Don't Blame NSA for Spying Scandal; Orders Come From White House, Former Defense Secretary Says

Leon Panetta, former director of the CIA and former Secretary of Defense under President Barack Obama, defended the National Security Administration's controversial surveillance techniques, arguing that it is only following orders from the White House.

"Do you think this agency went too far," Bob Schieffer asked Panetta Sunday on CBS' "Face the Nation."

Panetta answered that NSA officials "do a great job," and after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, NSA has been gathering intelligence based upon the direction provided to it by the National Security Council, a White House office that oversees National Security matters.

The NSA directives Panetta was referring to first came from President George W. Bush and continued under Obama.

"We went through 9/11 and we learned that very frankly we did not have good intelligence with regards to what al Qaeda was doing," Panetta said. "[The NSA] developed very good approaches to going after that intelligence.

"And let me tell you something else, that these agencies don't go out just gather intelligence on their own, they do it pursuant to priorities that are established by the National Security Council and the White House. They don't just do this hit and miss on their own. They do it pursuant to what they're directed to do."

The NSA has been at the center of a controversy over privacy and national security. Former NSA contractor Edward Snowden leaked documents showing extensive surveillance by the NSA, including phone records and emails. Plus, world leaders, such as German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, have discovered that their phone calls have been monitored by the NSA.

Panetta was also asked about the CIA's use of drone strikes to attack terrorists. Some have wondered why that operation has been under the CIA rather than the Defense Department.

"You were in the rare position of running both the CIA and Defense Department. Which agency do you think is better suited to run the drone program?" Schieffer asked.

Panetta said that the Defense Department should probably be given more of that responsibility "because it's a more open process," but Defense can also learn from the CIA about how to best conduct those strikes. He added, though, that there will "always" be the need for "clandestine operations" that only the CIA can accomplish.

Prior to joining the Obama administration, Panetta had served as a member of Congress and chief of staff for President Bill Clinton.

You can watch the whole interview here.

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