President Barack Obama
Defends NSA Surveillance Programs
June 07, 2013
U.S. President Barack Obama has defended for the first time the National
Security Agency's surveillance of telephone and Internet records, saying
Americans should trust those who conduct the programs who are working to
prevent new terrorist attacks.
Obama's remarks on the controversy swirling over government surveillance
came at an event in California.
Saying "nobody is listening to your telephone calls," he said his
responsibility is to keep the American people safe, and uphold the
Constitution and civil liberties.
Programs revealed in media reports, he said, were authorized by broad
bipartisan majorities in Congress repeatedly since 2006, and are subject
to limitations, but also necessary.
"What the intelligence community is doing is looking at phone numbers
and durations of calls, they are not looking at people's names and they
are not looking at content," Obama said. "But by sifting through this
so-called metadata they may identify potential leads with respect to
folks that might engage in terrorism."
Referring to what he called "hype" in media reports, Obama stressed that
intelligence authorities must obtain further approvals from a special
court to go beyond initial mass data gathering.
On the previously secret program called "Prism," revealed in newspaper
reports, he said surveillance of the Internet does not apply to U.S.
citizens or people living in the United States.
Referring to a speech he delivered at the National Defense University a
few weeks ago, on counter-terrorism efforts, Obama said he welcomes a
national debate about the challenge of protecting security, and civil
But he said previously classified surveillance methods revealed in the
media help to anticipate and prevent terrorist attacks, and "modest
encroachments" on privacy are part of protecting Americans.
"I think it is important to recognize that you can't have 100 percent
security and then also have 100 percent privacy and zero inconvenience,
we're going to have to make some choices as a society," Obama said.
recognized, as he put it, that "some people may have different views."
He made a point of stressing that members of Congress were fully briefed
on the methods and have the power to investigate any abuses.
The president also voiced concern about leaks that can negatively impact
national security. Intelligence and national security professionals, he
said, "can be trusted" with programs he described as "very narrowly
circumscribed [and] focused."
If Americans can't trust not only the executive branch, but Congress and
judges to ensure that the Constitution, due process and rule of law are
being upheld, "then we're going to have some problems here."
Obama did not respond to a reporter's shouted question at the end of his
remarks asking if the controversy over surveillance could undercut his
talks with China's President Xi Jinping.