After meeting Wednesday with a delegation of Austrian lawmakers, Pittenger, R-N.C., said recent developments in Iraq and Syria -- where radical Islamists have gained ground -- are cause for some concern, noting he thinks the embattled region is "the training ground" for terrorists. He cited the "enormous base" of support and collaboration radical Islamist terrorists have amassed in the Middle East as well as an uptick in terror-related deaths as reasons for cooperation.
"That's why it's so critical that we work with our partners in the region," Pittenger said. We [need to] use our superior technology ... working with our friends in the region to try to dismantle this [radical Islamist terror] operation."
Many of these partners are located in Europe, a region of major focus for Pittenger in his role as chairman of the Congressional Task Force on Terrorism. He traveled to Europe in February to meet with foreign ministers, parliamentarians, and ambassadors to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Pittenger has also traveled extensively in Asia and the Middle East to rebuild relationships that may have been marred by Snowden's revelations.
"This man is no hero," Pittenger said of Snowden, noting that he disclosed far more than his concerns for Americans' privacy warranted.
"It requires a court order for [the NSA] to review an email or a phone number. And that's only when you can prove that that number or email has had a contact from an outside known terrorist," he said. "There is not access by people inside the NSA or anybody else to broad swaths of emails or phone numbers," Pittenger stated. Referring to his meeting with the Austrian delegation he said "they heard that and they understood it."
Beyond the goodwill tour being undertaken by Pittenger, he's also supporting legislation to reform the structure and practices of the intelligence-gathering community. The USA Freedom Act (H.R. 3361) passed the House with bipartisan support in late May, and would protect both national security and personal freedoms, according to a release.
In a June 9 op-ed for the Washington Examiner, Pittenger described the legislation as "prohibiting the NSA from collecting bulk phone records and requiring case-by-case approval for future investigations requiring access to specific phone data, which will now be held by private companies."
After Wednesday's "very well-received" meeting, Pittenger and the Austrian delegation have agreed to work together to plan a larger meeting in Washington in September, with 27 European Union members on the invite list. Both parties also hope to have a U.S. delegation visit Vienna early next year to continue talks on intelligence, terrorism, and ongoing cooperation.