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
Add to Briefcase
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.

What We're Following See More »
Sessions Pressured Wray to Fire Andrew McCabe
7 minutes ago

"Attorney General Jeff Sessions — at the public urging of President Donald Trump — has been pressuring FBI Director Christopher Wray to fire Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, but Wray threatened to resign if McCabe was removed, according to three sources with direct knowledge."

Tsumani Warning for Northern West Coast
43 minutes ago

"A tsunami warning was issued Tuesday for the Pacific Coast from Washington to Alaska after a major undersea earthquake hit southeast of Kodiak," with a magnitude reported by the USGS at 7.9 and the NWS as 8.2. "The warning was in effect for more than 3,000 miles of coastal zones north of the Washington border: British Columbia and Alaska’s entire southern shoreline including the Aleutian Islands."

Trump to Invite Macron For First State Visit
48 minutes ago

"Trump is expected to invite French President Emmanuel Macron to Washington for an official state visit later this year...While a date for the visit has not yet been officially set and the White House has not made an announcement, sources say that could come as soon as this week, while Trump attends the World Economic Forum in Davos."

Trump Signs Spending Bill
10 hours ago
Dems Agree to Take McConnell’s Deal
18 hours ago

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said he's accepting Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's offer to hold an immigration vote at a later date, "clearing the way for passage of a bill to reopen the federal government" today. "McConnell early Monday promised to take up an immigration bill that would protect an estimated 800,000 Dreamers from deportation, under an open amendment process, if Democrats would agree to end the government shutdown."


Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.