Cheney defends NSA, calls Obama’s credibility ‘nonexistent’

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(CNN) — Former Vice President Dick Cheney vehemently defended the National Security Agency surveillance programs that started under President George W. Bush but argued the current administration has lost credibility.

“Part of the problem is the administration’s credibility – because of Benghazi and the IRS scandal – is less effective. Nonexistent, if you will, when you get over to the NSA program, which ought to be defended,” he told CNN.

Asked if he agreed with Obama on the need to carry out the surveillance programs, Cheney said he’s not looking “to defend President Obama” but maintained the operation that was set up in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks is a “very good program.”

“I think it’s run by first-rate professionals. I think it’s important to separate out that program from the scandals that they’ve got at IRS and Benghazi and so forth,” he said. “It’s done great work, it has saved lives – stopped attacks against the United States – and it’s vital to continue.”

Obama’s administration has forcefully defended the surveillance programs against some strong public backlash ever since the existence of the programs was leaked earlier this month. The NSA has played defense on its operations, which include collecting phone records and information from major Internet companies such as Google, Facebook, Microsoft and Yahoo.

Among those upset about the program were many Democrats, who had concerns about privacy.

“They probably were angry about it when we were running it too,” Cheney said. “But it’s a good, solid program, and it needs to be treated as such.”

Earlier on “Fox News Sunday,” Cheney said he believed the programs could have prevented 9/11 if they had been in place before the attack.

Referring to lawmakers who disagree with the program, the former vice president argued that two thirds of the representatives in Congress today weren’t in office on 9/11.

“The reason we got into it was because we’ve been attacked,” he said. “There’s going to be another attack, and they’ll have deadlier weapons than ever before. We’ve got to consider the possibility of a nuclear device or biological agent. We made the decision based on 9/11 that we no longer had a law enforcement problem – we are at war.”

“And that puts you in the category of using your military assets, your intelligence assets and so forth to protect the country against another attack,” he continued.

Cheney also described Edward Snowden, the former NSA contractor who leaked the information, as a “traitor.”

“I think it’s one of the worst occasions in my memory of somebody with access to classified information doing enormous damage to the national security interests of the U.S.,” he said.

Asked if he thought Snowden was spying for China, Cheney said he was “deeply suspicious.”

“It’s not a place you would ordinarily want to go if you’re interested in freedom, liberty and so forth, so it raises questions whether or not he had that kind of connection before he did that,” he said.

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