Rand Paul dings NSA for tracking ‘innocent Americans’

Sen. Rand Paul says the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of data on “innocent Americans” has led federal law enforcement officials to lose sight of real threats — including the Boston Marathon bombers.

“I think if you’re not spending so much time and money collecting the information of innocent Americans, maybe we could’ve spent more time knowing that one of the Tsarnaev boys, one of the Boston bombers, had gone back to Chechnya,” the Kentucky Republican senator said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

“We didn’t know that, even though we’d been tipped off by the Russians. We had communicated, we had interviewed him, and still didn’t know that.”

Paul, who’s seeking the GOP presidential nomination, said if he’s president he would keep the NSA but target the intelligence agency’s operations toward more likely terror suspects.

But Paul also said the United States should comply with an appellate court’s ruling that the bulk collection of phone data is a violation of the Constitution.

“If the President’s obeying the law, he should stop it immediately and we shouldn’t be doing this. I don’t want to replace it with another system,” he said.

Paul has made a name for himself by opposing post-9/11 government surveillance programs authorized by the Patriot Act. He’s also won praise from civil liberties groups for fighting against unauthorized drone strikes.

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