Former AG Alberto Gonzales defends NSA surveillance, Holder


by Joe Arnold

Posted on June 20, 2013 at 6:23 PM

Updated Friday, Jun 21 at 1:03 AM

LOUISVILLE, Ky (WHAS11) -- Former U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales is defending the National Security Agency's recently leaked surveillance programs as legal and necessary tools to protect the United States from terrorist attacks.

"Despite what you think about the federal government meddling in issues such as the education of your child, your health care, marital relationships and parenting, I hope we can all agree we need an effective, efficient and coordinated federal effort to safeguard our country," Gonzales said in a speech to the Kentucky Bar Association on Thursday afternoon.

A key figure in the legal justifications in the war on terror in post 9/11 American history, Gonzales served as White House Counsel during President George W. Bush's first term and then as Attorney General. 

"One of the painful lessons of the 9/11 attacks was the realization that the federal government was not only unable to connect the dots of information that might have allowed it to prevent the attacks, we were unable to collect the dots," Gonzales continued.

Now a Nashville attorney and law professor at Belmont University, Gonzales said he is "grateful the Obama administration is continuing many of the same policies."

With some members of Congress, including Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, alleging the NSA's surveillance programs constitute an abuse of power, President Obama has rejected comparisons of him to former Vice-President Dick Cheney, a staunch supporter of the programs.

"He clearly is no Dick Cheney," Gonzales said in an interview with WHAS11, "but I think it's fair to say that many of the same policies have continued.  I think they understand that it is still a very dangerous world. And these policies that were put in place during the Bush administration are effective. And we worked very hard to make sure that they were lawful. I have every reason to believe that this administration is doing the very same thing."

Gonzales, however, declined to answer whether the surveillance programs revealed after a leak by former government contractor Edward Snowden appear to be any different from the programs instituted during his tenure.

"If I said yes or no that might give some hint about what we were doing that still remains classified," Gonzales explained.  "The thing you have to also understand is I suspect that the leaker has limited information. Often times the leaker does have only limited information and the information that is disclosed is often inaccurate and often incomplete."

Gonzales cautioned that critics of the policies need to be careful on opining on their legality without knowing all of the facts.  Yet, Gonzales acknowledged that the background check system that granted Snowden, a high school dropout, a high security clearance needs to be reviewed.

"Obviously to the extent we have classified information, we need to be very careful in deciding and determining who should have access to that kind of information," Gonzales said.  "We have problems there. Those have to be identified and those have to be solved."

Gonzales, who resigned from the Attorney General's post in 2007 amid several controversies, also defended current Attorney General Eric Holder.

"I take no pleasure whatsoever in seeing what the Attorney General is going through right now," Gonzales said to WHAS11.  "people have to understand that the Attorney General works for the President and so the decisions made by General Holder may reflect the desires of the President of the United States.  He may not like it, but again he works for the President."

WHAS11 Political Editor Joe Arnold has more, click on the video player above.