Key Senator Levin: Wouldn't want J. Edgar Hoover to have NSA powers

Olivier Knox
FILE - In this June 4, 2013, file photo, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich. asks a question of a witness during a hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington on legislation regarding sexual assaults in the military. Siding with the Pentagon's top brass, the Senate Armed Services Committee approved legislation Wednesday, June 12, 2013, to keep commanders involved in deciding whether to prosecute sexual assault cases, rejecting an aggressive plan to stem sex-related crimes in the armed forces by overhauling the military justice system. By a vote of 17-9, the committee passed a bill crafted by its chairman, Levin, designed to increase pressure on senior commanders to prosecute sexual assault cases by requiring a top-level review if they fail to do so.(AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)

This is not exactly a huge vote of confidence in the National Security Agency's institutional safeguards against wrongly invading Americans' privacy. Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, D.-Mich, told reporters Tuesday that he wouldn't want someone like notorious FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover to have the NSA's powers to spy on U.S. citizens.

"If this technology were in the hands of J. Edgar Hoover, would I feel comfortable? No," Levin declared at a breakfast with reporters organized by the Christian Science Monitor. "But on the other hand, I wasn't comfortable with J. Edgar Hoover with his technology."

Levin, who also sits on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said he had been "adequately informed" about the NSA's program of collecting the telephone records of millions of Americans. That program and a parallel program to intercept online communications, known as PRISM, were the focus of revelations by Edward Snowden, an NSA contractor.

"It's got to be looked at, I believe, very, very carefully to see whether or not this technology now has the greater potential — and it does, so I shouldn't say 'if' — this technology has greater potential to invade our privacy, period," Levin said.

"That capability, that technology, is something which we all have to think through because there's plusses to it, in terms of catching bad guys, and there's some minuses to it, in terms of abuses," the senator said.

Levin also said he was still "troubled" by Director of National Intelligence James Clapper's testimony to the Senate Intelligence Committee that the NSA did not collect data on millions of Americans.

"I'm troubled by that testimony, obviously. I don't know how he's tried to wiggle out from it, but I'm troubled by it," Levin said. "How you hold him accountable, I guess the only way to do that would be for the president to somehow or other fire him."

But, Levin added, "I think he’s made it clear that he regrets saying what he said, and I don’t want to call on the president to fire him although I am troubled by it."