Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley says he had no idea the National Security Agency was tapping into the servers of top Internet companies, and was only aware that the NSA was monitoring phone records after he specifically sought that information out.
"It was not something that was briefed outside the Intelligence Committee,” he said of the government's access to phone company data. “I had special permission to find out about the program. It raised concerns for me.”
On Now with Alex Wagner Friday, Merkley said he was prohibited from saying anything about the program because it was classified. “The part I was aware of was that there was a broad vacuum sweeping up data across America. The details were another step removed from what I found out when I asked what was going on."
President Obama told reporters Friday that members of Congress are repeatedly briefed on how these programs are conducted and that they were approved by bipartisan majorities. “What you’ve got is two programs that were originally authorized by Congress, have been repeatedly authorized by Congress,” he said.
Obama added that the NSA's Internet-tapping only applies to people who are not inside the country and who are not U.S. citizens. Merkley maintained that he had never heard of this program, code-named “PRISM.”
“I had no idea about it. I have no idea how many people knew about it in Congress. I suspect a very small number on the intelligence committees,” he said. “I think a very small number of senators and congressmen had full details on these programs.”
Merkley charged that the Obama administration hasn’t released rulings from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court on how it is interpreting the law in allowing phone records from Americans to be retrieved without a specific potential crime or national security threat to justify it.
He told Alex Wagner:
“Clearly the administration has not followed what an ordinary person would consider to be a standard of the law here, and has not been willing to release the opinion of the FISA court about how they’re interpreting that language despite repeated requests from Congress to do so. And I think there are many pieces of this that the president glossed over. He took very lightly the collection of very detailed information about who you call, who you talk to across America.”
You can watch Merkley’s full interview in the player above.
Read more on the government program monitoring servers of top Internet companies.
Watch President Obama's remarks on the surveillance programs.