Mike Gravel on NSA Leaks: "It's Great!"

Weigel
Reporting on Politics and Policy.
June 14 2013 6:00 PM

What Does Mike Gravel Think of This NSA Business?

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Former Sen. Mike Gravel (D-AK) speaks during a Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute forum on October 3, 2007 in Washington, DC.

Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

I spoke with former Alaska Sen. Mike Gravel,who's most famously known for reading part of the Pentagon Papers into the Congressional Record after Daniel Ellsberg had leaked them to news outlets. It should surprise no one that he's a big fan of Edward Snowden—and Bradley Manning, for that matter.

Here are some choice quotes from the conversation:

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What do you think of NSA leaks? "I think it’s great! I think it’s great."

On the precedent set by Gravel v. United States: "There is total umbrage, total coverage for the Congress to release whatever information they think people should know to help maintain our democracy ... and unfortunately, nobody has availed themselves of this protection since 1972, when the court ruled."

On becoming a "pariah" after the Pentagon Papers incident: "They said, 'You can’t trust Gravel with any secrets.' Well, there’s no question about that!"

On alienating colleagues in Congress: "My god, you’re not going to be a member of the club anymore if you reveal secrets."

On deciding to read the Pentagon Papers into the record: "I didn’t want to be constrained by the club. I just wanted to end the war."

What advice do you have for the current senators on the intelligence committee? "Question authority."

On Sens. Ron Wyden, Mark Udall and Rand Paul: "They are unbelievably timid." (If pestering the administration on the issue for years and threatening a lawsuit against the NSA makes them timid, what does that make Dianne Feinstein and Saxby Chambliss?)

Aside from the new technology, is the administration's response to the NSA leaks today different from back in your day? "No difference at all from my day. In fact, worse. Nixon made some terrible mistakes, but those were paranoid mistakes. Obama is a total puppet of the military industrial complex."

A message to Rand Paul about the claim that PRISM thwarted terror plots: "Rand, take a hard look at that proof. It’s not the crime that disables politicians and leaders. It’s the cover-up."

And best of all: "If I were on the Intelligence Committee right now, I’d tell them everything I knew and resign and tell them to stick it!"

Correction, June 14, 2013: This post originally misspelled Daniel Ellsberg's last name.

Emma Roller is a Slate editorial assistant. Follow her on Twitter.