Schweitzer, the top recruitment target of national Democrats, though Tester admitted he hasn’t spoken to the former governor in six months.

“I don’t bet the farm on many things, but I’d bet the farm he’s running,” said Tester.

Tester: Country needs 'best of both worlds' in surveillance balance