John Kerry defends snooping, calls Snowden an indicted felon



New Delhi: Defending his National Security Agency's snooping programme, US Secretary of State John Kerry on Monday said it has prevented terrorist acts and denied any violation of civil liberty in the US or in India.

The remarks came after the issue about India being the fifth most tracked country by the US intelligence using a secret data-mining programme to monitor worldwide internet was raised "briefly" during the 4th India-US strategic dialogue co-chaired by External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid and his American counterpart John Kerry.

Asked if the issue was raised during the meeting, Khurshid, at a joint press conference with Kerry, said "this is an area we both are interested in and we discussed it.

"Now, the issue of privacy and issues of reciprocity are all that we will keep in mind and these are matters that engage our attention on both sides and we are constantly in touch and if there is any need for things to be brought to notice on either side, it will be done so. To that extent, a meaningful discussion briefly took place on this as well".

He said it is important to keep a distinction in mind between getting access to content and being able to study by way of computer software, patterns of communication, whether it is emails or telephone calls.

He said US President Barack Obama has already spoken on this and has "indicated their information that in several countries, terrorist strikes were prevented because of some of the work that they were able to do".

On his part, Kerry said "there are enormous amount of "misinformation and misunderstanding about it.

"I will proudly, proudly and forcefully defend civil liberties of the US and that of India and other democracies over every other country in the world.

"We take painstaking efforts, sometimes at the expense of endangering our ourselves, to protect the rights of people," Kerry said while asserting that the spy programme does not look at content.

"It does not look at individual emails. It does not listen to people's telephone conversation. It is a random survey by computers of any body's telephone, of just the numbers and not even the names.

"It takes those random numbers and looks whether those random numbers are connected to other numbers, that they know, by virtue of other intelligence, linked to terrorist in places where those terrorists operate," Kerry said and stressed it is only when an "adequate linkage" is formed, the authorities got to a special court to get permission to obtain further data.

Kerry, however, said Edward Snowden, who was the whistle-blower who brought to light NSA's spy programme, had betrayed his country and should face consequences.

Kerry also warned of consequences to ties with Russia and China over his flight from Hong Kong to Russia, saying it was "deeply troubling" if requests for his extradition had been ignored.

Asked about Russia's role in Snowden's flight, Kerry said "I would urge them (Russia) to live by the standards of the law because that's in the interests of everybody. In the last two years, we have transferred seven prisoners to Russia that they wanted so I think reciprocity and the enforcement of the law is pretty important."

Kerry said "he (Snowden) is an indicted individual, indicted on three felony counts...Evidently, he places himself above the law having betrayed his country with respect of the violation of his oath and I think there are very serious implications in that".

"Wonder if Snowden chose Russia or China for assistance because they are such bastions of internet freedom," Kerry said.

Asked about diplomatic consequences of Snowden's departure, Kerry said it would be "very disappointing" if it were found that he was "wilfully allowed to board an aircraft".

"With respect to China-Russia relationship and where this puts us, it would be deeply troubling obviously if they have adequate notice and, not withstanding that, they made a decision wilfully to ignore that and not live by the standards of the law," Kerry added.

PTI