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.




1. "No. I'm saying that our borders are the greatest and most immediate danger"

We have border patrols. Have you not seen them driving around?

2. "I'm ALSO saying that, while electronic surveillance could be a big help,"...

Electronic surveillance HAS been a big help.

3. "...it simply cannot be permitted to be broad spectrum surveillance without compromising civil liberties."

Terrorists have civil liberties?
Do you think it's easy to pick the fly sh!t out of the pepper ?

4. "Right now, the only places apparently excluded from FBI, NSA, etc. monitoring are mosques!"

"...apparently excluded ..."???
Do you REALLY think that mosques aren't being monitored?

The Big Dog's back

Wall Street Journal= Rupert Murdock= Fox news in print.

xdefiance's picture

Screw this NSA sht. Screw the Illuminati. Stop feeding our people with all this conspiracy fallacy.


Re: "Stop feeding our people with all this conspiracy fallacy."

Yeah right, the Patriot Act and the NDAA are ONLY "conspiracies."

All the useful idiots need to keep drinking that Obama brand Kool-aid and singin' "Don't Worry, Be Happy."

The Big Dog's back

We would drink it but all you righties drank it up under Bush.


Once a liar always a liar! And he has proven that over and over during his time in office doing nothing for America. And hes using his big word again-transparent, are you kidding me? He does'nt know what the word means. If he wanted to be open and transparent make his college records available and maybe even his birth certificate. Or how about making known his secret emails he and his staff has been using, or maybe his closed door meetings with his butt sucking media. And I could go on & on but you who voted for him, especially the second time around, are losers and more stupid than some of the people you voted for in last election. How about some answers on Fast & Furious, Benghasi, IRS, NSA, thats just to name a couple that would have him impeached if truth ever come to fore front. Maybe he does'nt have time for honesty as he's still watching that fake video he and ding bat HC made up. Whatever hes a sad example for our president.

The Big Dog's back

So rec, just what is the "truth"?


You are pretty sad as an educated person rec!

xdefiance's picture

Last year it was the illumanati this year its the NSA. Feeding all the paranoids. Stop feeding us fear! We have nothing to hide and surely nothing to fear.

xdefiance's picture

How to combat NSA surveillance: TALK LIKE A TERRORIST.

xdefiance's picture

THE NSA 100% read this. They know where you are, they know where I am, and they know more about us than our own parents do. I'm sure the NSA actually read this comment. Newsflash: The NSA doesn't give a sht who you are. Much like your parents.


Re: "The NSA doesn't give a sht who you are."

And SWAT teams and the DEA NEVER hit the wrong house do they?

xdefiance's picture

Correct. the SWAT teams and the DEA never hit the wrong house. But for the majority of Americans: We have NOTHING TO HIDE and surely NOTHING TO FEAR.


Re: "But for the majority of Americans: We have NOTHING TO HIDE and surely NOTHING TO FEAR."

The list of federal crimes are growing exponentially. You probably broke some laws this morning and were totally unaware.

For one: Eliot Spitzer's hook ups were discovered by way of the Patriot Act through bank records.

What the h*ll did THAT have to do with national security???

xdefiance's picture

I broke some laws this mornin? Sorry buddy but No didn't break any laws. I woke up, I cooked some fckn eggs and bacon with swiss cheese and toast. Poured myself some OJ then proceeded to have a cigarette. Is that american enough for you? I'm tired of the media feeding this FEAR onto us.


Re: "No didn't break any laws."

So you wouldn't mind if some feds came into your house and take a look around just to be sure would ya?

xdefiance's picture

I'd welcome them into my home with open arms. Then i'd proceed to have a BBQ and complain to them about how our tax payers money is being wasted on sht raids like this one.


Re: "I'd welcome them into my home with open arms."

Good to read. In your case we might as well rescind the Fourth Amend.

And remember: Don't lie. Lying to a fed is a federal offense and you could do time.

xdefiance's picture

Ok. You're sitting on your PC threatening raids and talking for the gov't. stop antagonizing. I have nothing to hide as well with the majority of Americans. What do I have to lie about? Nothing at all. Nothing at all. Nothing at all. We could be on the same team you know. But hey i'm not the on e pushing the gov't agenda and FEAR sht.


Re: "stop antagonizing."

So I should be FEARFUL of retaliation?

Seems to run totally counter to your entire "nothing to hide" premise.

Which is it???

xdefiance's picture

Anyways I'm off for a walk at an Erie County Metro Park. Send the surveillance teams and bag men to grab me unsuspectingly on the trails. lol


Re: "I'm off for a walk at an Erie County Metro Park."

Be sure to report any suspicious activity. If not, you could be charged with complicity.

And quit smokin'. Taxpayer funded ObamaKare will put an end to that unhealthy nonsense.


The Republicans are a fear propaganda machine.
They lie ALL the time.
I honestly can't recall them ever telling the truth or being fair and balanced.

Darwin's choice

There's the obamabot cheerleader speaking!! How are obama's polls looking these days 4shizzle? Seems that people are finally seeing through the BS thrown out by the white house.......! Also, Jimmy Carter is still sending Thank You cards to Barack! Winner, worst president ever!! History will not be kind to the current administration!


You and your opinions are worthless.

Hillary 2016 !!!


Completely worthless!


I've got a picture of Darwin's reject >


The Big Dog's back

LOL. So true xdefiance. They could care less.

xdefiance's picture


Darwin's choice

Novel idea...lets start a poll listing the things that obama has accomplished that are helping the average American....

1. Nothing
2. .......
feel free to add to this surely to be long list......