DES MOINES — Former Gov. Rick Perry on Wednesday used the recent attack in Garland, Texas, to make the case that the federal government's surveillance programs are important to national security, even if intelligence on one of the gunmen apparently didn't help authorities in the Dallas suburb.
"We knew who these people were," Perry said of the two gunmen who opened fire earlier this month outside a drawing contest featuring cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad. "This wasn't a secret, and to be able to listen in to those individuals' conversations, to track what those individuals are doing, I think most Americans would agree that's where we need to be using our technology, our listening in, our ability to track what these individuals are doing on the Internet."
Appearing at a national security forum at the close of a swing through Iowa, Perry suggested the shooting — which ended in a police officer taking down the two attackers — was not a perfect example of law enforcement reacting to intelligence. In the aftermath of the attack, the FBI said it had looked into one of the gunmen and tipped off Garland police, who disputed they had received any heads-up.
Asked whether mistakes were made in the lead-up to the shooting, Perry did not directly respond, but questioned whether the gunmen were being monitored the day of the attack.
"Well, obviously if we knew who these people were, and we knew that they were, in fact, either were or were being radicalized, and we knew that they were already on the watch list, who was supposed to be watching them that day?" Perry asked.
As Perry spoke, one of his likely rivals for the GOP nomination — U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky. — was on the Senate floor in Washington beginning what his campaign called a "filibuster" against the National Security Agency's surveillance programs. Last week, the House easily passed an overhaul of the NSA's capabilities, but the legislation is facing stiff opposition in the Senate, where leaders argue it could compromise national security.
"Finding the right balance, I would tend to agree more with the Senate approach than with the House approach from the standpoint of we must protect this country and protect its citizens, " Perry told the forum moderator, Associated Press reporter Ken Dilanian.
"So that means you're okay with the NSA taking everybody's phone calls, your psychiatrists, your ministers and that?" Dilanian responded.
"You just put a whole bunch of words in my mouth that I didn't say," Perry shot back, drawing loud applause. "What I said was we need to find a balance."
In another somewhat tense exchange with Dilanian, Perry defended the CIA's so-called "enhanced interrogation techniques," personalizing the debate for the moderator.
"If we need to use enhanced interrogation techniques to save your family, would you use them?" Perry asked Dilanian.
The former governor later suggested it would be "inhumane" not to use the methods if it was known American lives were at risk. Dilanian subsequently asked Perry where he would then draw the line on torture.
"Oh, I don't know, maybe the rectal feeding might be the line," Perry jokingly replied, bringing up one of the methods Dilanian mentioned earlier in the interview.
Perry's remarks came during a national security forum hosted by Americans for Peace, Prosperity and Security, a group headed by former U.S. Rep Mike Rogers, R-Mich.