WASHINGTON (CBS DC) — In a debate over the future of U.S. government surveillance and the National Security Agency, Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., called leaker Edward Snowden a “defector and a traitor,” and said that such metadata in 2001 could likely have prevented the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Speaking on NBC News’ “Meet the Press,” King, a Republican member of the Homeland Security Committee, and Chair of the Judiciary Committee, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., took opposite sides in their discussion of the NSA’s mass collection of data continually being leaked by the former NSA contractor.

“First of all, I think Edward Snowden [is] a defector and a traitor. And the fact is there is no agency that is more monitored and more watched than the NSA,” King said on “Meet the Press.” “It’s monitored by the courts, by the Justice Department. It’s monitored by the intelligence committees in the Senate and the House. I think it’s absolutely indispensable to our national security.”

“The president said it’s essential,” said King.

In response, Leahy suggested that Snowden was “irrelevant” in this discussion, and he instead invoked the founding fathers and transparency with the American public.

“I think we ought to listen what the founding fathers said. That’s what kept us strong as a country for over 200 years. I think the founding fathers would be astounded to see what NSA and others are doing,” said Leahy. “You know, it’s not Snowden. In a way, he’s irrelevant on this. It’s a question of how well this has been looked at and how much the American public knows about it.”

“They did such a poor job, the NSA, that a subcontractor was able to steal all their secrets. And today, after spending a millions of dollars, they still don’t know what was stolen,” said Leahy.

However, King remained adamant that the Justice Department and other oversight courts have prevented privacy abuses within the agency.

“I don’t think everyone has to know what a spy agency is doing. By their nature, a spy agency, it’s kept secret. That’s the purpose of it,” said King.

He called on President Barack Obama to “step forward and defend the NSA” more vigorously, and suggested that if the NSA had been able to collect such metadata in 2001, the Sept. 11 attacks may have been prevented.

“There has not been one abuse cited. I live in New York. I lost about 150 friends, neighbors and constituents on September 11,” said King.

“If the NSA had had this metadata in 2001, that attack probably wouldn’t have happened.”

Leahy challenged King, saying that some reviews at the time note that such information was available before Sept. 11, but simply was not acted on. King responded that the government “didn’t have the power” to act on the information at the time.


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