Chris Christie: Edward Snowden Is a Criminal and NSA Fears Are ‘Baloney’

The Republican governor and likely White House hopeful will accuse Hollywood and “civil-liberties extremists” of hijacking the NSA debate in a speech Monday.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland, on February 26, 2015.
National Journal
Dustin Volz
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Dustin Volz
May 18, 2015, 6:54 a.m.

New Jer­sey Gov. Chris Christie will con­demn Ed­ward Snowden as a “crim­in­al” and charge civil liber­tari­ans with drum­ming up “ba­lo­ney” con­cerns about the Na­tion­al Se­cur­ity Agency’s spy­ing prac­tices Monday dur­ing a for­eign policy speech to be de­livered in New Hamp­shire.

“Too of­ten, the loudest voices in the de­bate about how to keep our coun­try safe are driv­en by some pur­ist, the­or­et­ic­al vis­ion of how we should man­age our in­tel­li­gence ef­forts,” the Re­pub­lic­an and likely White House con­tender will say, ac­cord­ing to ex­cerpts provided of his pre­pared re­marks. “Let me be clear—all these fears are ba­lo­ney.”

Christie, whose re­marks come as Con­gress is weigh­ing re­forms to the NSA, will de­nounce such ef­forts as il­le­git­im­ately hyped by Snowden, Hol­ly­wood, and civil-liber­tari­an “ex­trem­ists.”

“When it comes to fight­ing ter­ror­ism, our gov­ern­ment is not the en­emy,” Christie will say. “And we shouldn’t listen to people like Ed­ward Snowden, a crim­in­al who hurt our coun­try and now en­joys the hos­pit­al­ity of [Rus­si­an] Pres­id­ent [Vladi­mir] Putin—while send­ing us mes­sages about the dangers of au­thor­it­ari­an gov­ern­ment. And, frankly, we don’t need ad­vice from Hol­ly­wood, the guys who made our in­tel­li­gence agen­cies the vil­lains in prac­tic­ally every movie from the last 25 years.”

Christie has sternly ad­mon­ished NSA crit­ics be­fore, telling them they should sit down with the fam­il­ies of the vic­tims of the Septem­ber 11, 2001, ter­ror­ist at­tacks be­fore ques­tion­ing the im­port­ance and le­git­im­acy of the na­tion’s sur­veil­lance pro­grams. His stance on mass sur­veil­lance aligns him oth­er GOP de­fense hawks run­ning for pres­id­ent, in­clud­ing Sen. Marco Ru­bio, who has launched a cam­paign, and former Flor­ida Gov. Jeb Bush, who is ex­pec­ted to of­fi­cially de­clare in the com­ing weeks.

But Christie’s Monday re­marks are his most ex­tens­ive yet re­gard­ing the NSA and come as he nears a de­cision on wheth­er to form­ally enter the Re­pub­lic­an field for pres­id­ent. Christie has said he will make an of­fi­cial an­nounce­ment re­gard­ing his White House plans in May or June.

The speech also ar­rives as Con­gress is near­ing a June 1 dead­line to re­new three of the Pat­ri­ot Act’s sur­veil­lance pro­vi­sions, in­clud­ing Sec­tion 215, which the NSA uses to jus­ti­fy its bulk col­lec­tion of U.S. call re­cords. Last week, the House over­whelm­ingly passed a re­form pack­age, the USA Free­dom Act, that would ef­fect­ively end the Amer­ic­an phone-re­cords drag­net, but it re­mains un­clear if Sen­ate Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Mitch Mc­Con­nell will al­low any re­forms through the Sen­ate.

Christie’s speech makes clear his view—shared by Ru­bio, Gra­ham, and Bush—that re­forms to pull back the NSA’s powers are un­ne­ces­sary and short-sighted. It puts him dir­ectly at odds with Re­pub­lic­an Sens. Rand Paul and Ted Cruz, however, both of whom are run­ning for pres­id­ent and be­lieve the NSA has over­stepped its au­thor­ity and needs to be sig­ni­fic­antly pared down.

Christie’s speech takes par­tic­u­lar aim at Snowden, a former NSA con­tract­or whose leaks that began nearly two years ago have ex­posed many of the agency’s once-secret sur­veil­lance pro­grams. Snowden is cur­rently liv­ing in Mo­scow un­der asylum. His June 2013 ren­dez­vous in Hong Kong with journ­al­ist Glenn Gre­en­wald was chron­icled last year in film-maker Laura Poitras’s Oscar-win­ning doc­u­ment­ary, Cit­izen­four.

“When Ed­ward Snowden re­vealed our in­tel­li­gence secrets to the world in 2013, civil-liber­ties ex­trem­ists seized that mo­ment to ad­vance their own nar­row agenda,” Christie will say. “They want you to think that there’s a gov­ern­ment spook listen­ing in every time you pick up the phone or Skype with your grandkids. They want you to think of our in­tel­li­gence com­munity as the bad guys, straight out of The Bourne Iden­tity or a Hol­ly­wood thrill­er. And they want you to think that if we weakened our cap­ab­il­it­ies, the rest of the world would love us more.”

Christie’s speech will also dis­cuss the need for a “stronger na­tion­al de­fense strategy,” and the im­port­ance of bol­ster­ing ex­ist­ing al­li­ances and for­ging new ones, ac­cord­ing to his pre­pared re­marks.

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