Obama: Secret data gathering transparent

2013-06-18 08:01
President Barack Obama. (Mandel Ngan, AFP)

President Barack Obama. (Mandel Ngan, AFP)

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

Washington - President Barack Obama defended top secret National Security Agency spying programmes as legal in a lengthy interview, and called them transparent - even though they are authorised in secret.

"It is transparent," Obama told Public Broadcasting Service's Charlie Rose in an interview broadcast late on Monday. "That's why we set up the Fisa court," he added, referring to the secret court set up by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

The act authorises two recently leaked programmes: one that gathers US phone records and another that is designed to track the use of US-based Internet servers by foreigners with possible links to terrorism.

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

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

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

Non-invasive

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

Obama's announcement followed an online chat on Monday by Edward Snowden, the former NSA systems analyst contractor who leaked documents revealing the scope of the two programmes to The Guardian and The Washington Post newspapers.

He accused members of Congress and administration officials of exaggerating their claims about the success of the data gathering programmes, including pointing to the arrest of would-be New York subway bomber Najibullah Zazi in 2009.

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

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

Obama repeated earlier assertions that the programs were a legitimate counter terror tool and that they were completely non-invasive to people with no terror ties - something he hoped to discuss with the privacy and civil liberties board he has created.

Traitor

The senior administration official said the president would be meeting with the new privacy board in the coming days.

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Highest honor’

Congressional leaders have accused Snowden of treason for revealing once-secret surveillance programmes two weeks ago. The NSA programs collect records of millions of Americans' telephone calls and Internet usage as a counter terror tool. The disclosures revealed the scope of the collections, which surprised many Americans.

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

Snowden dismissed being called a traitor by former Vice President Dick Cheney, who served under President George W Bush and made the allegations in an interview on Fox News Sunday. Cheney was echoing the comments of both Democrats and Republican leadership in Congress.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


- AP
Read more on:    nsa  |  cia  |  fbi  |  edward snowden  |  dick cheney  |  george w bush  |  barack obama  |  us  |  privacy
SHARE:

Read News24’s Comments Policy

24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
7 comments
Add your comment
Comment 0 characters remaining
 

Inside News24

 
/News

Jobs in Cape Town [change area]

Property [change area]

Travel - Look, Book, Go!

Magical Massinga

Spend 5 nights at the gorgeous Massinga Beach Lodge in Mozambique and only pay for 4 from R13 220 per person sharing. Includes return flights, accommodation, transfers and romantic turndown. Book now!

Kalahari.com - shop online today

Up to 40% off fashion accessories

Save up to 40% on selected handbags, purses, watches, jewellery and more. Offer valid while stocks last. Shop now!

Save up to R2000 on top electronics

Get every day mind bowing savings on top electronics. Offer valid while stocks last. Shop now!

As seen on TV - New book releases at only R199 each

Get mind blowing book savings on new titles. Offer valid while stocks last. Shop now!

Save up to 50% on Women’s month treats!

Celebrate the awesome women in your life with awesome treats like beauty products, fashion accessories, bestselling books, electronics and more. Offer valid while stocks last. Shop now!

Up to 60% off - clearance sale!

Save up to 60% on appliances, books, electronics, toys, movies and more. Offer valid while stocks last. Shop now!

OLX Free Classifieds [change area]

Samsung Galaxy s4

Mobile, Cell Phones in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 24

Best bargain in big bay

Real Estate, Houses - Apartments for Sale in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25

VW Golf 6, 1.6 Trendline (Excellent condition)

Vehicles, Cars in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25

Horoscopes
Aquarius
Aquarius

Today is a good day to network and share your ideas and thoughts with your colleagues and friends. Information overload is...read more

There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.
 
English
Afrikaans
isiZulu

Hello 

Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.


Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.

Settings

Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.








Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.