Political Musings January 18, 2014: Obama defends NSA programs in speech offering reforms

POLITICAL MUSINGS

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OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

OP-EDS & ARTICLES

Obama defends NSA programs in speech offering reforms

By Bonnie K. Goodman

In a speech that Americans have been waiting more than six months for President Barack Obama announced changes to the National Security Agency (NSA) mass surveillance programs on Friday, Jan. 17, 2013. President Obama delivered his 45-minute speech at…READ MORE
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Full Text Obama Presidency January 17, 2014: President Barack Obama’s Speech on National Security Agency’s NSA Surveillance Programs Reforms

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

President Obama Discusses U.S. Intelligence Programs at the Department of Justice

Remarks by the President on Review of Signals Intelligence

Source: WH, 1-17-14

Watch the Video

President Obama Speaks on U.S. Intelligence Programs
January 17, 2014 3:28 PM

President Obama Speaks on U.S. Intelligence Programs

President Barack Obama delivers remarks presenting the outcome of the Administration's review of the NSA and U.S. signals intelligence programsPresident Barack Obama delivers remarks presenting the outcome of the Administration’s review of the NSA and U.S. signals intelligence programs, at the Department of Justice in Washington, D.C., Jan. 17, 2014. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Department of Justice
Washington, D.C.

11:15 A.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT:  At the dawn of our Republic, a small, secret surveillance committee borne out of the “The Sons of Liberty” was established in Boston.  And the group’s members included Paul Revere.  At night, they would patrol the streets, reporting back any signs that the British were preparing raids against America’s early Patriots.

Throughout American history, intelligence has helped secure our country and our freedoms.  In the Civil War, Union balloon reconnaissance tracked the size of Confederate armies by counting the number of campfires.  In World War II, code-breakers gave us insights into Japanese war plans, and when Patton marched across Europe, intercepted communications helped save the lives of his troops.  After the war, the rise of the Iron Curtain and nuclear weapons only increased the need for sustained intelligence gathering.  And so, in the early days of the Cold War, President Truman created the National Security Agency, or NSA, to give us insights into the Soviet bloc, and provide our leaders with information they needed to confront aggression and avert catastrophe.

Throughout this evolution, we benefited from both our Constitution and our traditions of limited government.  U.S. intelligence agencies were anchored in a system of checks and balances — with oversight from elected leaders, and protections for ordinary citizens.  Meanwhile, totalitarian states like East Germany offered a cautionary tale of what could happen when vast, unchecked surveillance turned citizens into informers, and persecuted people for what they said in the privacy of their own homes.

In fact, even the United States proved not to be immune to the abuse of surveillance.  And in the 1960s, government spied on civil rights leaders and critics of the Vietnam War.  And partly in response to these revelations, additional laws were established in the 1970s to ensure that our intelligence capabilities could not be misused against our citizens.  In the long, twilight struggle against Communism, we had been reminded that the very liberties that we sought to preserve could not be sacrificed at the altar of national security.

If the fall of the Soviet Union left America without a competing superpower, emerging threats from terrorist groups, and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction placed new and in some ways more complicated demands on our intelligence agencies.  Globalization and the Internet made these threats more acute, as technology erased borders and empowered individuals to project great violence, as well as great good.  Moreover, these new threats raised new legal and new policy questions.  For while few doubted the legitimacy of spying on hostile states, our framework of laws was not fully adapted to prevent terrorist attacks by individuals acting on their own, or acting in small, ideologically driven groups on behalf of a foreign power.

The horror of September 11th brought all these issues to the fore.  Across the political spectrum, Americans recognized that we had to adapt to a world in which a bomb could be built in a basement, and our electric grid could be shut down by operators an ocean away.  We were shaken by the signs we had missed leading up to the attacks — how the hijackers had made phone calls to known extremists and traveled to suspicious places.  So we demanded that our intelligence community improve its capabilities, and that law enforcement change practices to focus more on preventing attacks before they happen than prosecuting terrorists after an attack.

It is hard to overstate the transformation America’s intelligence community had to go through after 9/11.  Our agencies suddenly needed to do far more than the traditional mission of monitoring hostile powers and gathering information for policymakers.  Instead, they were now asked to identify and target plotters in some of the most remote parts of the world, and to anticipate the actions of networks that, by their very nature, cannot be easily penetrated with spies or informants.

And it is a testimony to the hard work and dedication of the men and women of our intelligence community that over the past decade we’ve made enormous strides in fulfilling this mission.  Today, new capabilities allow intelligence agencies to track who a terrorist is in contact with, and follow the trail of his travel or his funding.  New laws allow information to be collected and shared more quickly and effectively between federal agencies, and state and local law enforcement.  Relationships with foreign intelligence services have expanded, and our capacity to repel cyber-attacks have been strengthened.  And taken together, these efforts have prevented multiple attacks and saved innocent lives — not just here in the United States, but around the globe.

And yet, in our rush to respond to a very real and novel set of threats, the risk of government overreach — the possibility that we lose some of our core liberties in pursuit of security — also became more pronounced.  We saw, in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, our government engaged in enhanced interrogation techniques that contradicted our values.  As a Senator, I was critical of several practices, such as warrantless wiretaps.  And all too often new authorities were instituted without adequate public debate.

Through a combination of action by the courts, increased congressional oversight, and adjustments by the previous administration, some of the worst excesses that emerged after 9/11 were curbed by the time I took office.  But a variety of factors have continued to complicate America’s efforts to both defend our nation and uphold our civil liberties.

First, the same technological advances that allow U.S. intelligence agencies to pinpoint an al Qaeda cell in Yemen or an email between two terrorists in the Sahel also mean that many routine communications around the world are within our reach.  And at a time when more and more of our lives are digital, that prospect is disquieting for all of us.

Second, the combination of increased digital information and powerful supercomputers offers intelligence agencies the possibility of sifting through massive amounts of bulk data to identify patterns or pursue leads that may thwart impending threats.  It’s a powerful tool.  But the government collection and storage of such bulk data also creates a potential for abuse.

Third, the legal safeguards that restrict surveillance against U.S. persons without a warrant do not apply to foreign persons overseas.  This is not unique to America; few, if any, spy agencies around the world constrain their activities beyond their own borders.  And the whole point of intelligence is to obtain information that is not publicly available.  But America’s capabilities are unique, and the power of new technologies means that there are fewer and fewer technical constraints on what we can do.  That places a special obligation on us to ask tough questions about what we should do.

And finally, intelligence agencies cannot function without secrecy, which makes their work less subject to public debate.  Yet there is an inevitable bias not only within the intelligence community, but among all of us who are responsible for national security, to collect more information about the world, not less.  So in the absence of institutional requirements for regular debate — and oversight that is public, as well as private or classified — the danger of government overreach becomes more acute.  And this is particularly true when surveillance technology and our reliance on digital information is evolving much faster than our laws.

For all these reasons, I maintained a healthy skepticism toward our surveillance programs after I became President.  I ordered that our programs be reviewed by my national security team and our lawyers, and in some cases I ordered changes in how we did business.  We increased oversight and auditing, including new structures aimed at compliance.  Improved rules were proposed by the government and approved by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.  And we sought to keep Congress continually updated on these activities.

What I did not do is stop these programs wholesale — not only because I felt that they made us more secure, but also because nothing in that initial review, and nothing that I have learned since, indicated that our intelligence community has sought to violate the law or is cavalier about the civil liberties of their fellow citizens.

To the contrary, in an extraordinarily difficult job — one in which actions are second-guessed, success is unreported, and failure can be catastrophic — the men and women of the intelligence community, including the NSA, consistently follow protocols designed to protect the privacy of ordinary people.  They’re not abusing authorities in order to listen to your private phone calls or read your emails.  When mistakes are made — which is inevitable in any large and complicated human enterprise — they correct those mistakes.  Laboring in obscurity, often unable to discuss their work even with family and friends, the men and women at the NSA know that if another 9/11 or massive cyber-attack occurs, they will be asked, by Congress and the media, why they failed to connect the dots.  What sustains those who work at NSA and our other intelligence agencies through all these pressures is the knowledge that their professionalism and dedication play a central role in the defense of our nation.

Now, to say that our intelligence community follows the law, and is staffed by patriots, is not to suggest that I or others in my administration felt complacent about the potential impact of these programs.  Those of us who hold office in America have a responsibility to our Constitution, and while I was confident in the integrity of those who lead our intelligence community, it was clear to me in observing our intelligence operations on a regular basis that changes in our technological capabilities were raising new questions about the privacy safeguards currently in place.

Moreover, after an extended review of our use of drones in the fight against terrorist networks, I believed a fresh examination of our surveillance programs was a necessary next step in our effort to get off the open-ended war footing that we’ve maintained since 9/11.  And for these reasons, I indicated in a speech at the National Defense University last May that we needed a more robust public discussion about the balance between security and liberty.  Of course, what I did not know at the time is that within weeks of my speech, an avalanche of unauthorized disclosures would spark controversies at home and abroad that have continued to this day.

And given the fact of an open investigation, I’m not going to dwell on Mr. Snowden’s actions or his motivations; I will say that our nation’s defense depends in part on the fidelity of those entrusted with our nation’s secrets.  If any individual who objects to government policy can take it into their own hands to publicly disclose classified information, then we will not be able to keep our people safe, or conduct foreign policy.  Moreover, the sensational way in which these disclosures have come out has often shed more heat than light, while revealing methods to our adversaries that could impact our operations in ways that we may not fully understand for years to come.

Regardless of how we got here, though, the task before us now is greater than simply repairing the damage done to our operations or preventing more disclosures from taking place in the future.  Instead, we have to make some important decisions about how to protect ourselves and sustain our leadership in the world, while upholding the civil liberties and privacy protections that our ideals and our Constitution require.  We need to do so not only because it is right, but because the challenges posed by threats like terrorism and proliferation and cyber-attacks are not going away any time soon.  They are going to continue to be a major problem.  And for our intelligence community to be effective over the long haul, we must maintain the trust of the American people, and people around the world.

This effort will not be completed overnight, and given the pace of technological change, we shouldn’t expect this to be the last time America has this debate.  But I want the American people to know that the work has begun.  Over the last six months, I created an outside Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies to make recommendations for reform.  I consulted with the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, created by Congress.  I’ve listened to foreign partners, privacy advocates, and industry leaders.  My administration has spent countless hours considering how to approach intelligence in this era of diffuse threats and technological revolution.  So before outlining specific changes that I’ve ordered, let me make a few broad observations that have emerged from this process.

First, everyone who has looked at these problems, including skeptics of existing programs, recognizes that we have real enemies and threats, and that intelligence serves a vital role in confronting them.  We cannot prevent terrorist attacks or cyber threats without some capability to penetrate digital communications — whether it’s to unravel a terrorist plot; to intercept malware that targets a stock exchange; to make sure air traffic control systems are not compromised; or to ensure that hackers do not empty your bank accounts.  We are expected to protect the American people; that requires us to have capabilities in this field.

Moreover, we cannot unilaterally disarm our intelligence agencies.  There is a reason why BlackBerrys and iPhones are not allowed in the White House Situation Room.  We know that the intelligence services of other countries — including some who feign surprise over the Snowden disclosures — are constantly probing our government and private sector networks, and accelerating programs to listen to our conversations, and intercept our emails, and compromise our systems.  We know that.

Meanwhile, a number of countries, including some who have loudly criticized the NSA, privately acknowledge that America has special responsibilities as the world’s only superpower; that our intelligence capabilities are critical to meeting these responsibilities, and that they themselves have relied on the information we obtain to protect their own people.

Second, just as ardent civil libertarians recognize the need for robust intelligence capabilities, those with responsibilities for our national security readily acknowledge the potential for abuse as intelligence capabilities advance and more and more private information is digitized.  After all, the folks at NSA and other intelligence agencies are our neighbors.  They’re our friends and family.  They’ve got electronic bank and medical records like everybody else.  They have kids on Facebook and Instagram, and they know, more than most of us, the vulnerabilities to privacy that exist in a world where transactions are recorded, and emails and text and messages are stored, and even our movements can increasingly be tracked through the GPS on our phones.

Third, there was a recognition by all who participated in these reviews that the challenges to our privacy do not come from government alone.  Corporations of all shapes and sizes track what you buy, store and analyze our data, and use it for commercial purposes; that’s how those targeted ads pop up on your computer and your smartphone periodically.  But all of us understand that the standards for government surveillance must be higher.  Given the unique power of the state, it is not enough for leaders to say:  Trust us, we won’t abuse the data we collect.  For history has too many examples when that trust has been breached.  Our system of government is built on the premise that our liberty cannot depend on the good intentions of those in power; it depends on the law to constrain those in power.

I make these observations to underscore that the basic values of most Americans when it comes to questions of surveillance and privacy converge a lot more than the crude characterizations that have emerged over the last several months.  Those who are troubled by our existing programs are not interested in repeating the tragedy of 9/11, and those who defend these programs are not dismissive of civil liberties.

The challenge is getting the details right, and that is not simple.  In fact, during the course of our review, I have often reminded myself I would not be where I am today were it not for the courage of dissidents like Dr. King, who were spied upon by their own government.  And as President, a President who looks at intelligence every morning, I also can’t help but be reminded that America must be vigilant in the face of threats.

Fortunately, by focusing on facts and specifics rather than speculation and hypotheticals, this review process has given me — and hopefully the American people — some clear direction for change.  And today, I can announce a series of concrete and substantial reforms that my administration intends to adopt administratively or will seek to codify with Congress.

First, I have approved a new presidential directive for our signals intelligence activities both at home and abroad.  This guidance will strengthen executive branch oversight of our intelligence activities.  It will ensure that we take into account our security requirements, but also our alliances; our trade and investment relationships, including the concerns of American companies; and our commitment to privacy and basic liberties.  And we will review decisions about intelligence priorities and sensitive targets on an annual basis so that our actions are regularly scrutinized by my senior national security team.

Second, we will reform programs and procedures in place to provide greater transparency to our surveillance activities, and fortify the safeguards that protect the privacy of U.S. persons.  Since we began this review, including information being released today, we have declassified over 40 opinions and orders of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which provides judicial review of some of our most sensitive intelligence activities — including the Section 702 program targeting foreign individuals overseas, and the Section 215 telephone metadata program.

And going forward, I’m directing the Director of National Intelligence, in consultation with the Attorney General, to annually review for the purposes of declassification any future opinions of the court with broad privacy implications, and to report to me and to Congress on these efforts.  To ensure that the court hears a broader range of privacy perspectives, I am also calling on Congress to authorize the establishment of a panel of advocates from outside government to provide an independent voice in significant cases before the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.

Third, we will provide additional protections for activities conducted under Section 702, which allows the government to intercept the communications of foreign targets overseas who have information that’s important for our national security.  Specifically, I am asking the Attorney General and DNI to institute reforms that place additional restrictions on government’s ability to retain, search, and use in criminal cases communications between Americans and foreign citizens incidentally collected under Section 702.

Fourth, in investigating threats, the FBI also relies on what’s called national security letters, which can require companies to provide specific and limited information to the government without disclosing the orders to the subject of the investigation.  These are cases in which it’s important that the subject of the investigation, such as a possible terrorist or spy, isn’t tipped off.  But we can and should be more transparent in how government uses this authority.

I have therefore directed the Attorney General to amend how we use national security letters so that this secrecy will not be indefinite, so that it will terminate within a fixed time unless the government demonstrates a real need for further secrecy.  We will also enable communications providers to make public more information than ever before about the orders that they have received to provide data to the government.

This brings me to the program that has generated the most controversy these past few months — the bulk collection of telephone records under Section 215.  Let me repeat what I said when this story first broke:  This program does not involve the content of phone calls, or the names of people making calls.  Instead, it provides a record of phone numbers and the times and lengths of calls — metadata that can be queried if and when we have a reasonable suspicion that a particular number is linked to a terrorist organization.

Why is this necessary?  The program grew out of a desire to address a gap identified after 9/11.  One of the 9/11 hijackers — Khalid al-Mihdhar — made a phone call from San Diego to a known al Qaeda safe-house in Yemen.  NSA saw that call, but it could not see that the call was coming from an individual already in the United States.  The telephone metadata program under Section 215 was designed to map the communications of terrorists so we can see who they may be in contact with as quickly as possible.  And this capability could also prove valuable in a crisis.  For example, if a bomb goes off in one of our cities and law enforcement is racing to determine whether a network is poised to conduct additional attacks, time is of the essence.  Being able to quickly review phone connections to assess whether a network exists is critical to that effort.

In sum, the program does not involve the NSA examining the phone records of ordinary Americans.  Rather, it consolidates these records into a database that the government can query if it has a specific lead — a consolidation of phone records that the companies already retained for business purposes.  The review group turned up no indication that this database has been intentionally abused.  And I believe it is important that the capability that this program is designed to meet is preserved.

Having said that, I believe critics are right to point out that without proper safeguards, this type of program could be used to yield more information about our private lives, and open the door to more intrusive bulk collection programs in the future.  They’re also right to point out that although the telephone bulk collection program was subject to oversight by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court and has been reauthorized repeatedly by Congress, it has never been subject to vigorous public debate.

For all these reasons, I believe we need a new approach.  I am therefore ordering a transition that will end the Section 215 bulk metadata program as it currently exists, and establish a mechanism that preserves the capabilities we need without the government holding this bulk metadata.

This will not be simple.  The review group recommended that our current approach be replaced by one in which the providers or a third party retain the bulk records, with government accessing information as needed.  Both of these options pose difficult problems.  Relying solely on the records of multiple providers, for example, could require companies to alter their procedures in ways that raise new privacy concerns.  On the other hand, any third party maintaining a single, consolidated database would be carrying out what is essentially a government function but with more expense, more legal ambiguity, potentially less accountability — all of which would have a doubtful impact on increasing public confidence that their privacy is being protected.

During the review process, some suggested that we may also be able to preserve the capabilities we need through a combination of existing authorities, better information sharing, and recent technological advances.  But more work needs to be done to determine exactly how this system might work.

Because of the challenges involved, I’ve ordered that the transition away from the existing program will proceed in two steps.  Effective immediately, we will only pursue phone calls that are two steps removed from a number associated with a terrorist organization instead of the current three.  And I have directed the Attorney General to work with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court so that during this transition period, the database can be queried only after a judicial finding or in the case of a true emergency.

Next, step two, I have instructed the intelligence community and the Attorney General to use this transition period to develop options for a new approach that can match the capabilities and fill the gaps that the Section 215 program was designed to address without the government holding this metadata itself.  They will report back to me with options for alternative approaches before the program comes up for reauthorization on March 28th.  And during this period, I will consult with the relevant committees in Congress to seek their views, and then seek congressional authorization for the new program as needed.

Now, the reforms I’m proposing today should give the American people greater confidence that their rights are being protected, even as our intelligence and law enforcement agencies maintain the tools they need to keep us safe.  And I recognize that there are additional issues that require further debate.  For example, some who participated in our review, as well as some members of Congress, would like to see more sweeping reforms to the use of national security letters so that we have to go to a judge each time before issuing these requests.  Here, I have concerns that we should not set a standard for terrorism investigations that is higher than those involved in investigating an ordinary crime.  But I agree that greater oversight on the use of these letters may be appropriate, and I’m prepared to work with Congress on this issue.

There are also those who would like to see different changes to the FISA Court than the ones I’ve proposed.  On all these issues, I am open to working with Congress to ensure that we build a broad consensus for how to move forward, and I’m confident that we can shape an approach that meets our security needs while upholding the civil liberties of every American.

Let me now turn to the separate set of concerns that have been raised overseas, and focus on America’s approach to intelligence collection abroad.  As I’ve indicated, the United States has unique responsibilities when it comes to intelligence collection.  Our capabilities help protect not only our nation, but our friends and our allies, as well.  But our efforts will only be effective if ordinary citizens in other countries have confidence that the United States respects their privacy, too.  And the leaders of our close friends and allies deserve to know that if I want to know what they think about an issue, I’ll pick up the phone and call them, rather than turning to surveillance.  In other words, just as we balance security and privacy at home, our global leadership demands that we balance our security requirements against our need to maintain the trust and cooperation among people and leaders around the world.

For that reason, the new presidential directive that I’ve issued today will clearly prescribe what we do, and do not do, when it comes to our overseas surveillance.  To begin with, the directive makes clear that the United States only uses signals intelligence for legitimate national security purposes, and not for the purpose of indiscriminately reviewing the emails or phone calls of ordinary folks.  I’ve also made it clear that the United States does not collect intelligence to suppress criticism or dissent, nor do we collect intelligence to disadvantage people on the basis of their ethnicity, or race, or gender, or sexual orientation, or religious beliefs.  We do not collect intelligence to provide a competitive advantage to U.S. companies or U.S. commercial sectors.

And in terms of our bulk collection of signals intelligence, U.S. intelligence agencies will only use such data to meet specific security requirements:  counterintelligence, counterterrorism, counter-proliferation, cybersecurity, force protection for our troops and our allies, and combating transnational crime, including sanctions evasion.

In this directive, I have taken the unprecedented step of extending certain protections that we have for the American people to people overseas.  I’ve directed the DNI, in consultation with the Attorney General, to develop these safeguards, which will limit the duration that we can hold personal information, while also restricting the use of this information.

The bottom line is that people around the world, regardless of their nationality, should know that the United States is not spying on ordinary people who don’t threaten our national security, and that we take their privacy concerns into account in our policies and procedures.  This applies to foreign leaders as well.  Given the understandable attention that this issue has received, I have made clear to the intelligence community that unless there is a compelling national security purpose, we will not monitor the communications of heads of state and government of our close friends and allies.  And I’ve instructed my national security team, as well as the intelligence community, to work with foreign counterparts to deepen our coordination and cooperation in ways that rebuild trust going forward.

Now let me be clear:  Our intelligence agencies will continue to gather information about the intentions of governments — as opposed to ordinary citizens — around the world, in the same way that the intelligence services of every other nation does.  We will not apologize simply because our services may be more effective.  But heads of state and government with whom we work closely, and on whose cooperation we depend, should feel confident that we are treating them as real partners.  And the changes I’ve ordered do just that.

Finally, to make sure that we follow through on all these reforms, I am making some important changes to how our government is organized.  The State Department will designate a senior officer to coordinate our diplomacy on issues related to technology and signals intelligence.  We will appoint a senior official at the White House to implement the new privacy safeguards that I have announced today.  I will devote the resources to centralize and improve the process we use to handle foreign requests for legal assistance, keeping our high standards for privacy while helping foreign partners fight crime and terrorism.

I have also asked my counselor, John Podesta, to lead a comprehensive review of big data and privacy.  And this group will consist of government officials who, along with the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, will reach out to privacy experts, technologists and business leaders, and look how the challenges inherent in big data are being confronted by both the public and private sectors; whether we can forge international norms on how to manage this data; and how we can continue to promote the free flow of information in ways that are consistent with both privacy and security.

For ultimately, what’s at stake in this debate goes far beyond a few months of headlines, or passing tensions in our foreign policy.  When you cut through the noise, what’s really at stake is how we remain true to who we are in a world that is remaking itself at dizzying speed.  Whether it’s the ability of individuals to communicate ideas; to access information that would have once filled every great library in every country in the world; or to forge bonds with people on other sides of the globe, technology is remaking what is possible for individuals, and for institutions, and for the international order.  So while the reforms that I have announced will point us in a new direction, I am mindful that more work will be needed in the future.

One thing I’m certain of:  This debate will make us stronger.  And I also know that in this time of change, the United States of America will have to lead.  It may seem sometimes that America is being held to a different standard.  And I’ll admit the readiness of some to assume the worst motives by our government can be frustrating.  No one expects China to have an open debate about their surveillance programs, or Russia to take privacy concerns of citizens in other places into account.  But let’s remember:  We are held to a different standard precisely because we have been at the forefront of defending personal privacy and human dignity.

As the nation that developed the Internet, the world expects us to ensure that the digital revolution works as a tool for individual empowerment, not government control.  Having faced down the dangers of totalitarianism and fascism and communism, the world expects us to stand up for the principle that every person has the right to think and write and form relationships freely — because individual freedom is the wellspring of human progress.

Those values make us who we are.  And because of the strength of our own democracy, we should not shy away from high expectations.  For more than two centuries, our Constitution has weathered every type of change because we have been willing to defend it, and because we have been willing to question the actions that have been taken in its defense.  Today is no different.  I believe we can meet high expectations.  Together, let us chart a way forward that secures the life of our nation while preserving the liberties that make our nation worth fighting for.

Thank you.  God bless you.  May God bless the United States of America.  (Applause.)

END
11:57 A.M. EST

Political Musings December 22, 2013: Obama in denial and on the offensive in 2013 year-end press conference

POLITICAL MUSINGS

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OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

OP-EDS & ARTICLES

After a difficult year that held little accomplishments to boast about, with more “missteps” than any president would be willing to acknowledge, President Barack Obama held his year-end press conference on Friday afternoon, Dec. 20, 2013 at….READ MORE

Full Text Obama Presidency December 20, 2013: President Barack Obama’s Year-End Press Conference Transcript

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Running transcript: President Obama’s December 20 news conference

Source: Washington Post, 12-20-13

Video: President Obama said during his end-of-the-year news conference Friday that the NSA surveillance program would likely see changes in the year ahead.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: All right. Good afternoon, everybody. I know you are all eager to skip town and spend some time with your families. Not surprisingly, I am too. But you know what they say, it’s the most wonderful press conference of the year — (laughter) — right now. I am eager to take your questions.
But first I just want to say a few words about our economy. In 2013 our businesses created another 2 million jobs, adding up to more than 8 million in just over the past 45 months. This morning we learned that over the summer our economy grew at its strongest pace in nearly two years. The unemployment rate has steadily fallen to its lowest point in five years.Our tax code is fairer and our fiscal situation is firmer, with deficits that are now less than half of what they were when I took office.

For the first time in nearly two decades, we now produce more oil here at home than we buy from the rest of the world, and our all-of- the-above strategy for new American energy means lower energy costs. The Affordable Care Act has helped keep health care costs growing at their slowest rate in 50 years. Combined, that means bigger paychecks for middle class families and bigger savings for businesses looking to invest and hire here in America.

And, for all the challenges we’ve had and all the challenges that we’ve been working on diligently in dealing with both the ACA and the website these past couple months, more than half a million Americans have enrolled through healthcare.gov in the first three weeks of December alone. In California, for example, a state operating its own marketplace, more than 15,000 Americans are enrolling every single day. And in the federal website, tens of thousands are enrolling every single day. Since October 1st, more than 1 million Americans have selected new health insurance plans through the federal and state marketplaces, so all told, millions of Americans, despite the problems with the website, are now poised to be covered by quality affordable health insurance come New Year’s Day.

Now, this holiday season there are mothers and fathers and entrepreneurs and workers who have something new to celebrate: the security of knowing that when the unexpected or misfortune strikes, hardship no longer has to.

And you add that all up and what it means is: We head into next year with an economy that’s stronger than it was when we started the year, more Americans. More Americans are finding work and experiencing the pride of a paycheck.

Our businesses are positioned for new growth and new jobs. And I firmly believe that 2014 can be a breakthrough year for America.

But as I outlined in detail earlier this month, we all know there’s a lot more than we’re going to have to do to restore opportunity and broad-based growth for every American. And that’s going to require some action.

It’s a good start that earlier this week, for the first time in years, both parties in both houses of Congress came together to pass a budget. That unwinds some of the damaging sequester cuts that created headwinds for our economy. It clears the path for businesses and for investments that we need to strengthen our middle class, like education and scientific research. And it means that the American people won’t be exposed to the threat of another reckless shutdown every few months. So that’s a good thing. It’s probably too early to declare an outbreak of bipartisanship, but it’s also fair to say that we’re not condemned to endless gridlock. There are areas where we can work together.

I believe that work should begin with something that Republicans in Congress should have done before leaving town this week, and that’s restoring the temporary insurance that helps folks make ends meet when they are looking for a job. Because Congress didn’t act, more than 1 million of their constituents will lose a vital economic lifeline at Christmastime, leaving a lot of job seekers without any source of income at all. I think we’re a better country than that. We don’t abandon each other when times are tough.

Keep in mind unemployment insurance only goes to folks who are actively looking for work, a mom who needs help feeding her kids when she sends out her resumes or a dad who needs help paying the rent while working part-time and still earning the skills he needs for that new job.

So when Congress comes back to work, their first order of business should be making this right. I know a bipartisan group is working on a three-month extension of this insurance. They should pass it, and I’ll sign it right away.

Let me repeat: I think 2014 needs to be a year of action. We’ve got work to do to create more good jobs, to help more Americans earn the skills and education they need to do those jobs and to make sure that those jobs offer the wages and benefits that let families build a little bit of financial security.

We still have the task of finishing the fix on our broken immigration system. We’ve got to build on the process we’ve painstakingly made over these last five years with respect to our economy and offer the middle class and all those who are looking to join the middle class a better opportunity. And that’s going to be where I focus all of my efforts in the year ahead.

And let me conclude by saying just as we’re strengthening our position here at home, we’re also standing up for our interests around the world. This year we’ve demonstrated that with clear-eyed, principled diplomacy, we can pursue new paths to a world that’s more secure, a future where Iran does not build a nuclear weapon, a future where Syria’s chemical weapons stockpiles are destroyed.

By the end of next year, the war in Afghanistan will be over, just as we’ve ended our war in Iraq, and we’ll continue to bring our troops home. And as always, we will remain vigilant to protect our homeland and our personnel overseas from terrorist attacks. Of course, a lot of our men and women in uniform are still overseas, and a lot of them are still spending their Christmas far away from their family and their friends. In some cases, it’s still in harm’s way.

So I want to close by saying to them and their families back home, we want to thank you.

Your country stands united in supporting you and being grateful for your service and your sacrifice. We will keep you in our thoughts and in our prayers during this season of hope.

So before I wish a merry Christmas to all and to all a good night, I will take some questions. Jay prepared a list of who’s naughty and nice — (laughter) — so we’ll see — we’ll see who made it.

Julie must be nice.

Q: (Chuckles.)

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Julie Pace of AP.

Q: Thank you, Mr. President. Despite all of the data points that you cited in your opening statement, when you look back at this year, very little of the domestic agenda that you outlined in your inaugural address, in your State of the Union has been achieved. Health care rollout obviously had huge problems, and your ratings from the public are near historic lows for you. When you take this all together, has this been the worst year of your presidency?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: (Chuckles.) I — I got to tell you, Julie, that’s not how I think about it. I have now been in office five years, close to five years, was running for president for two years before that, and for those who’ve covered me during that time, we have had ups and we have had downs. I think this room has probably recorded at least 15 near-death experiences.

And what I’ve been focused on each and every day is, are we moving the ball in helping the American people, families, have more opportunity, have a little more security, to feel as if, if they work hard, they can get ahead.

And if — if I look at this past year, there are areas where there obviously have been some frustrations, where I wish Congress had moved more aggressively. You know, not passing background checks in the wake of Newtown is something that I continue to believe was a mistake.

But then I also look at, because of the debate that occurred, all the work that’s been done at the state levels, to increase gun safety and to make sure that we don’t see tragedies like that happen again.

There’s a lot of focus on legislative activity at the congressional level. But even when Congress doesn’t move on things they should move on, there are a whole bunch of things that we’re still doing. So we don’t always get attention for it, but the ConnectED program that we announced, where we’re going to be initiating wireless capacity in every classroom in America, will make a huge difference for kids all across this country and for teachers; a manufacturing hub that we set up in Youngstown, something that I talked about during the State of the Union, is going to create innovation and connect universities, manufacturers, job training, to help create a renaissance — build on the renaissance that we’re seeing in manufacturing.

When it comes to energy, this year is going to be the first year in a very long time where we’re producing more oil and natural gas here in this country than we’re importing. That’s a big deal.

So I understand the point that you’re getting at, Julie, which is that a lot of our legislative initiatives in Congress have not moved forward as rapidly as I’d like. I completely understand that, which means that I’m going to keep at it. And if you look at, for example, immigration reform, probably the biggest thing that I wanted to get done this year, we saw progress. It passed the Senate with a strong bipartisan vote.

There are indications in the House that even though it did not get completed this year, that there is a commitment on the part of this speaker to try to move forward legislation early next year. And the fact that it didn’t hit the timeline that I’d prefer is obviously frustrating, but it’s not something that I end up brooding a lot about.

Q: But sir, it’s not just your legislative agenda. When you look at — (off mic) — you talk to Americans, they seem to have lost confidence in you, trust in you. Your credibility have taken a hit. Obviously, the health care law was a big part of that. So do you understand that those — that the public has changed, in some way, their view of you over this year?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: But Julie, I guess what I’m saying is, if you’re measuring this by polls, my polls have gone up and down a lot through the course of my career. I mean, if I was interested in polling, I wouldn’t have run for president. I was polling at 70 percent was — when I was in the U.S. Senate. I took this job to deliver for the American people, and I knew and will continue to know that there are going to be ups and downs on it.

You’re right. The health care website problems were a source of great frustration. I think in the last press conference I adequately discussed my frustrations on those. On the other hand, since that time I now have a couple million people, maybe more, who are going to have health care on January 1st. And that is a big deal. That’s why I ran for this office. And as long as I’ve got an opportunity every single day to make sure that in ways large and small I’m creating greater opportunity for people, more kids are able to go to school, get the education they need, more families are able to stabilize their finances, you know, the housing market is continuing to improve, people feel like their wages maybe are inching up a little bit — if those things are happening, I’ll take it.

And you know, I’ve said before, I’ve run my last political race. So at this point, my goal every single day is just to make sure that I can look back and say we’re delivering something, not everything, because this is a long haul.

All right, Mark Felsenthal.

Q: Thank you, Mr. President. One of the most significant events of this year was the revelation of the surveillance by the National Security Agency. As you review how to rein in the National Security Agency, a federal judge says that, for example, the government has failed to cite a single instance in which analysis of the NSA’s bulk metadata actually stopped an imminent attack. Are you able to identify any specific examples when it did so? Are you convinced that the collection of that data is useful to national security to continue as it is?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Let me talk more broadly, and then I’ll talk specifically about the program you’re referring to.

As you know, the independent panel that I put together came back with a series of recommendations, 46 in total. I had an extensive meeting with them down in the Situation Room to review all the recommendations that they’ve made. I want to thank them publicly because I think they did an excellent job and took my charge very seriously, which is I told them, I want you to look from top to bottom at what we’re doing and evaluate whether or not the current structures that we have and the current programs that we have are properly addressing both our continuing need to keep ourselves secure and to prevent terrorist attacks or proliferation of weapons of mass destruction or other threats to the homeland, and are we also making sure that we’re taking seriously rule of law and our concerns about privacy and civil liberties.

So what we’re doing now is evaluating all the recommendations that have been made. Over the next several weeks I’m going to assess, based on conversations not just with the intelligence community but others in government and outside of government, how we might apply and incorporate their recommendations. And I’m going to make a pretty definitive statement about all of this in January, where I’ll be able to say, here are the recommendations that we think make sense, here are ones that we think as promising but still need to be refined further, here’s how it relates to the work we’re doing not just — not just internally but also in partnership with other countries.

And so I’m — I’m taking this very seriously, because I think, as I’ve said before, this is debate that needed to be had.

One specific program, the 215 program, is the metadata, the bulk collection of phone numbers and exchanges that have taken place. That has probably gotten the most attention, at least with respect to domestic audiences. And what I’ve said in the past continues to be the case, which is that the NSA, in executing this program, believed, based on experiences from 9/11, that it was important for us to be able to track, if there was a phone number of a known terrorist outside of the United States calling into the United States, where that call might have gone and that having that data in one place and retained for a certain period of time allowed them to be confident in pursuing various investigations of terrorist threats.

And I think it’s important to note that in all the reviews of this program that have been done, in fact, there have not been actual instances where it’s been alleged that the NSA in some ways acted inappropriately in the use of this data. But what is also clear is from the public debate, people are concerned about the prospect, the possibility of abuse. And I think that’s what the judge in the district court suggested. And although his opinion obviously differs from rulings on the FISA Court, we’re taking those into account.

The question we’re going to have to ask is can we accomplish the same goals that this program is intended to accomplish in ways that give the public more confidence that in fact the NSA is doing what it’s supposed to be doing. I have confidence in the fact that the NSA is not engaging in domestic surveillance or snooping around, but I also recognize that as technologies change and people can start running algorithms and programs that map out all the information that we’re downloading on a daily basis into our telephones and our computers that we may have to refine this further to give people more confidence. And I’m going to be working very hard on doing that.

And we’ve got to provide more confidence to the international community. In some ways, what has been more challenging is the fact that we do have a lot of laws and checks and balances and safeguards and audits when it comes to making sure that the NSA and other intelligence agencies are not spying on Americans. We’ve had less legal constraint in terms of what we’re doing internationally.

But I think part of what’s been interesting about this whole exercise is recognizing that in a virtual world, some of these boundaries don’t matter anymore. And just because we can do something doesn’t mean we necessarily should, and the values that we’ve got as Americans are ones that we have to be willing to apply beyond our borders, I think, perhaps more systematically than we’ve done in the past.

OK, Ed Henry.

Q: Thank you, Mr. President.

I want to follow up on that because — and merry Christmas, by the way.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Merry Christmas, Ed.

Q: When Edward Snowden first started leaking the information, you made a statement on June 7th in California. And you claimed to the American people that you had already reformed many of these surveillance programs, that you came to office, quote, “my team evaluated them; we scrubbed them thoroughly; we actually expanded some of the oversight.” And you did expand some of the things.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Yes.

Q: You also said, we may have to rebalance some, there may be changes. But you concluded with, quote, “you can complain about Big Brother and how this is a potential program run amok, but when you actually look at the details, then I think we’ve struck the right balance.”

That was only six months ago. Now, there’s judges are saying no; your own panel is saying no; even you’re saying no, we haven’t really struck the right balance, perhaps, that changes have to be made.

My question is, were you wrong then because you were not fully read in, not just on these programs, but on other programs, outside of the ones you just talked about, where we were potentially listening in on the German leaders, the Brazilian leaders and others, that suggest there were abuses, number one?

And number two, if you — if you were fully read in on these programs, is it another example of what Judy was — Julie was getting at, with this question of credibility with the American people, that just like on health care, you like your plan; you can keep it? On surveillance, you looked the American people in the eye six months ago and said, we’ve got the right balance. And six months later, you’re saying, maybe not.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, hold on a second, I — I think it’s important to note that, when it comes to the right balance on surveillance, these are a series of judgment calls that we’re making every single day because we’ve got a whole bunch of folks whose job it is to make sure that the American people are protected.

And that’s a hard job because if something slips, then the question that’s coming from you the next day at a press conference is, Mr. President, why didn’t you catch that; why did the intelligence people allow that to slip; isn’t there a way that we could have found out that in fact this terrorist attack took place.

Q: (Inaudible) — why did you say that you struck the right balance.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: So the — so the point is, Ed, not that my assessment of the 215 program has changed in terms of technically how it works. What is absolutely clear to me is that given the public debate that’s taken place and the disclosures that have taken place over the last several months that this is only going to work if the American people have confidence and trust.

Now, part of the challenge is, is that because of the manner in which these disclosures took place, in dribs and drabs, oftentimes shaded in a particular way, and because of some of the constraints that we’ve had in terms of declassifying information and getting it out there, that that trust in how many safeguards exist and how these programs are run has been diminished. So what’s going to be important is to build that back up. And I take that into account in weighing how we structure these programs.

So let me just be very specific on the 215 program. It is possible, for example, that some of the same information that the intelligence community feels is required to keep people safe can be obtained by having the private phone companies keep these records longer and to create some mechanism where they can be accessed in an effective fashion.

That might cost more. There might need to be different checks on how those requests are made. There may be technological solutions that have to be found to do that.

And the question that we’re asking ourselves now is, does that make sense not only because of the fact that there are concerns about potential abuse down the road with the metadata that’s being kept by a government, rather than private companies, but also does it make sense to do because people right now are concerned that maybe their phone calls are being listened to, even if they’re not, and we’ve got to factor that in.

So I — I — my point is — is that the environment has changed in ways that I think require us to take that into account. But the analysis that I’ve been doing throughout has always been, you know, periodically looking at what we’re doing and asking ourselves, are we doing this in the right way; are we making sure that we’re keeping the American can people safe, number one; are we also being true to our civil liberties and our privacy and our values?

Q: Well, I understand it’s a tough job.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Right.

Q: And God forbid there’s another terror attack. Every one of us is going to be second-guessing you, and that is extremely difficult, to be in the Oval Office.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: That’s OK. I volunteered.

Q: But as you said, you took that on.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Yeah.

Q: You put it on your back. And so my question is, do you have any personal regrets? You’re not addressing the fact the public statements you’ve made to reassure the public — your director of national intelligence, James Clapper, months ago went up, got a question from a Democrat, not a Republican, about whether some of this was going on, and he denied it.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: But does — but Ed —

Q: Doesn’t that undermine the public trust?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: — Ed, you’re conflating, first of all, me and — and Mr. Clapper —

Q: He’s director of national — and he’s still on the job.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: I understand. I understand. But what I’m — what I’m saying is this: that yes, these are tough problems that I am glad to have the privilege of tackling.

Your initial question was whether the statements that I made six months ago are ones that I don’t stand by. And what I’m saying is that the statements I made then are entirely consistent with the statements that I make now, which is that we believed that we had scrubbed these programs and struck an appropriate balance, and there had not been evidence, and there continues not to be evidence that the particular program had been abused in how it was used and that it was a useful tool, working with other tools the intelligence community has, to ensure that if we have a thread on a potential terrorist threat, that that can be followed effectively.

What I have also said, though, is that in light of the disclosures that have taken place, it is clear that whatever benefits the configuration of this particular program may have may be outweighed by the concerns that people have on its potential abuse. And if that’s the case, there may be another way of skinning the cat.

So we just keep on going at this stuff and saying, can we do this better? Can we do this more effectively? I think that the panels’ recommendations are consistent with that. So if you — if you had a chance to read the overall recommendations, what they were very clear about is, we need this intelligence. We can’t unilaterally disarm.

There are ways we can do it, potentially, that gives people greater assurance that there are checks and balances — that there’s sufficient oversight and sufficient transparency. Programs like 215 could be redesigned in ways that give you the same information when you need it without creating these potentials for abuse, and that’s exactly what we should be doing, is to evaluate all these things in a very clear, specific way and moving forward on changes.

And that’s what I intend to do.

Q: (Off mic) — you have no regrets?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: That’s what I intend to do.

Jon Karl.

Q: Thank you, Mr. President. It’s been a tough year. You may not want to call it the worst year of your presidency, but it’s clearly been a tough year. The polls have gone up and down, but they are at a low point right now. So what I’m asking you — you’ve acknowledged the difficulties with the health care rollout. But when you look back and you look at the decisions that you have made and what you did, what you didn’t do, for you personally, what do you think has been your biggest mistake?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: With respect to health care specifically or just generally?

Q: The whole thing, look back at this tough year.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, there’s no doubt that — that when it — when it came to the health care rollout, even though I was meeting every other week or every three weeks with folks and emphasizing how important it was that consumers had a good experience, an easy experience in getting the information they need and knowing what the choices and options were for them to be able to get high-quality, affordable health care, the fact is it didn’t happen in the first month, the first six weeks, in a way that was at all acceptable. And since I’m in charge, obviously, we screwed it up.

Part of it, as I’ve said before, had to do with how IT procurement generally is done, and it almost predates this year. Part of it obviously had to do with the fact that there were not clear enough lines of authority in terms of who was in charge of the technology and cracking the whip on a whole bunch of contractors. So there are a whole bunch of things that we’ve been taking a look at.

And I’m going to be making appropriate adjustments once we get through this year and we’ve gotten through the initial surge of people who have been signing up.

But, you know, having said all that, the bottom line also is that we’ve got — several million people are going to have health care that works. And it’s not that I don’t engage in a lot of self- reflection here. I promise you, I probably beat myself up, you know, even worse that you or Ed Henry does — (laughter) — on any given day. But I’ve also got to wake up in the morning and make sure that I do better the next day and that we keep moving forward.

And when I look at the landscape for next year, what I say to myself is: We’re poised to do really good things. The economy is stronger than it has been in a very long time. Our next challenge then is to make sure that everybody benefits from that and not just a few folks. And there’s still too many people who haven’t seen a raise and are still feeling financially insecure. We can get immigration reform done. We’ve got a concept that has bipartisan support. Let’s see if we can break through the politics on this.

You know, I think that hopefully folks have learned their lesson in terms of brinksmanship coming out of the — coming out of the government shutdown. You know there have been times where I’ve thought about, were there other ways that I could have prevented that — those three, four weeks that hampered the economy and hurt individuals families who were not getting a paycheck during that time? Absolutely, but I also think that in some ways, given the pattern that we have been going through with House Republicans for a while, we might have needed just a little bit of a bracing sort of recognition that this is not what the American people think is acceptable.

They want us to try to solve problems and be practical, even if we can’t get everything done.

So, you know, the end of the year is always a good time to reflect and see what can you do better next year. That’s how I intend to approach it. I am sure that I will have even better ideas after a couple days of sleep and sun.

Brianna.

Q: Thank you, Mr. President. On the debt ceiling, your Treasury secretary has estimated that the U.S. government will lose its ability to pay its bills come late February or early March. House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan has said that Republicans are going to decide what it is they can accomplish out of this debt limit fight — his words. Will you negotiate with House Republicans on the debt ceiling?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Oh, Brianna, you know the answer to his question. No, we’re not going to negotiate for Congress to pay bills that it has accrued.

Here’s the good news. And I want to — I want to emphasize the positive as we enter into this holiday season. I think Congressman Ryan and Senator Murray did a good job in trying to narrow the differences and actually pass a budget that I can sign. It’s not everything that I would like, obviously. It buys back part of these across-the-board cuts, the so-called sequester, but not all of it. So we’re still underfunding research. We’re still underfunding education. We’re still underfunding transportation and other initiatives that would create jobs right now.

But you know, it was an honest conversation. They operated in good faith.

And given how far apart the parties have been on fiscal issues, they should take pride in what they did. And I actually called them after they struck the deal, and I said, congratulations. And I hope that creates a good pattern for next year, where work on, at least, the things we agreed to, even if we agree to disagree on some of the other big-ticket items.

I think immigration potentially falls in that categories, where, let’s — here’s an area where we’ve got bipartisan agreement. There are a few differences here and there, but the truth of the matter is that the Senate bill has the main components of comprehensive immigration reform that would boost our economy, give us an opportunity to attract more investment and high-skilled workers who are doing great things in places like Silicon Valley and around the country. So let’s go ahead and get that done.

Now, I can’t imagine that having seen this possible daylight breaking when it comes to cooperation in Congress, that folks are thinking, actually, about plunging us back into the kinds of brinksmanship and governance by crisis that has done us so much harm over the last couple of years.

To repeat, the debt ceiling is raised simply to pay bills that we have already accrued; it is not something that is a negotiating tool. It’s not leverage. It’s the responsibility of Congress; it’s part of doing their job. I expect them to do their job, although I’m happy to talk to them about any of the issues that they actually want to get done. So if Congressman Ryan is interested in tax reform, let’s go.

I’ve got some proposals on it. If he’s interested in any issue out there, I’m willing to have a constructive conversation of the sort that we just had in resolving the budget issues. But I’ve — I’ve got to assume folks aren’t crazy enough to start that thing all over again.

Q: If I may, just quickly on a more personal note, what is your New Year’s resolution?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: My New Year’s resolution is to be nicer to the White House press corps. (Laughter.) You know? Absolutely.

Q: All right.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Major Garrett.

Q: That’s quite a lead-in, Mr. President. Thank you.

Rick Leggett, who is the head of the NSA task force on Edward Snowden, told “60 Minutes” that it was, quote, “worth having a conversation about granting Edward Snowden amnesty.” To what degree, sir, were you pleased that he floated this trial balloon? And under what circumstances would you consider either a plea agreement or amnesty for Edward Snowden?

And what do you say to Americans, sir, who after possibly being alerted to Judge Leon’s decision earlier this week, reading the panel recommendations, believe Edward Snowden set in motion something that is proper and just in this country about the scope of surveillance, and should not be considered by the government a criminal?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: I’ve got to be careful here, Major, because Mr. Snowden is under indictment. He has been charged with — with crimes, and that’s the province of the attorney general and ultimately, a judge and a jury. So I — I can’t weigh in specifically on this case at this point. I’ll — I’ll make — I’ll try to see if I can get at the — the spirit of the question, even if I can’t talk about the specifics.

I have said before and I believe that this is an important conversation that we needed to have. I have also said before that the way in which these disclosures happened have been — have been damaging to the United States and damaging to our intelligence capabilities.

And I think that there was a way for us to have this conversation without that damage.

I’ll give you just one specific example.

The — the fact of the matter is that the United States, for all our warts, is a country that abides by rule of law, that cares deeply about privacy, that cares about civil liberties, that cares about our Constitution. And as a consequence of these disclosures, we’ve got countries who actually do the things that Mr. Snowden says he’s worried about, very explicitly — engaging in surveillance of their own citizens, targeting political dissidents, targeting and suppressing the press, who somehow are able to sit on the sidelines and act as if it’s the United States that has problems when it comes to surveillance and intelligence operations. And that’s a pretty distorted view of what’s going on out there.

So I think that, as important and as necessary as this debate has been, it is also important to keep in mind that this has done unnecessary damage to U.S. intelligence capabilities and U.S. diplomacy. But I will leave it up to the courts and the attorney general to weigh in publicly on the specifics of Mr. Snowden’s case.

Q: But sir, if I could follow up, Mr. Leggett is setting this in motion, at least raising this as a topic of conversation. You, sir, would, I’m certain, be consulted if there was ever going to be a conversation about amnesty or a plea bargain for Edward Snowden.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: I said — I think that’s true, Major. And I guess what I’m saying is there’s —

Q: Would you rule it out forever, that you would never consider it?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: What I’m saying is, is that there’s a difference between Mr. Leggett saying something and the president of the United States saying something.

Q: That’s why I’m trying to get you (to say it ?).

PRESIDENT OBAMA: That’s exactly right. (Laughter.)

Chuck Todd.

Q: Thank you, Mr. President. And merry Christmas, and happy new year. You’ve talked about the issues with health care and the website rollout, but there have been other issues, the misinformation about people keeping their policies, the extended deadlines, some postponements. We have a new waiver that HHS announced last night. How do you expect Americans to have confidence and certainty in this law if you keep changing it? This one here, this new waiver last night — could argue you might as well have just delayed the mandate.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, no, that’s not true because what we’re talking about is a very specific population that received cancelation notices from insurance companies. The majority of them are either keeping their old plan because the grandfather clause has been extended further or they’re finding a better deal in the marketplace with better insurance or cheaper costs. But there may still be a subset, a significantly smaller subset than some of the numbers that have been advertised, that are still looking for options, are still concerned about what they’re going to be doing next year. And we just wanted to make sure that the hardship provision that was already existing in the law would also potentially apply to somebody who had problems during this transition period. So that’s the specifics of this latest change.

You’re making a broader point that — that I think is fair.

And that is that in a big project like this, that what we are constantly doing is looking — is this working the way it’s supposed to, and if there are adjustments that can be made to smooth out the transition, we should make them.

But they don’t go to the core of the law. First of all, the core of the law is, is that for 85 percent of the population, all they’ve been getting is free preventive care, better consumer protections, the ability to keep their kids on their insurance plan till they’re 26, thousand-dollar or $500 discounts on prescription drugs for seniors on Medicare. So 85 percent of the population, whether they know it or not, over the last three years have benefited from a whole set of the provisions of the law.

And by the way, if it were to be repealed, you would be taking away all those benefits from — from folks who already are enjoying them.

You have this subportion of the population, 15 percent, who either don’t have health insurance or are buying it on the individual market. And that’s still millions of people. And what we’re doing is creating a marketplace where they can buy insurance, and we can provide them some tax credits to help them afford it.

The basic structure of that law is working, despite all the problems. Despite the website problems, despite the messaging problems, despite all that, it’s working. And again, you don’t have to take my word for it. We’ve got a couple million people who are going to have health insurance just in the first three months, despite the fact that probably the first month and a half was lost because of problems with the website and about as bad a bunch of publicity as you could imagine.

And yet, you’ve still got 2 million people who signed up — or more. And so, what that means, then, is that the demand is there, and as I said before, the product is good.

Now, in putting something like this together, there are going to be all kinds of problems that crop up, some of which may have been unanticipated. And what we’ve been trying to do is just respond to them in a common-sense way, and we’re going to continue to try to do that. But that doesn’t negate the fact that, you know, a year from now or two years from now, when we look back, we’re going to be able to say that even more people have health insurance who didn’t have it before.

And that’s not a bad thing; that’s a good thing. That is part of the reason why I pushed so hard to get this law done in the first place. And — you know, I’ve said before that this is a messy process. And I think, sometimes, when I say that, people say, well, A, yeah, it’s real messy, and B, you know, isn’t — isn’t the fact that it’s been so messy some indication that there are more fundamental problems with the law?

And I guess what I’d say to that, Chuck, is, when you try to do something this big affecting this many people, it’s going to be hard. And every instance — whether it’s Social Security, Medicare, the prescription drug plan under President Bush — there hasn’t been an instance where you’ve tried to really have an impact on the American peoples’ lives and well-being, particularly in the health care arena where you don’t end up having some of these challenges.

The question is going to be, ultimately, do we make good decisions trying to help as many people as possible in as efficient a way as possible? And I think that’s what we’re doing.

Q: But with 72 hours to go, you make this change where people are buying the junk — frankly, a junk-type policy that you weren’t — you were trying to get people away from.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, do keep in mind, Chuck, first of all, that the majority of folks are going to have different options. This is essentially an additional net in case folks might have slipped through the cracks. We don’t have precision on those numbers, but we expect it’s going to be a relatively small number because these are folks who want insurance, and the vast majority of them have good options. And in a state like North Carolina, for example, the overwhelming majority of them have just kept their own plans, so — the ones that they had previously.

But we thought and continue to think that it makes sense that as we are transitioning to a system in which insurance standards are higher, people don’t have unpleasant surprises because they thought they had insurance until they hit a limit, and next thing you know they still owe a hundred thousand or 200(,000 dollars) or $300,000 for a hospital visit, that as we transition to higher standards, better insurance, that we also address folks who get caught in that transition and their unintended consequences.

And I’ll — that was the original intent of the grandfather clause that was in the law. Obviously, the problem was it didn’t catch enough people. And you know, we learned from that, and we’re trying not to repeat those mistakes.

Q: But the mandate will be enforced — (off mic) —

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Absolutely, yeah.

Let’s see, Phil Mattingly.

Q: Thank you, Mr. President. What was the message you were trying to send with not only your decision not to attend the Sochi games, but also with the people you named to the delegation to represent the United States at those games?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, first of all, I haven’t attended Olympics in the past and I suspect that, you know — you know, me attending Olympics, particularly at a time when we’ve got all the other stuff that people have been talking about, is going to be tough, although I would love to do it. I’ll be going to a lot of Olympic Games post- presidency. (Laughter.)

I think the delegation speaks for itself. You’ve got outstanding Americans, outstanding athletes, people who will represent us extraordinarily well. And, you know, the fact that we’ve got folks like Billie Jean King or Brian Boitano, who themselves have been world-class athletes that everybody acknowledges for their excellence but also for their character, who also happen to be members of the LGBT community, you should take that for what it’s worth, that when it comes to the Olympics and athletic performance we don’t make distinctions on the basis of sexual orientation. We judge people on how they perform, both on the court and off the court, on the field and off the field. And that’s a value that I think is at the heart of not just America but American sports.

I’m going to just roll down these last few real quickly: Ari Shapiro, last day at the White House. He deserves a question. (Laughter.)

Q: Thank you very much, Mr. President. Senator Max Baucus was widely seen as the best hope for a large-scale deal to overhaul the tax code. What does your decision to nominate him as ambassador to China say about your hopes for a major tax bill in your second term?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: It says that Max Baucus is going to be an outstanding ambassador to China, and I’d like a swift confirmation.

And my expectation and hope is — is that if both Senate Democrats — or if Democrats and Republicans in the House and the Senate are serious about tax reform, then it’s not going to depend on one guy; it’s going to depend on all of us working together. And my office is ready, willing and eager to engage both parties in having a conversation about how we can simplify the tax code, make it fairer, make it work to create more jobs and do right by middle-class Americans.

Jackie Calmes.

Q: Thank you, Mr. President. And how do you say it in Hawaii? “Mele Kalikimaka.”

PRESIDENT OBAMA: “Mele Kalikimaka.” (Laughter.)

Q: Since we’ve been looking back at the year, I’d like to ask you what your reaction was to the nonpartisan truth-telling group PolitiFact when it said that the Lie of the Year was your statement that if you like your health care plan, you can keep it.

And related to the health care problems that we’ve seen over the past year, the fallout from that seems to be making Democrats, particularly in the Senate, a little rambunctious and independent of you, which is evidenced most clearly in the debate over the Iran sanctions. It looks like Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has expedited consideration of an Iran sanctions bill for January, even as your administration and you have been trying to get them to lay off sanctions while you’re —

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Jackie, I got to say, you’re — you’re stringing a bunch of things along here. Let’s — let’s —

Q: Well —

PRESIDENT OBAMA: — let’s see if we can hone in on a question. I mean, I — I —

Q: Two questions.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well — (chuckles) —

Q: That’s a lot less than Ed Henry had. (Laughter, groans.)

Q: Wow! I thought we were trying to get along — (inaudible).

PRESIDENT OBAMA: All right. (Inaudible.) Now I can see who’s —

Q: (Inaudible) — you — (inaudible) — each other.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: (Chuckles.) The — how about I separate out the Iran question separate out the Iran question from the health care question?

On the health care question — look, I think I’ve answered it several times — this is a new iteration of it — but bottom line is that, you know, we are going to continue to work every single day to make sure that implementation of the health care law and the website and all elements of it, including the grandfather clause, work better every single day.

And as I’ve said in previous press conferences — you know, we’re going to make mistakes and we’re going to have problems, but my intentions have been clear throughout, which is, I just want to help as many people as possible feel secure and make sure that they don’t go broke when they get sick. And we’re just going to keep on doing that.

On Iran, there is the possibility of a resolution to a problem that has been a challenge for American national security for over a decade now. And that is getting Iran to, in a verifiable fashion, not pursue a nuclear weapon. Already, even with the interim deal that we struck in Geneva, we have the first halt, and in some cases, some rollback of Iran’s nuclear capabilities — the first time that we’ve seen that in almost decade.

And we now have a structure in which we can have a very serious conversation to see, is it possible for Iran to get right with the international community in a verifiable fashion to give us all confidence that any peaceful nuclear program that they have is not going to be weaponized in a way that threatens us or our allies in the region, including Israel.

And as I’ve said before and I will repeat, it is very important for us to test whether that’s possible, not because it’s guaranteed, but because the alternative is possibly us having to engage in some sort of conflict to resolve the problem, with all kinds of unintended consequences.

Now, I’ve been very clear from the start, I mean what I say. It is my goal to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. But I sure would rather to it diplomatically. I’m keeping all options on the table, but if I can do it diplomatically, that’s how we should do it, and I would think that would be the preference of everybody up on Capitol Hill, because that sure is the preference of the American people.

And we lose nothing during this negotiation period, precisely because there are verification provisions in place. We will have more insight into Iran’s nuclear program over the next six months than we have previously; we’ll know if they are violating the terms of the agreement; they’re not allowed to accelerate their stockpile of enriched uranium; in fact, they have to reduce their stockpile of highly enriched uranium. Ironically, if we did not have this six- month period in which we’re testing whether we can get a comprehensive solution to this problem, they would be advancing even further on their nuclear program.

And in light of all that, what I’ve said to members of Congress, Democrats and Republicans, is there is no need for new sanctions legislation, not yet.

Now, if Iran comes back and says, we can’t give you assurances that we’re not going to weaponize, if they’re not willing to address some of their capabilities that we know could end up resulting in them having breakout capacity, it’s not going to be hard for us to turn the dials back, strengthen sanctions even further. I’ll work with members of Congress to put even more pressure on Iran. But there’s no reason to do it right now.

And so I’m not surprised that there’s been some talk from some members of Congress about new sanctions. I think the politics of trying to look tough on Iran are often good when you’re running for office or if you’re in office. But as president of the United States right now who’s been responsible over the last four years, with the help of Congress, in putting together a comprehensive sanctions regime that was specifically designed to put pressure on them and bring them to the table to negotiate, what I’m saying to them, what I’ve said to the international community and what I’ve said to the American people is let’s test it. Now’s the time to try to see if we can get this thing done.

And — and I’ve heard some logic that says, well, Mr. President, we’re — we’re supportive of — of the negotiations, but we think it’s really useful to have this club hanging over Iran’s head. Well, first of all, we still have the existing sanctions already in place that are resulting in Iran losing billions of dollars every month in lost oil sales.

We already have banking and financial sanctions that are still being applied, even as the negotiations are taking place. It’s not as if we’re letting up on that.

So I’ve heard arguments, well, but you know, this way we can assured and the Iranians will know that if negotiations fail even new and harsher sanctions will be put into place. Listen, I don’t think the Iranians have any doubt that Congress would be more than happy to pass more sanctions legislation. We can do that in a — in a day, on a dime.

But if we’re serious about negotiations, we’ve got to create an atmosphere in which Iran in willing to move in ways that are uncomfortable for them and contrary to their ideology and rhetoric and their instincts and their suspicions of us. and we don’t — we don’t help get them to a position where we can actually resolve this by engaging in this kind of — this kind of action.

All right? OK, everybody. I think I’m going to take one more question, Colleen McCain Nelson, and that is it.

Q: Thank you, Mr. President.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: There you go.

Q: Some of your long-time advisers and new folks are coming in. Others are taking on new roles in the west wing. As you reshape your team a bit, how does that change the dynamic here and how does it impact what you think you can accomplish going forward?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: You know, I just had lunch with Pete Rouse, who’s — who’s leaving me. And that’s tough.

Q: He says so?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: He says so, not right now, at least. No, I — you know, I — I love that guy. And — and that will be a significant loss, although he’ll still be in town and hopefully I’ll be able to consult with him on an ongoing basis.

I think the fact that John Podesta’s coming in will be terrific. He may deny it, but I’ve been trying to get him in here for quite some time. He ran my transition office. I asked him when he was running the transition office if he would be willing to join us, and at that time, I think he was still feeling that he wanted to develop CAP and other organizations.

But you know, John’s a great strategist, he is as good as anybody on domestic policy, and I think he’ll be a — a huge boost to us and give us more bandwidth to deal with more issues.

I suspect that we may have additional announcements in the new year. You know, there’s — there’s a natural turnover that takes place. People get tired; people get worn out. Sometimes, you need fresh legs. But what I can tell you is the — the team I have now is tireless and shares my values, and believes the thing that I think I have repeated probably four or five times in this press conference, which is we get this incredible privilege for a pretty short period of time to do as much as we can for as many people as we can to help them live better lives.

And that’s what drives them and that’s the sacrifice they make, being away from families and soccer games and birthdays, and some of them will end up working over Christmas on issues like Iran. And the fact that they make those kinds of sacrifices, I am always grateful for.

And if they then say to me after making those sacrifices for three, four, five years, you know, I need a break, you know, then — then I completely understand.

All right, have a great holiday, everybody. Appreciate you.

Q: Merry Christmas.

Q: Merry Christmas.

Q: Happy new year.

Transcript courtesy of Federal News Service. 

Political Headlines December 20, 2013: Live Coverage of President Obama’s Year-End Press Conference

POLITICAL HEADLINES

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OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

THE HEADLINES….

Live Coverage of Obama’s News Conference

Source: NYT, 12-20-13

Play video

Saul Loeb/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

LIVE VIDEO  President Obama is answering reporters’ questions during his year-end news conference.

President Obama spoke about the N.S.A., health law signups and the ambitions of his second term….READ MORE

Full Text Obama Presidency August 9, 2013: President Barack Obama’s Pre-Vacation Press Conference on NSA Surveillance & Patriot Act Reforms — Transcript

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Remarks by the President in a Press Conference

Source: WH, 8-9-13

President Obama on Friday during a news conference in the East Room of the White House.
Doug Mills/The New York Times

President Obama on Friday during a news conference in the East Room of the White House.

President Obama announced Friday afternoon that his administration would change the Patriot Act and other aspects of surveillance programs.

3:09 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT: Good afternoon, everybody. Please have a seat.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been talking about what I believe should be our number-one priority as a country — building a better bargain for the middle class and for Americans who want to work their way into the middle class. At the same time, I’m focused on my number-one responsibility as Commander-in-Chief, and that’s keeping the American people safe. And in recent days, we’ve been reminded once again about the threats to our nation.

As I said at the National Defense University back in May, in meeting those threats we have to strike the right balance between protecting our security and preserving our freedoms. And as part of this rebalancing, I called for a review of our surveillance programs. Unfortunately, rather than an orderly and lawful process to debate these issues and come up with appropriate reforms, repeated leaks of classified information have initiated the debate in a very passionate, but not always fully informed way.

Now, keep in mind that as a senator, I expressed a healthy skepticism about these programs, and as President, I’ve taken steps to make sure they have strong oversight by all three branches of government and clear safeguards to prevent abuse and protect the rights of the American people. But given the history of abuse by governments, it’s right to ask questions about surveillance — particularly as technology is reshaping every aspect of our lives.

I’m also mindful of how these issues are viewed overseas, because American leadership around the world depends upon the example of American democracy and American openness — because what makes us different from other countries is not simply our ability to secure our nation, it’s the way we do it — with open debate and democratic process.

In other words, it’s not enough for me, as President, to have confidence in these programs. The American people need to have confidence in them as well. And that’s why, over the last few weeks, I’ve consulted members of Congress who come at this issue from many different perspectives. I’ve asked the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board to review where our counterterrorism efforts and our values come into tension, and I directed my national security team to be more transparent and to pursue reforms of our laws and practices.

And so, today, I’d like to discuss four specific steps — not all inclusive, but some specific steps that we’re going to be taking very shortly to move the debate forward.

First, I will work with Congress to pursue appropriate reforms to Section 215 of the Patriot Act — the program that collects telephone records. As I’ve said, this program is an important tool in our effort to disrupt terrorist plots. And it does not allow the government to listen to any phone calls without a warrant. But given the scale of this program, I understand the concerns of those who would worry that it could be subject to abuse. So after having a dialogue with members of Congress and civil libertarians, I believe that there are steps we can take to give the American people additional confidence that there are additional safeguards against abuse.

For instance, we can take steps to put in place greater oversight, greater transparency, and constraints on the use of this authority. So I look forward to working with Congress to meet those objectives.

Second, I’ll work with Congress to improve the public’s confidence in the oversight conducted by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, known as the FISC. The FISC was created by Congress to provide judicial review of certain intelligence activities so that a federal judge must find that our actions are consistent with the Constitution. However, to build greater confidence, I think we should consider some additional changes to the FISC.

One of the concerns that people raise is that a judge reviewing a request from the government to conduct programmatic surveillance only hears one side of the story — may tilt it too far in favor of security, may not pay enough attention to liberty. And while I’ve got confidence in the court and I think they’ve done a fine job, I think we can provide greater assurances that the court is looking at these issues from both perspectives — security and privacy.

So, specifically, we can take steps to make sure civil liberties concerns have an independent voice in appropriate cases by ensuring that the government’s position is challenged by an adversary.

Number three, we can, and must, be more transparent. So I’ve directed the intelligence community to make public as much information about these programs as possible. We’ve already declassified unprecedented information about the NSA, but we can go further. So at my direction, the Department of Justice will make public the legal rationale for the government’s collection activities under Section 215 of the Patriot Act. The NSA is taking steps to put in place a full-time civil liberties and privacy officer, and released information that details its mission, authorities, and oversight. And finally, the intelligence community is creating a website that will serve as a hub for further transparency, and this will give Americans and the world the ability to learn more about what our intelligence community does and what it doesn’t do, how it carries out its mission, and why it does so.

Fourth, we’re forming a high-level group of outside experts to review our entire intelligence and communications technologies. We need new thinking for a new era. We now have to unravel terrorist plots by finding a needle in the haystack of global telecommunications. And meanwhile, technology has given governments — including our own — unprecedented capability to monitor communications.

So I am tasking this independent group to step back and review our capabilities — particularly our surveillance technologies. And they’ll consider how we can maintain the trust of the people, how we can make sure that there absolutely is no abuse in terms of how these surveillance technologies are used, ask how surveillance impacts our foreign policy — particularly in an age when more and more information is becoming public. And they will provide an interim report in 60 days and a final report by the end of this year, so that we can move forward with a better understanding of how these programs impact our security, our privacy, and our foreign policy.

So all these steps are designed to ensure that the American people can trust that our efforts are in line with our interests and our values. And to others around the world, I want to make clear once again that America is not interested in spying on ordinary people. Our intelligence is focused, above all, on finding the information that’s necessary to protect our people, and — in many cases — protect our allies.

It’s true we have significant capabilities. What’s also true is we show a restraint that many governments around the world don’t even think to do, refuse to show — and that includes, by the way, some of America’s most vocal critics. We shouldn’t forget the difference between the ability of our government to collect information online under strict guidelines and for narrow purposes, and the willingness of some other governments to throw their own citizens in prison for what they say online.

And let me close with one additional thought. The men and women of our intelligence community work every single day to keep us safe because they love this country and believe in our values. They’re patriots. And I believe that those who have lawfully raised their voices on behalf of privacy and civil liberties are also patriots who love our country and want it to live up to our highest ideals. So this is how we’re going to resolve our differences in the United States — through vigorous public debate, guided by our Constitution, with reverence for our history as a nation of laws, and with respect for the facts.

So, with that, I’m going to take some questions. And let’s see who we’ve got here. We’re going to start with Julie Pace of AP.

Q Thank you, Mr. President. I wanted to ask about some of the foreign policy fallout from the disclosure of the NSA programs that you discussed. Your spokesman said yesterday that there’s no question that the U.S. relationship with Russia has gotten worse since Vladimir Putin took office. How much of that decline do you attribute directly to Mr. Putin, given that you seem to have had a good working relationship with his predecessor? Also will there be any additional punitive measures taken against Russia for granting asylum to Edward Snowden? Or is canceling the September summit really all you can do given the host of issues the U.S. needs Russian cooperation for? Thank you.

THE PRESIDENT: Good. I think there’s always been some tension in the U.S.-Russian relationship after the fall of the Soviet Union. There’s been cooperation in some areas; there’s been competition in others.

It is true that in my first four years, in working with President Medvedev, we made a lot of progress. We got START done — or START II done. We were able to cooperate together on Iran sanctions. They provided us help in terms of supplying our troops in Afghanistan. We were able to get Russia into the WTO — which is not just good for Russia, it’s good for our companies and businesses because they’re more likely then to follow international norms and rules. So there’s been a lot of good work that has been done and that is going to continue to be done. What’s also true is, is that when President Putin — who was prime minister when Medvedev was president — came back into power I think we saw more rhetoric on the Russian side that was anti-American, that played into some of the old stereotypes about the Cold War contests between the United States and Russia. And I’ve encouraged Mr. Putin to think forward as opposed to backwards on those issues — with mixed success.

And I think the latest episode is just one more in a number of emerging differences that we’ve seen over the last several months around Syria, around human rights issues, where it is probably appropriate for us to take a pause, reassess where it is that Russia is going, what our core interests are, and calibrate the relationship so that we’re doing things that are good for the United States and hopefully good for Russia as well, but recognizing that there just are going to be some differences and we’re not going to be able to completely disguise them.

And that’s okay. Keep in mind that although I’m not attending the summit, I’ll still be going to St. Petersburg because Russia is hosting the G20. That’s important business in terms of our economy and our jobs and all the issues that are of concern to Americans.

I know that one question that’s been raised is how do we approach the Olympics. I want to just make very clear right now I do not think it’s appropriate to boycott the Olympics. We’ve got a bunch of Americans out there who are training hard, who are doing everything they can to succeed. Nobody is more offended than me by some of the anti-gay and lesbian legislation that you’ve been seeing in Russia. But as I said just this week, I’ve spoken out against that not just with respect to Russia but a number of other countries where we continue to do work with them, but we have a strong disagreement on this issue.

And one of the things I’m really looking forward to is maybe some gay and lesbian athletes bringing home the gold or silver or bronze, which I think would go a long way in rejecting the kind of attitudes that we’re seeing there. And if Russia doesn’t have gay or lesbian athletes, then it probably makes their team weaker.

Q Are there going to be any additional punitive measures for Russia, beyond canceling the summit?

THE PRESIDENT: Keep in mind that our decision to not participate in the summit was not simply around Mr. Snowden. It had to do with the fact that, frankly, on a whole range of issues where we think we can make some progress, Russia has not moved. And so we don’t consider that strictly punitive.

We’re going to assess where the relationship can advance U.S. interests and increase peace and stability and prosperity around the world. Where it can, we’re going to keep on working with them. Where we have differences, we’re going to say so clearly. And my hope is, is that over time, Mr. Putin and Russia recognize that rather than a zero-sum competition, in fact, if the two countries are working together we can probably advance the betterment of both peoples.

Chuck Todd.

Q Thank you, Mr. President. Given that you just announced a whole bunch of reforms based on essentially the leaks that Edward Snowden made on all of these surveillance programs, is that change — is your mindset changed about him? Is he now more a whistle-blower than he is a hacker, as you called him at one point, or somebody that shouldn’t be filed charges? And should he be provided more protection? Is he a patriot? You just used those words. And then just to follow up on the personal — I want to follow up on a personal —

THE PRESIDENT: Okay, I want to make sure — everybody is asking one question it would be helpful.

Q No, I understand. It was a part of a question that you didn’t answer. Can you get stuff done with Russia, big stuff done, without having a good personal relationship with Putin?

THE PRESIDENT: I don’t have a bad personal relationship with Putin. When we have conversations, they’re candid, they’re blunt; oftentimes, they’re constructive. I know the press likes to focus on body language and he’s got that kind of slouch, looking like the bored kid in the back of the classroom. But the truth is, is that when we’re in conversations together, oftentimes it’s very productive.

So the issue here really has to do with where do they want to take Russia — it’s substantive on a policy front. And —

Q (Inaudible.)

THE PRESIDENT: No. Right now, this is just a matter of where Mr. Putin and the Russian people want to go. I think if they are looking forward into the 21st century and how they can advance their economy, and make sure that some of our joint concerns around counterterrorism are managed effectively, then I think we can work together. If issues are framed as if the U.S. is for it then Russia should be against it, or we’re going to be finding ways where we can poke each other at every opportunity, then probably we don’t get as much stuff done.

See, now I’ve forgotten your first question, which presumably was the more important one. No, I don’t think Mr. Snowden was a patriot. As I said in my opening remarks, I called for a thorough review of our surveillance operations before Mr. Snowden made these leaks.

My preference — and I think the American people’s preference — would have been for a lawful, orderly examination of these laws, a thoughtful fact-based debate that would then lead us to a better place. Because I never made claims that all the surveillance technologies that have developed since the time some of these laws had been put in place somehow didn’t require potentially some additional reforms. That’s exactly what I called for.

So the fact is, is that Mr. Snowden has been charged with three felonies. If, in fact, he believes that what he did was right, then, like every American citizen, he can come here, appear before the court with a lawyer and make his case. If the concern was that somehow this was the only way to get this information out to the public, I signed an executive order well before Mr. Snowden leaked this information that provided whistleblower protection to the intelligence community — for the first time. So there were other avenues available for somebody whose conscience was stirred and thought that they needed to question government actions.

But having said that, once the leaks have happened, what we’ve seen is information come out in dribs and in drabs, sometimes coming out sideways. Once the information is out, the administration comes in, tries to correct the record. But by that time, it’s too late or we’ve moved on, and a general impression has, I think, taken hold not only among the American public but also around the world that somehow we’re out there willy-nilly just sucking in information on everybody and doing what we please with it.

That’s not the case. Our laws specifically prohibit us from surveilling U.S. persons without a warrant. And there are a whole range of safeguards that have been put in place to make sure that that basic principle is abided by.

But what is clear is that whether, because of the instinctive bias of the intelligence community to keep everything very close — and probably what’s a fair criticism is my assumption that if we had checks and balances from the courts and Congress, that that traditional system of checks and balances would be enough to give people assurance that these programs were run probably — that assumption I think proved to be undermined by what happened after the leaks. I think people have questions about this program.

And so, as a consequence, I think it is important for us to go ahead and answer these questions. What I’m going to be pushing the IC to do is rather than have a trunk come out here and leg come out there and a tail come out there, let’s just put the whole elephant out there so people know exactly what they’re looking at. Let’s examine what is working, what’s not, are there additional protections that can be put in place, and let’s move forward.

And there’s no doubt that Mr. Snowden’s leaks triggered a much more rapid and passionate response than would have been the case if I had simply appointed this review board to go through, and I had sat down with Congress and we had worked this thing through. It would have been less exciting. It would not have generated as much press. I actually think we would have gotten to the same place, and we would have done so without putting at risk our national security and some very vital ways that we are able to get intelligence that we need to secure the country.

Major Garrett.

Q Thank you, Mr. President. I’d like to ask you about this debate that’s playing itself out in editorial pages, in the blogosphere, even in the Senate Democratic caucus, about the choice you eventually will make for the next Federal Reserve chairman. There is a perception among Democrats that Larry Summers has the inside track, and perhaps you’ve made some assurances to him about that. Janet Yellen is the vice chair of the Federal Reserve. There are many women in the Senate who are Democrats who believe that breaking the glass ceiling there would be historic and important.

THE PRESIDENT: Right.

Q Are you annoyed by this sort of roiling debate? Do you find it any way unseemly? And do you believe this will be one of the most important — if not the most important — economic decisions you’ll make in the remainder of your presidency?

THE PRESIDENT: It is definitely one of the most important economic decisions that I’ll make in the remainder of my presidency. The Federal Reserve chairman is not just one of the most important economic policymakers in America, he or she is one of the most important policymakers in the world. And that person presumably will stay on after I’m President. So this, along with Supreme Court appointments, is probably as important a decision as I make as President.

I have a range of outstanding candidates. You’ve mentioned two of them — Mr. Summers and Mr. Yellen — Ms. Yellen. And they’re both terrific people.

I think the perception that Mr. Summers might have an inside track simply had to do with a bunch of attacks that I was hearing on Mr. Summers preemptively, which is sort of a standard Washington exercise, that I don’t like. Because when somebody has worked hard for me and worked hard on behalf of the American people, and I know the quality of those people, and I see them getting slapped around in the press for no reason — before they’ve even been nominated for anything — then I want to make sure that somebody is standing up for them. I felt the same way when people were attacking Susan Rice before she was nominated for anything. So I tend to defend folks who I think have done a good job and don’t deserve attacks.

But I consider them both outstanding candidates. My main criteria — I’ve stated this before, but I want to repeat it — my main criteria for the Fed Reserve chairman is somebody who understands they’ve got a dual mandate. A critical part of the job is making sure that we keep inflation in check, that our monetary policy is sound, that the dollar is sound. Those are all critical components of the job. And we’ve seen what happens when the Fed is not paying attention. We saw, prior to Paul Volcker coming into place, inflation shooting up in ways that really damaged the real economy.

But the other mandate is full employment. And right now, if you look at the biggest challenges we have, the challenge is not inflation; the challenge is we’ve still got too many people out of work, too many long-term unemployed, too much slack in the economy, and we’re not growing as fast as we should. And so I want a Fed chairman who’s able to look at those issues and have a perspective that keeps an eye on inflation, makes sure that we’re not seeing artificial bubbles in place, but also recognizing, you know what, a big part of my job right now is to make sure the economy is growing quickly and robustly, and is sustained and durable, so that people who work hard in this country are able to find a job.

And, frankly, I think both Larry Summers and Janet Yellen are highly qualified candidates. There are a couple of other candidates who are highly qualified as well. I’ll make the decision in the fall.

Q Can you see how the perception of you defending Larry Summers as vigorously as you just did and in other quarters lead some to believe you’ve already made up your mind?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, except I just told you I haven’t. Major, I’d defend you if somebody was saying something that wasn’t true about you. (Laughter.) I really would. In fact, I’ve done that in the White House some times. (Laughter.)

Carol Lee. And, Carol, congratulations on Hudson.

Q Thank you, Mr. President.

THE PRESIDENT: Do you have pictures?

Q I do. I’ll have to show you —

THE PRESIDENT: Okay, I’m going to have to see them.

Q I appreciate you making it a slow news week.

I wanted to ask you about your evolution on the surveillance issues. I mean, part of what you’re talking about today is restoring the public trust. And the public has seen you evolve from when you were in the U.S. Senate to now. And even as recently as June, you said that the process was such that people should be comfortable with it, and now you’re saying you’re making these reforms and people should be comfortable with those. So why should the public trust you on this issue, and why did you change your position multiple times?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, I think it’s important to say, Carol, first of all, I haven’t evolved in my assessment of the actual programs. I consistently have said that when I came into office I evaluated them. Some of these programs I had been critical of when I was in the Senate. When I looked through specifically what was being done, my determination was that the two programs in particular that had been at issue, 215 and 702, offered valuable intelligence that helps us protect the American people and they’re worth preserving. What we also saw was that some bolts needed to be tightened up on some of the programs, so we initiated some additional oversight, reforms, compliance officers, audits and so forth.

And if you look at the reports — even the disclosures that Mr. Snowden has put forward — all the stories that have been written, what you’re not reading about is the government actually abusing these programs and listening in on people’s phone calls or inappropriately reading people’s emails. What you’re hearing about is the prospect that these could be abused. Now, part of the reason they’re not abused is because these checks are in place, and those abuses would be against the law and would be against the orders of the FISC.

Having said that, though, if you are outside of the intelligence community, if you are the ordinary person and you start seeing a bunch of headlines saying, U.S.-Big Brother looking down on you, collecting telephone records, et cetera, well, understandably, people would be concerned. I would be, too, if I wasn’t inside the government.

And so in light of the changed environment where a whole set of questions have been raised, some in the most sensationalized manner possible, where these leaks are released drip by drip, one a week, to kind of maximize attention and see if they can catch us at some imprecision on something — in light of that, it makes sense for us to go ahead, lay out what exactly we’re doing, have a discussion with Congress, have a discussion with industry — which is also impacted by this — have a discussion with civil libertarians, and see can we do this better.

I think the main thing I want to emphasize is I don’t have an interest and the people at the NSA don’t have an interest in doing anything other than making sure that where we can prevent a terrorist attack, where we can get information ahead of time, that we’re able to carry out that critical task. We do not have an interest in doing anything other than that. And we’ve tried to set up a system that is as failsafe as so far at least we’ve been able to think of to make sure that these programs are not abused.

But people may have better ideas and people may want to jigger slightly sort of the balance between the information that we can get versus the incremental encroachments on privacy that if haven’t already taken place might take place in a future administration, or as technologies develop further.

And the other thing that’s happening is, is that as technology develops further, technology itself may provide us some additional safeguards. So, for example, if people don’t have confidence that the law, the checks and balances of the court and Congress are sufficient to give us confidence that government is not snooping, well, maybe we can embed technologies in there that prevent the snooping regardless of what government wants to do. I mean, there may be some technological fixes that provide another layer of assurance.

And so those are the kinds of things that I’m looking forward to having a conversation about.

Q Can you understand, though, why some people might not trust what you’re saying right now about wanting to —

THE PRESIDENT: No, I can’t.

Q — that they should be comfortable with the process?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, the fact that I said that the programs are operating in a way that prevents abuse, that continues to be true, without the reforms. The question is how do I make the American people more comfortable.

If I tell Michelle that I did the dishes — now, granted, in the White House I don’t do the dishes that much — (laughter) — but back in the day — and she’s a little skeptical, well, I’d like her to trust me, but maybe I need to bring her back and show her the dishes and not just have her take my word for it.

And so the program is — I am comfortable that the program currently is not being abused. I’m comfortable that if the American people examined exactly what was taking place, how it was being used, what the safeguards were, that they would say, you know what, these folks are following the law and doing what they say they’re doing.

But it is absolutely true that with the expansion of technology — this is an area that’s moving very quickly — with the revelations that have depleted public trust, that if there are some additional things that we can do to build that trust back up, then we should do them.

Jonathan Karl.

Q Thank you, Mr. President. You have said that core al Qaeda has been decimated, that its leaders are on the run. Now that we’ve seen this terror threat that has resulted in embassies closed throughout the Arab world, much of Africa, do you still believe that al Qaeda has been decimated? And if I can ask in the interest of transparency, can you tell us about these drone strikes that we’ve seen over the last couple of weeks in Yemen?

THE PRESIDENT: What I said in the same National Defense University speech back in May that I referred to earlier is that core al Qaeda is on its heels, has been decimated. But what I also said was that al Qaeda and other extremists have metastasized into regional groups that can pose significant dangers.

And I’d refer you back to that speech just back in May where I said specifically that although they are less likely to be able to carry out spectacular homeland attacks like 9/11, they have the capacity to go after our embassies. They have the capacity, potentially, to go after our businesses. They have the capacity to be destabilizing and disruptive in countries where the security apparatus is weak. And that’s exactly what we are seeing right now.

So it’s entirely consistent to say that this tightly organized and relatively centralized al Qaeda that attacked us on 9/11 has been broken apart and is very weak and does not have a lot of operational capacity, and to say we still have these regional organizations like AQAP that can pose a threat, that can drive potentially a truck bomb into an embassy wall and can kill some people.

And so that requires us, then, to make sure that we have a strategy that is strengthening those partners so that they’ve got their own capacity to deal with what are potentially manageable regional threats if these countries are a little bit stronger and have more effective CT and so forth. It means that we’ve got to continue to be vigilant and go after known terrorists who are potentially carrying out plots or are going to strengthen their capacity over time — because they’re always testing the boundaries of, well, maybe we can try this, maybe we can do that. So this is a ongoing process. We are not going to completely eliminate terrorism. What we can do is to weaken it and to strengthen our partnerships in such a way that it does not pose the kind of horrible threat that we saw on 9/11.

And I’m not going to discuss specific operations that have taken place. Again, in my speech in May, I was very specific about how we make these determinations about potential lethal strikes, so I would refer you to that speech.

Q So you won’t even confirm that we carried out drone strikes in Yemen?

THE PRESIDENT: I will not have a discussion about operational issues.

Ed Henry.

Q I hope you would defend me as well.

THE PRESIDENT: I would.

Q Okay, thank you. I want to ask you about two important dates that are coming up. October 1st you’ve got to implement your signature health care law. You recently decided on your own to delay a key part of that. And I wonder, if you pick and choose what parts of the law to implement, couldn’t your successor down the road pick and choose whether they’ll implement your law and keep it in place?

And on September 11th we’ll have the first anniversary of Benghazi. And you said on September 12th, “Make no mistake, we’ll bring to justice the killers who attacked our people.” Eleven months later, where are they, sir?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, I also said that we’d get bin Laden, and I didn’t get him in 11 months. So we have informed, I think, the public that there’s a sealed indictment. It’s sealed for a reason. But we are intent on capturing those who carried out this attack, and we’re going to stay on it until we get them.

Q And you’re close to having suspects in custody?

THE PRESIDENT: I will leave it at that. But this remains a top priority for us. Anybody who attacks Americans, anybody who kills, tragically, four Americans who were serving us in a very dangerous place, we’re going to do everything we can to get those who carried out those attacks.

With respect to health care, I didn’t simply choose to delay this on my own. This was in consultation with businesses all across the country, many of whom are supportive of the Affordable Care Act, but — and many of whom, by the way, are already providing health insurance to their employees but were concerned about the operational details of changing their HR operations, if they’ve got a lot of employees, which could be costly for them, and them suggesting that there may be easier ways to do this.

Now, what’s true, Ed, is, is that in a normal political environment, it would have been easier for me to simply call up the Speaker and say, you know what, this is a tweak that doesn’t go to the essence of the law — it has to do with, for example, are we able to simplify the attestation of employers as to whether they’re already providing health insurance or not — it looks like there may be some better ways to do this; let’s make a technical change to the law. That would be the normal thing that I would prefer to do.

But we’re not in a normal atmosphere around here when it comes to “Obamacare.” We did have the executive authority to do so, and we did so. But this doesn’t go to the core of implementation. Let me tell you what is the core of implementation that’s already taken place. As we speak, right now, for the 85 percent of Americans who already have health insurance, they are benefiting from being able to keep their kid on their plan if their kid is 26 or younger. That’s benefiting millions of young people around the country, which is why lack of insurance among young people has actually gone down. That’s in large part attributable to the steps that we’ve taken.

You’ve got millions of people who have received rebates, because part of the Affordable Care Act was to say that if an insurance company isn’t spending 80 percent of your premium on your health care, you get some money back. And, lo and behold, people have been getting their money back. It means that folks who have been bumping up with lifetime limits on their insurance, that it leaves them vulnerable. That doesn’t exist.

Seniors have been getting discounts on their prescription drugs. That’s happening right now. Free preventive care — mammograms, contraception. That’s happening right now. I met a young man today on a bill signing I was doing with the student loan bill who came up to me and said thank you — he couldn’t have been more than 25, 26 years old — thank you; I have cancer, thanks to the Affordable Care Act working with the California program, I was able to get health care and I’m now in remission. And so right now people are already benefiting.

Now, what happens on October 1st, in 53 days, is for the remaining 15 percent of the population that doesn’t have health insurance, they’re going to be able to go on a website or call up a call center and sign up for affordable quality health insurance at a significantly cheaper rate than what they can get right now on the individual market. And if even with lower premiums they still can’t afford it, we’re going to be able to provide them with a tax credit to help them buy it. And between October 1st into March there will be an open enrollment period in which millions of Americans for the first time are going to be able to get affordable health care.

Now, I think the really interesting question is why it is that my friends in the other party have made the idea of preventing these people from getting health care their holy grail, their number-one priority. The one unifying principle in the Republican Party at the moment is making sure that 30 million people don’t have health care and, presumably, repealing all those benefits I just mentioned — kids staying on their parents’ plan; seniors getting discounts on their prescription drugs; I guess a return to lifetime limits on insurance; people with preexisting conditions continuing to be blocked from being able to get health insurance.

That’s hard to understand as an agenda that is going to strengthen our middle class. At least they used to say, well, we’re going to replace it with something better. There’s not even a pretense now that they’re going to replace it with something better.

The notion is simply that those 30 million people, or the 150 million who are benefiting from the other aspects of Affordable Care, will be better off without it. That’s their assertion — not backed by fact, not backed by any evidence. It’s just become an ideological fixation.

Well, I tell you what, they’re wrong about that. There is no doubt that in implementing the Affordable Care Act, a program of this significance, there are going to be some glitches. No doubt about it. There are going to be things where we say, you know what, we should have thought of that earlier. Or this would work a little bit better. Or this needs an adjustment. That was true of Social Security. That was true of Medicare. That was true of the Children’s Health Insurance Program. That was true of the prescription drug program, Part D, that was rolled out by a Republican President and supported by Republicans who are still in the House of Representatives. That’s true, by the way, of a car company rolling out a new car. It’s true of Apple rolling out the new iPad.

So you will be able to, whenever you want during the course of the next six months and probably the next year, find occasions where you say, ah-ha, you know what, that could have been done a little bit better. Or that thing, they’re kind of making an administrative change; that’s now how it was originally thought this thing was going to work. Yes, exactly. Because our goal is to actually deliver high-quality, affordable health care for people and to reform the system so costs start going down and people start getting a better bang for the buck. And I make no apologies for that.

And let me just make one last point about this. The idea that you would shut down the government unless you prevent 30 million people from getting health care is a bad idea. What you should be thinking about is how can we advance and improve ways for middle-class families to have some security so that if they work hard, they can get ahead and their kids can get ahead.

Jessica Yellin.

Q Thank you, Mr. President. And following on what you just said, Republicans in the House might give you that choice soon to either allow the government to shut down or see Obamacare defunded. Would you choose to let the government shut down to ensure that Obamacare remains funded?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, I’m not going to engage in hypotheticals. I can tell you that the American people would have difficulty understanding why we would weaken our economy, shut down our government, shut down vital services, have people who are not getting paid who then can’t go to restaurants or shop for clothes, or all the other things that we’re doing here because Republicans have determined that they don’t want to see these folks get health care.

Again, they used to say they had a replacement. That never actually arrived, right? I mean, I’ve been hearing about this whole replacement thing for two years — now I just don’t hear about it, because basically they don’t have an agenda to provide health insurance to people at affordable rates. And the idea that you would shut down the government at a time when the recovery is getting some traction; where we’re growing, although not as fast as we need to; where the housing market is recovering, although not as fast as we would like; that we would precipitate another crisis here in Washington that no economist thinks is a good idea — I’m assuming that they will not take that path. I have confidence that common sense, in the end, will prevail.

Q And if they do, sir, you will have to make that choice?

THE PRESIDENT: We’ll see what happens. We’ve got a couple of months.

Q When’s the last time you spoke to Speaker Boehner about the budget?

THE PRESIDENT: Fairly recently, yes. Probably right before they left.

Okay. Scott Horseley.

Q Thank you, Mr. President. Part of the political logic behind immigration reform was the strong showing by Latino voters last November. That doesn’t seem to resonate with a lot of House Republicans who represent overwhelmingly white districts. What other political leverage can you bring to bear to help move a bill in the House?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, we’ve got an economic report that shows that our economy would be a trillion dollars stronger if we get immigration reform done. We’ve got evidence that our housing market would be stronger if immigrants are in a situation in which, having paid a fine, having paid back taxes, that they now have the ability to actually enter into the housing market. We’ve got strong evidence that our technological and research edge would be better if we get immigration reform done.

We know that the Senate bill strengthens border security, puts unprecedented resources on top of the unprecedented resources I’ve already put into border security. So if your main priority is border security, I’d think you’d want to vote for this bill. We know that the Senate bill creates a system in which employers are held accountable for when they hire undocumented workers. This is something that people say is a bad thing. I agree. Let’s make sure that that system for holding employers accountable is in place.

So when I hear the opposition to immigration reform, I just run through the list of things they’re concerned about, I look at what the Senate bill does, and I say to myself, you know what, the Senate bill actually improves the situation on every issue that they say they’re concerned about.

Now, what they may argue is it doesn’t solve the problem 100 percent. I don’t know a law that solves a problem 100 percent. Social Security lifted millions of seniors out of poverty, but there are still some poor seniors. The Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act drastically reduced discrimination in America, but there’s still discrimination. That doesn’t make them bad laws, it just means that there are very few human problems that are 100 percent solvable.

So what I see right now is a strong bipartisan vote coming out of the Senate. I think that the Speaker and others have said they need to do something, and I’d urge, when they get back, to do something — put forward a bill that has an opportunity to actually pass. It may not be precisely what’s in the Senate bill. My preference would be for them to go ahead and call the Senate bill. But if they’ve got some additional ideas, I think the Senate is happy to consider them. And get that bill on the floor, put it up for a vote.

I am absolutely certain that the votes for the Senate bill — which strengthens border security; demands responsibility from undocumented workers to pay a fine, pay a penalty and get to the back of the line; reforms our legal immigration system; holds employers accountable — I am absolutely confident that if that bill was on the floor of the House, it would pass.

So the challenge right now is not that there aren’t a majority of House members, just like a majority of Senate members, who aren’t prepared to support this bill. The problem is internal Republican caucus politics. And that’s what the American people don’t want us to be worrying about. Don’t worry about your Washington politics. Solve problems.

And this is one where you’ve actually got some pretty broad consensus. I don’t know an issue where you’ve got labor, the Chamber of Commerce, evangelicals, student groups — you name it — supportive of a bill. Let’s get it done.

Thank you very much, everybody.

END 4:00 P.M. EDT

Political Headlines August 9, 2013: Live Blog: President Barack Obama’s Pre-Vacation Press Conference on NSA Surveillance & Patriot Act Reforms

POLITICAL HEADLINES

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OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

THE HEADLINES….

Live Blog: President Barack Obama’s Pre-Vacation Press Conference

Play video

LIVE VIDEO  President Obama holds a news conference.

President Obama plans to announce efforts to “restore public trust” in surveillance programs that have sparked deep concern after leaks by Edward J. Snowden, the former intelligence contractor, a senior official said Friday….READ MORE

Live Updates: Obama Addresses Surveillance in News Conference

Source: NYT, 8-9-13

Highlights and analysis as President Obama takes questions from the news media on Friday afternoon….READ MORE

Political Headlines July 24, 2013: House of Representatives Defeats Effort to Limit NSA Data Gathering in a Vote of 217-205

POLITICAL HEADLINES

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OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

THE HEADLINES….

House Defeats Effort to Rein In N.S.A. Data Gathering

Source: NYT, 7-24-13

The 217-205 vote was far closer than expected and displayed the shifting allegiances and fierce lobbying on both sides of the issue….READ MORE

Political Headlines June 19, 2013: FBI Director Robert Mueller Reveals US Drone Program During NSA Testimony

FBI Chief Reveals US Drone Program

Source: ABC News Radio, 6-19-13

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The FBI does fly spy drones over the U.S. FBI Director Robert Mueller made that admission before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday during his testimony about the National Security Agency surveillance programs.

According to Mueller, the FBI deploys these unmanned planes in “a very minimal way and very seldom” and his bureau is working to develop guidelines for their future use so as to relieve concerns of privacy advocates and civil liberties groups….READ MORE

Political Headlines June 18, 2013: NSA Director Gen. Keith Alexander: ‘Over 50’ Terror Plots Foiled by Data Dragnets

POLITICAL HEADLINES

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OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

THE HEADLINES….

‘Over 50’ Terror Plots Foiled by Data Dragnets, NSA Director Says

Source: ABC News Radio, 6-18-13

Win McNamee/Getty Images

The director of the National Security Administration on Tuesday told Congress “In recent years, these programs, together with other intelligence, have protected the U.S. and our allies from terrorist threats across the globe to include helping prevent the potential terrorist events over 50 times since 9/11.”

The attacks on would-be targets such as the New York Stock Exchange were prevented by caching telephone metadata and Internet information, including from millions of Americans since Sept. 11, 2001, Gen. Keith Alexander said during a hearing at the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence….READ MORE

Legal Buzz June 18, 2013: Google challenges US gag order, citing First Amendment

LEGAL BUZZ

COURT AND LEGAL NEWS

Google challenges US gag order, citing First Amendment

Source: Washington Post, 6-18-13

Google asked the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court on Tuesday to ease long-standing gag orders over data requests it makes, arguing that the company has a constitutional right to speak about information it’s forced to give the government….READ MORE

Political Headlines June 18, 2013: President Barack Obama: Says NSA Spying Programs ‘Transparent’ in Charlie Rose Interview

POLITICAL HEADLINES

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OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

THE HEADLINES….

President Obama: NSA Spying Programs ‘Transparent’

Source: ABC News Radio,6-18-13

JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images

Video of the Interview on Charlie Rose

President Obama said in an interview with PBS’s Charlie Rose on Sunday:

“It is transparent,” Obama said in the interview, broadcast Monday night. “What I’ve asked the intelligence community to do is see how much of this we can declassify without further compromising the program, No. 1,” Obama said. “And they are in that process of doing so now so that everything that I’m describing to you today, people, the public, newspapers, etc., can look at – because, frankly, if people are making judgments just based on these slides that have been leaked, they’re not getting the complete story.”…READ MORE

History Buzz June 13, 2013: Robert Dallek: Presidential Historian Says President Barack Obama Puts Security Above Privacy with NSA Data Collection Program

HISTORY BUZZ: HISTORY NEWS RECAP

History Buzz

HISTORY BUZZ: HISTORY NEWS RECAP

Obama Puts Security Above Privacy

Source: US News, 6-13-13

Civil libertarians and some political liberals are up in arms.

“It’s not surprising,” according to Robert Dallek presidential historian.”This is what presidents do.”…

Domestic politics also plays a role, Dallek says. Presidents believe that their top job is to “keep the country safe,” and to fail in that mission would look “negligent,” a reputation that no president wants, the historian notes….READ MORE

Political Headlines June 12, 2013: Secretary of State John Kerry Defends NSA Program, ‘Welcomes’ Dept. Scrutiny

POLITICAL HEADLINES

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OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

THE HEADLINES….

Secretary Kerry Defends NSA Program, ‘Welcomes’ Dept. Scrutiny

Source: ABC News Radio, 6-12-13

State Department photo/ Public Domain

At a joint press conference Wednesday with United Kingdom Foreign Secretary William Hague, Secretary of State John Kerry defended the National Security Agency, saying that Congress understands the program, passed it and voted for it several times. He also said the judiciary branch has also reviewed it and the program and has been actively engaged.

“This is a three-branch-of-government effort to keep America safe. And in fact, it has not read emails or looked at or listened to conversations, and — the exception of where a court may have made some decision, which was predicated on appropriate evidence,” said Kerry….READ MORE

Political Musings June 12, 2013: National Security Agency’s dragnet classified data collection: National security necessity or Orwellian proportion privacy invasion?

POLITICAL MUSINGS

Pol_Musings

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

OP-EDS & ARTICLES

National Security Agency’s dragnet classified data collection: National security necessity or Orwellian proportion privacy invasion?

By Bonnie K. Goodman

Ms. Goodman is the Editor of the Academic Buzz Network, a series of political, academic & education blogs which includes History Musings: History, News & Politics. She has a BA in History & Art History & a Masters in Library and Information Studies, both from McGill University, and has done graduate work in Jewish history at Concordia University as part of the MA in Judaic Studies program.

The Obama Administration can add a fourth burgeoning scandal to their second term woes. Last Wednesday June 5, 2013, the Washington Post and the London, UK paper the Guardian revealed the National Security Agency (NSA) along with FBI had been the monitoring all phone and internet records in the United States. The story took an added twist on Sunday, June 9 when Edward Snowden, the NSA contractor responsible for leaking documents from the surveillance program to the press came forward. Now the focus is on two fronts, the violations of rights to privacy in exchange for national security, and the legal fate of the whistleblower.

When the story broke, news headlines first focused on Verizon releasing information relating to all their customers landline and mobile phone calls because of a special and secretive court order.  The data collection focuses on the metadata; telephone numbers, call lengths, locations, and call frequency for all calls within the country and calls abroad dialed within the United States. There have been repeated assurances that the phone calls themselves were not recorded. However, the public was soon informed that the government’s collection was far broader and included internet and social media sites including Yahoo, Google and Facebook.

The administration has justified the data surveillance by stating it is important to national security and has thwarted terrorist attacks in the past. A White House official speaking to ABC News stated the program was “a critical tool in protecting the nation from terrorist threats to the United States,” but complies “with the Constitution and laws of the United States and appropriately protect privacy and civil liberties.”

The government position is that this revelation to the general public would hinder their ability to protect the public from terrorism.  Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper released a statement which an excerpt read “The unauthorized disclosure of information about this important and entirely legal program is reprehensible and risks important protections for the security of Americans.”

President Barack Obama speaking in California on Friday, June 7 attempted to reassure the public that their phone calls were not being recorded, “Nobody is listening to your telephone calls. They are not looking at people’s names, and they’re not looking at content.  But by sifting through this so-called metadata, they may identify potential leads with respect to folks who might engage in terrorism,” Obama said.

The phone and internet surveillance program known as PRISM has popular support in Congress and there seems there might not be grand scale opposition in either the House of Representatives or the Senate. Chair of the Intelligence Committee Senator Dianne Feinstein, D-CA stated that the records collection was a part of the 2001 Patriot Act and said “It’s called protecting America…. I understand privacy…. we want to protect people’s private rights and that is why this is carefully done.”

President Obamas also made it clear on Friday that although the program was a secret to the public, but there was bipartisan support and knowledge of the data collection program from Congress. “The programs that have been discussed over the last couple days in the press are secret in the sense that they’re classified, but they’re not secret in the sense that when it comes to telephone calls, every member of Congress has been briefed on this program,” Obama stated.  The President continued “The relevant intelligence committees are fully briefed on these programs.  These are programs that have been authorized by broad, bipartisan majorities repeatedly since 2006.”

Speaker of the House John Boehner, a Republican agreed with Obama in an interview on Tuesday morning, June 11with ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos. “He’s a traitor,” Boehner declared about Snowden’s press leak. Boehner continued; “The disclosure of this information puts Americans at risk.  It shows our adversaries what our capabilities are.  And it’s a giant violation of the law.”

Americans and human rights activists are left pondering can the widespread invasion of privacy sacrificed by the government be justified even for national security, even to prevent a widespread and catastrophic terror attack? The answer was no to Edward Snowden, the NSA contractor who leaked the documents on the PRISM program on the widespread data collection and privacy intrusion.

Snowden first contacted the media in January getting the wheels in motions for the big reveal. Living and working in Hawaii, Snowden took sick leave from his job and then left for Hong Kong, where he was staying at the time the leaks about the NSA was made public last week up until the disclosure Sunday, June 9 that he was the whistleblower.

In his interview with the Guardian Snowden claimed; “I don’t want to live in a society that does these sort of things … I do not want to live in a world where everything I do and say is recorded. That is not something I am willing to support or live under.”

As the US government looks into charging Snowden, he has been fired from his contracting job at Booz Allen, and the conversation has veered to countries that would give him asylum. Snowden supporters have created a petition on the White House’s We the People web site stating that “Edward Snowden is a national hero”  and are asking that there be a “full, free, and absolute pardon for any crimes he has committed or may have committed.” As of late Tuesday night, June 11 there are 58,299 signatures, with 41,701 needed for the 100,000 required for a review.

Human rights groups are standing firmly against the data collection, the head of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) called the data collection program Orwellian. On Tuesday the ACLU filed a suit in federal court against the Obama Administration challenging the constitutionality of the data collection program.

If there is partisan support for the program there is also bipartisan opposition, former Vice President Al Gore a Democrat, wrote on Twitter “In digital era, privacy must be a priority. Is it just me, or is secret blanket surveillance obscenely outrageous?” While a Republican and Libertarian in Congress such as Senator Rand Paul said it “represents an outrageous abuse of power.”  “It is an extraordinary invasion of privacy…. I also believe that trolling through millions of phone records hampers the legitimate protection of our security,” Paul said on Fox News.

Despite the so-called broad bipartisan support, two bills have been introduced to curb data collection since details of the NSA programs appeared in the media. On Friday June 7, Senator Paul introduced a bill; the Fourth Amendment Restoration Act, which would make it necessary to obtain a warrant prior to a data search. On Tuesday June 11, eight senators in a bipartisan effort introduced a bill to end and declassify secretive data collection laws. The heavily democratic supported bill has among its ranks Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and Republicans Mike Lee, Utah and Dean Heller, Nev.

At this time the public opinions seems more unclear, two conflicting polls released on Monday, June 10 from the Washington Post-Pew Research Center and Tuesday, June 11 from CBS News.

The Washington Post-Pew Research Center seems to find Americans looking favorably on the data collection. According to the poll 56 percent find it “acceptable,” and 41 percent find it “unacceptable” for the government to monitor phone data. When it came to expanding government monitoring internet activity the results differed; 52 percent did not believe it should be expanded versus 45 percent who support collection expansion.

According the CBS News poll 6 in 10 disapproved of the phone data collection program, however Americans strongly approve by three-quarters that terrorist suspects should be monitored and the internet data of foreigners. Still 53 to 40 percent believe this program helps discover terrorists.

Whatever the political fallout will be for the Obama administration and the legal outcome for Snowden there is no doubt that Snowden will be put down among the ranks of the major whistleblowers in American history.

Political Headlines June 11, 2013: ACLU Files Lawsuit Against Obama Administration Over NSA Surveillance Program

POLITICAL HEADLINES

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OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

THE HEADLINES….

ACLU sues over NSA surveillance program

Source: Washington Post, 6-11-13

The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit Tuesday challenging the constitutionality of the U.S. government’s surveillance program that collects from U.S. phone companies the call records of tens of millions of Americans….READ MORE

Full Text Political Transcripts June 11, 2013: House Speaker John Boehner’s Interview with George Stephanopoulos on NSA Leak, Immigration Reform And More on ABC News’ Good Morning America — Transcript

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Transcript: Exclusive Interview With House Speaker John Boehner on NSA Leak, Immigration Reform And More

Source: ABC News, 6-11-13

RELATED: John Boehner Talks NSA Leaks, IRS Scandal and Immigration With George Stephanopoulos

PHOTO: George Stephanopoulos interviews House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, in New York, June 10, 2013.

George Stephanopoulos interviews House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, in New York, June 10, 2013. (ABC News)

House Speaker John Boehner sat down with ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos on “Good Morning America” to discuss the NSA leak, immigration reform, the IRS scandal and much more.

Here is the full transcript of the interview:

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Speaker, thank you for doin’ this. Let’s talk first about these– revelations about the National Security Agency. Edward Snowden has come forward, said he brought the documents into the public eye. His supporters say he’s– a whistle-blowing patriot. His critics say he’s betrayed the country, broken the law. Where do you stand?

JOHN BOEHNER: He’s a traitor. The president outlined last week that these were important national security programs to help keep Americans safe, and give us tools– to fight the terrorist threat th– that we face. The president also outlined that there are appropriate safeguards in place– to make sure that– there’s– there’s no– snooping, if you will– on Americans– here at home. But– the disclosure of this information– puts Americans at risk. It shows– our adversaries what our capabilities are. And– it’s a giant violation of the law….READ MORE

Political Headlines June 10, 2013: NSA Leaker Edward Snowden a ‘National Hero’ on White House Petition

POLITICAL HEADLINES

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OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

THE HEADLINES….

NSA Leaker a ‘National Hero’ on White House Petition

Source: ABC News Radio, 6-10-13

petitions.whitehouse.gov

Within hours of Edward Snowden’s revealing that he was the source of the National Security Agency surveillance leak last week, thousands of people had signed a petition on the White House website asking for a “full, free, and absolute pardon for any crimes he has committed or may have committed.”….READ MORE

Political Headlines June 10, 2013: Edward Snowden Claims to Be Source of Leaked NSA Documents

POLITICAL HEADLINES

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OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

THE HEADLINES….

Edward Snowden Claims to Be Source of Leaked NSA Documents

Source: ABC News Radio, 6-10-13

The Guardian via Getty Images

The source of a series of top secret leaks from the National Security Agency has stepped out of the shadows and identified himself as ex-CIA technical assistant Edward Snowden, saying he was standing up against the U.S. government’s “horrifying” surveillance capabilities.

“I do not want to live in a world where everything I do and say is recorded,” the 29-year-old told the British newspaper The Guardian, which broke the news in a series of headline-grabbing articles on NSA surveillance late last week.  “That is not something I am willing to support or live under.”…READ MORE

Political Headlines June 7, 2013: Senator Rand Paul Bill Would Curb NSA on Phone Records Surveillance

POLITICAL HEADLINES

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OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

THE HEADLINES….

Rand Paul Bill Would Curb NSA on Phone Records

Source: ABC News Radio, 6-7-13

United States Senate

Responding to the recent disclosure that the federal government has secretly obtained the phone records of millions of Americans, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., introduced legislation Friday to require agencies to obtain a warrant before searching such data.

The “Fourth Amendment Restoration Act,” which can be read in full here, is designed “to stop the National Security Agency from spying on citizens of the United States and for other purposes” and would require a warrant with probable cause before government investigators could proceed with a search.

In a statement the senator said the revelation “represents an outrageous abuse of power.”…READ MORE

Political Headlines June 7, 2013: President Barack Obama Calls Surveillance Programs Legal and Limited — ‘Nobody Is Listening to Your Telephone Calls’

POLITICAL HEADLINES

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OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

THE HEADLINES….

Obama: ‘Nobody Is Listening to Your Telephone Calls’

Source: ABC News Radio, 6-7-13

JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images

“Nobody is listening to your telephone calls,” the president told reporters in his first public comments since the programs were disclosed.

“They are not looking at people’s names, and they’re not looking at content.  But by sifting through this so-called metadata, they may identify potential leads with respect to folks who might engage in terrorism,” he said….READ MORE

Obama Calls Surveillance Programs Legal and Limited

Source: NYT, 6-7-13

President Obama on Friday defended government efforts to gather telephone and Internet data, and sought to reassure Americans that his administration was not listening in on their calls….READ MORE

 

 

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