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Lawmakers Work To Gauge Public Mood On NSA And Leaker

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.
Richard Drew

When it comes to secrets leaker Edward Snowden and the National Security Agency's phone records and Internet snooping, some in Congress face a dilemma.

Namely, how to read public opinion.

Speaking off the record, aides for Republican and Democratic House lawmakers told me they are getting constituent calls on both sides: from those urging that Snowden not be prosecuted and those insisting he should be.

An aide for one congressman told me her boss's staff was holding off on issuing a statement until it had the chance to further gauge the voters' mood.

Another aide told me that of all the calls received by her House member's office on the NSA program, not one supported it.

These are just anecdotes, but they give a sense of how much the public appears to be sending mixed messages right about now. A new Pew Research Center poll clarifies matters a little. It reports that a majority, 56 percent of Americans, back the NSA phone tracking as an acceptable way for the government to investigate terrorism.

Of the public feedback, Sabrina Singh, a press secretary with Rep. Jan Schakowsky, an Illinois Democrat on the House intelligence panel, said: "Our constituents are concerned about it [the NSA data-gathering]. And we think that's good because Congresswoman Schakowsky believes that the American people deserve transparency. And she welcomes this debate."

Among the anti-leak hard-liners have been Rep. Mike Rogers, the Michigan Republican who is chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the California Democrat who heads the Senate counterpart. Both have said the leaker responsible for the recent NSA stories should be prosecuted.

A theme from some lawmakers who so far have been critical of the NSA data-gathering efforts is that, as policymakers, they were either completely unaware of the programs or mostly in the dark.

Intelligence officials plan to visit Capitol Hill Tuesday to throw a little light on the programs for all House lawmakers via a late afternoon briefing. A similar briefing for all senators is planned for Wednesday.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Frank James joined NPR News in April 2009 to launch the blog, "The Two-Way," with co-blogger Mark Memmott.
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