INDIANAPOLIS | U.S. Sen. Dan Coats, R-Ind., believes secret National Security Agency programs collecting the telephone and Internet records of all Americans are needed to protect the country from terrorist attacks.
"That is how we connect the dots and identify links between international terrorists and their collaborators within the United States," Coats wrote Tuesday in a column for a New York-based newspaper.
Coats took to task members of Congress and others questioning, for political advantage, the legality of NSA surveillance, saying that after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks Americans demanded their government take steps to prevent future attacks.
"These programs are legal, constitutional and used only under the strict oversight of all three branches of the government, including a highly scrutinized judicial process," said Coats, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee. "I can attest that few issues garner more of our attention than the oversight of these programs."
Speaking on a cable news program Wednesday, Coats demanded Edward Snowden, the former NSA contractor who leaked details of the programs, be forced to return to the United States and stand trial.
"Lives will be lost as a result of that, I believe, and I think this is someone that needs to come before the justice system to account for what he's done," Coats said.
The 12-year senator emphasized that the federal government is not indiscriminately listening to Americans' phone calls or reading their e-mails. He said the only telephone data collected is the time of the call, the phone numbers involved and the length of the call.
He added that NSA tools have helped thwart "dozens" of potential terrorist acts and the revelation of their existence "compromises our sources and gives terrorists critical information on how we monitor their activities."
Coats' stance differs from U.S. Rep. Todd Rokita, R-Indianapolis, who said Monday the NSA is violating the constitutional rights of Americans by subjecting them to unlawful searches.
Rokita, a Munster native, represents Newton and Jasper counties.
Elizabeth Shappell, communications director for U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind, said the first-year senator believes Congress must exercise strong oversight of NSA programs with an eye toward protecting both national security and Americans' privacy.