BERKELEY -- Sen. Rand Paul, one of the foremost critics of the government’s domestic spying program, came to the birthplace of the free-speech movement Wednesday to deliver a searing indictment of the intelligence community and call for a sweeping congressional investigation of its activities.
Speaking just off the UC Berkeley campus, the Kentucky Republican depicted an overweening federal government prying into the most intimate reaches of people’s lives, from the books they purchase to the medications they take for their ills.
“I say what you read or what you send in your email or your text messages is none of their damn business,” Paul said to whoops and applause from the friendly, largely youthful crowd of several hundred.
Upon returning to Washington, Paul said, he would call for creating a bipartisan committee, modeled after one that scrutinized CIA abuses in the 1970s, to conduct an unfettered examination of the country’s spy agencies. “It should watch the watchers,” he said.
Paul’s libertarian stance and condemnation of domestic surveillance are well known. He filed a lawsuit this year against President Obama and the heads of several intelligence agencies, challenging the constitutionality of the National Security Agency’s data-mining program, which for years has swept up troves of information on Americans’ private communications.
The suit is one of several challenging the once-secret program, started under President George W. Bush and defended by the current administration as a lawful and necessary tool to fight terrorism.
Of greater note was the venue Paul chose, a campus that has been a wellspring of free expression and left-wing politics for generations. More than any other GOP presidential prospect, the Kentucky senator has worked to broaden the party’s appeal by calling for greater outreach, especially to younger voters -- “We need people with tattoos, ponytails and earrings” -- and by showing up at places Republicans rarely frequent.
He spoke last year to the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, where he broke with many in his party by endorsing comprehensive immigration reform. A few weeks later, he drew a mixed reception for a speech on civil rights at Washington’s Howard University, historically one of the nation’s top black colleges.
Asked Wednesday whether his appearance at Berkeley was an effort to broaden the GOP’s appeal preparatory to a run for president, Paul did not rule out the possibility.
“Maybe,” he replied.
Speaking to reporters afterward, Paul said he would not make a final decision about seeking the White House or reveal his intentions until after the November midterm election.