Obama: NSA secret data gathering 'transparent'

Obama to public: "...phone calls aren't being listened into; text messages aren't being monitored, emails are not being read by some big brother somewhere."
Associated Press
Jun 18, 2013

President Barack Obama defended top secret National Security Agency spying programs as legal in a lengthy interview Monday, and called them transparent — even though they are authorized in secret.

"It is transparent," Obama told PBS' Charlie Rose in an interview broadcast Monday. "That's why we set up the FISA court," he added, referring to the secret court set up by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act that authorizes two recently disclosed programs: one that gathers U.S. phone records and another that is designed to track the use of U.S.-based Internet servers by foreigners with possible links to terrorism.

He added that he's named representatives to a privacy and civil liberties oversight board to help in the debate over just how far government data gathering should be allowed to go — a discussion that is complicated by the secrecy surrounding the FISA court, with hearings held at undisclosed locations and with only government lawyers present. The orders that result are all highly classified.

"We're going to have to find ways where the public has an assurance that there are checks and balances in place ... that their phone calls aren't being listened into; their text messages aren't being monitored, their emails are not being read by some big brother somewhere," Obama said.

A senior administration official said the president had asked Director of National Intelligence James Clapper to determine what more information about the two programs could be made public, to help better explain them. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized to speak publicly.

Obama is in Northern Ireland for a meeting of leaders of allied countries. As Obama arrived, the latest series of Guardian articles drawing on the leaks claims that British eavesdropping agency GCHQ repeatedly hacked into foreign diplomats' phones and emails with U.S. help, in an effort to get an edge in such high-stakes negotiations.

Obama's announcement follows an online chat Monday by Edward Snowden, the man who leaked documents revealing the scope of the two programs to The Guardian and The Washington Post newspapers. He accused members of Congress and administration officials of exaggerating their claims about the success of the data gathering programs, including pointing to the arrest of would-be New York subway bomber Najibullah Zazi in 2009.

Snowden said Zazi could have been caught with narrower, targeted surveillance programs — a point Obama conceded in his Monday interview without mentioning Snowden.

"We might have caught him some other way," Obama said. "We might have disrupted it because a New York cop saw he was suspicious. Maybe he turned out to be incompetent and the bomb didn't go off. But, at the margins, we are increasing our chances of preventing a catastrophe like that through these programs," he said.

Obama repeated earlier assertions that the programs were a legitimate counterterror tool and that they were completely noninvasive to people with no terror ties — something he hoped to discuss with the privacy and civil liberties board he'd stood up. The senior administration official said the president would be meeting with the new privacy board in the coming days.

"I'll be meeting with them. And what I want to do is to set up and structure a national conversation, not only about these two programs, but also the general problem of data, big data sets, because this is not going to be restricted to government entities," he said.

Congressional leaders have said Snowden's disclosures have led terrorists to change their behavior, which may make them harder to stop — a charge Snowden discounted as an effort to silence him.

"The U.S. government is not going to be able to cover this up by jailing or murdering me," he said. He added the government "immediately and predictably destroyed any possibility of a fair trial at home," by labeling him a traitor, and indicated he would not return to the U.S. voluntarily.

Congressional leaders have accused Snowden of treason for revealing once-secret surveillance programs two weeks ago in the Guardian and The Washington Post. The National Security Agency programs collect records of millions of Americans' telephone calls and Internet usage as a counterterror tool. The disclosures revealed the scope of the collections, which surprised many Americans and have sparked debate about how much privacy the government can take away in the name of national security.

"It would be foolish to volunteer yourself to" possible arrest and criminal charges "if you can do more good outside of prison than in it," he said.

Snowden dismissed being called a traitor by former Vice President Dick Cheney, who made the allegations in an interview this week on Fox News Sunday. Cheney was echoing the comments of both Democrats and Republican leadership on Capitol Hill, including Senate Intelligence committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein.

"Being called a traitor by Dick Cheney is the highest honor you can give an American, and the more panicked talk we hear from people like him, Feinstein ... the better off we all are," Snowden said.

The Guardian announced that its website was hosting an online chat with Snowden, in hiding in Hong Kong, with reporter Glenn Greenwald receiving and posting his questions. The Associated Press couldn't independently verify that Snowden was the man who posted 19 replies to questions.

In answer to the question of whether he fled to Hong Kong because he was spying for China, Snowden wrote, "Ask yourself: if I were a Chinese spy, why wouldn't I have flown directly into Beijing? I could be living in a palace petting a phoenix by now."

He added later, "I have had no contact with the Chinese government."

Snowden was working as a systems analyst contractor for NSA at the time he had access to the then-secret programs. He defended his actions and said he considered what to reveal and what not to, saying he did not reveal any U.S. operations against what he called legitimate military targets, but instead showed that the NSA is hacking civilian infrastructure like universities and private businesses.

"These nakedly, aggressively criminal acts are wrong no matter the target. Not only that, when NSA makes a technical mistake during an exploitation operation, critical systems crash," he said, though he gave no examples of what systems have crashed or in which countries.

"Congress hasn't declared war on the countries — the majority of them are our allies — but without asking for public permission, NSA is running network operations against them that affect millions of innocent people," he said. "And for what? So we can have secret access to a computer in a country we're not even fighting?"

Snowden was referring to Prism, one of the programs he disclosed. The program sweeps up Internet usage data from all over the world that goes through nine major U.S.-based Internet providers. The NSA can look at foreign usage without any warrants, and says the program doesn't target Americans.

Snowden explained his claim that from his desk, he could "wiretap" any phone call or email — a claim top intelligence officials have denied. "If an NSA, FBI, CIA, DIA, etc. analyst has access to query raw SIGINT (signals intelligence) databases, they can enter and get results for anything they want," he wrote in the answer posted on the Guardian site. "Phone number, email, user id, cell phone handset id (IMEI), and so on — it's all the same."

The NSA did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment. But DNI Clapper has said that the kind of data that can be accessed and who can access it is severely limited.



Darwin's choice

Liar !


If Obama said that the sky was blue, I'd have to go outside to check. That man lies about EVERYthing! And then there are the fools who swallow it...


Please explain!


How much of an explanation does this require? Really?

"You can keep your insurance plan if you like it," all the way to calling it the AFFORDABLE Health Care Act and claiming premiums would go down (Ohio premiums will be going up by about 88%, last I heard).

"It was a YouTube video." "I won't use signing statements."

Google almost anything he said as a Senator and he's since contradicted it, lied about contradicting it, or blamed George W. Bush. How do you tell if Obama (or, to be fair, almost ANY politician) is lying? His lips are moving.

The Big Dog's back

My insurance went down and I kept the same insurance. Same with the 180 other people who work there.


FAIL! Do you know what a lie is? Look it up!


A lie is something that is not true. Sort of like no, many people CAN'T keep their insurance, whether they like it or not. Sort of like no, a YouTube video had nothing to do with Benghazi, and he KNEW it when he said it. Oh, and also a whole lot like an NSA program (and the FISA court) having "transparency," since both of them by their OWN definitions and charges are everything BUT transparent. Yup. Deliberate lies like THOSE.


A lie is a knowing deception of the truth. How do you know what he knew when he said anything? Benghazi, the NSA story have all been proven that there is no there there. Why would the FISA court be transparent when it is suppose to be secret? It also has been around for years. MANY can keep their insurance. It's been proven. This is a good man and a good President. Hate the guy all you want but he has NOT lied to the American people. Making statement like you have only proves that YOU are clueless. I don't agree with everything he has done but I believe in him. Telling the American people the we are in danger of a "mushroom cloud" type attack was a lie and he knew it was not true when he said it. That is the definition and example of a LIE!


I do not believe anything the man says either.


The independent fact checker Politifact would disagree. During the 2012 election, they found that Obama was factual 84% of the time, which was noticeably higher than any of the GOP candidates. Sam, words have actual meanings. Your comments are all generalized insults with no facts or statistics to back them up.

Darwin's choice

"Your comments...no facts or statistics to back them up" Really? You seem to constantly spew "factless" comments yourself! Frequently!!
Wed, 06/19/2013 - 5:05am
The NSA, As a direct result of this policy, recently foiled a number of terrorist attacks, including one on the US Stock Exchange. Since our dear Republican friends are unabashed
Capitalists, I'm wondering if they are happy that NSA "spying" thwarted the attack on Wall Street? Cricket. Cricket....

replyInappropriate? Alert Us. Dispute Comment Moderation. .
Wed, 06/19/2013 - 5:12am
Re: "NSA "spying" thwarted the attack on Wall Street?"

See above: I posted a link to the story about 12 hours earlier.


replyInappropriate? Alert Us. Dispute Comment Moderation. .
Darwin's choice
Wed, 06/19/2013 - 9:50pm
Well, coasterfan, how about that! Full of crap again!


Kinda like the TSA pattin' down little old ladies lookin' for terrorists.

The NSA can't profile and target the "certain ethnics" that are more than likely to be the "real" terrorists.


They instead need to waste billions of hard earned taxpayer (plus borrowed and printed) money and shove EVERYONE into the dragnet.

Of course Mr. Obama likes the surveillance; it's an expensive BIG GOVT. program that'll largely end up being a bureaucratic "circle jerk."

To paraphrase lefty useful idiot Bill Maher:

I'm not worried about a Pres. Obama with this program. I'm worried about a Pres. Cruz.

Remember lefties: Mr. Obama AIN'T gonna be Prez forever. :)


Which ethnics? Do tell!


^^^ “Some of YOU nice folks are just plain DUMB!” – deertracker, 05/20/2013 :-7


I just need some clarification. Are you referring to just the 9/11 bombers or the shoe bomber, the underwear bomber, the Time Square bomber, the D. C. snipers. the Okc. City Building bombers, the Boston Marathon bombers, the Columbine Killers, the Movie theatre killer, the Sandy Hook killer or the white supremacist that was killed by his wife before he could execute his plan to set off a dirty bomb at the first Obama inauguration?

You are right....."^^^^^^some of you folks/cons are just plain DUMB!" Contango, 06/18/2013 :-7


Re: "I just need some clarification."

So you're OK with these programs because to you EVERYONE is under suspicion eh?

And to you pattin' down little old ladies at airports is a good use of govt. resources?

Why not bus & train terminals as well?

Can't be too careful eh?

So you'd give the govt. permission to data mine your info.?

Guess you're OK with Pres. Obama armin' the Syrian militants too huh?


Thanks for the "clarification".


Based on your list, it appeared that no "clarification" was necessary because to you EVERYONE is guilty until proven innocent.

So you're willing to give the govt. your electronic data to mine as they see fit?

The Big Dog's back

Deflect, deflect, deflect.


As usual!


Moderators have removed this comment because it contained Profane, obscene, sexual or derogatory language.


Moderators have removed this comment because it contained Personal attacks (including: name calling, presumption of guilt or guilt by association, insensitivity, or picking fights).


Winnie, why don't you get a job, then you wouldn't have time to be on here 24/7 complaining and spreading your gloom and doom. Do you ever have a positive thought in your head? Are you ever happy?


Word to the government: If you haven't done anything wrong, then you've got nothing to worry about. Isn't that the drivel that government feeds us?


So nice, I'll post it twice.

According to an article in the WSJ:

"A Ph.D. candidate in computational ecology wrote on his blog last week that even a very accurate algorithm for identifying terrorist communications could produce about 10,000 false positives for every real 'hit,' creating a haystack of false leads to chase in order to find every needle."

Reads like an EXPENSIVE BIG GOVT. tail chasing exercise.


(Copy & paste the title and then click on a link in Google to get past the filters if necessary.)


"Reads like an EXPENSIVE BIG GOVT. tail chasing exercise."

Let us just drop our guard - to save that precious money - and see what happens.


I agree. We can't afford to drop our guard! Oh, ooops, we already have. The single greatest threat we face is the borders that leak like a sieve (with documented instances of Middle Eastern terror suspects sneaking in), the lack of follow up on temporary visas, and the unwillingness to follow the law when illegals are actually caught. NONE of that involves listening to my phone conversations or monitoring your emails.


If Bush would have taken seriously the warnings that there was going to be a terrorist attack, which by the way DID involve "...listening to my phone conversations or monitoring your emails"... a.k.a 'electronic surveillance' --- 9/11 could have been prevented.



Basically you're saying : 'Stop electronic surveillance and just concentrate on the borders'.

That doesn't come across as being wise.


No. I'm saying that our borders are the greatest and most immediate danger. I'm ALSO saying that, while electronic surveillance could be a big help, it simply cannot be permitted to be broad spectrum surveillance without compromising civil liberties. Right now, the only places apparently excluded from FBI, NSA, etc. monitoring are mosques! Whoa, ANOTHER not wise mistake...