Obama pledges 'appropriate reforms' to NSA surveillance
Updated: August 9, 2013 - 11:28 pm
WASHINGTON (AP/WJLA) - President Barack Obama made clear Friday that he has no intention of stopping the daily collection of phone records from millions of Americans, but he promised "appropriate reforms" to how such surveillance is carried out.
In an afternoon news conference, the president acknowledged the domestic spying has troubled Americans and hurt the country's image abroad. But Obama blamed the damage on misinformation stemming from leaks to the news media.
"Understandably, people would be concerned," the president said. "I would be, too, if I weren't inside the government."
"We can and must be more transparent," he added.
Obama wants Congress to reform the part of the Patriot Act that allows the government to collect bulk metadata about American phone calls. But on the streets of Washington, many believe they’re already being tracked. And some don’t really seem to mind.
"Are they listening to my phone calls?" asks Oscar Merrida. "Probably. It is what it is."
"I have nothing to hide as far as who I speak with; as far as national security, we have nothing to hide," say Michelle and Barry Ambrosius.
The president assured Americans that the surveillance is not being abused, and he described the phone program as "an important tool" that keeps America safe.
"It's not enough for me to have confidence in these programs," Obama said. "The American people have to have confidence in them as well."
In the midst of it all, Obama says National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden is not a patriot for revealing widespread government surveillance programs.
A secret court approves government surveillance, and now President Obama is proposing hiring attorneys who will argue for the public when those requests are made.
But POLITICO’s Deputy White House Editor, Rebecca Sinderbrand, says that with Obama’s Martha's Vineyard vacation and Congress already in recess, these reforms will likely fall into a giant black news hole:
"In starting this debate now and then immediately disappearing from the stage, in a sense he's stepping on his news a bit."
Obama and Putin
Meanwhile, Obama says he's encouraging Russian President Vladimir Putin to, quote, "think forward instead of backwards" in strained relations with the United States.
Obama says he realizes relations between the two super powers have been difficult lately. He says progress was being made until Putin regained the Russian presidency. Now Obama says there have been "a number of emerging differences," including over Syria and human rights.
The White House this week cancelled a planned summit between Obama and Putin next month in Moscow. That's in part because Russia is refusing to return Snowden to the U.S. to face charges of leaking national security secrets.
Obama on al-Qaida
Obama says the main al-Qaida terrorist group is "on its heels" and "decimated," but its regional groups are powerful enough to attack U.S. interests.
Obama says the core of al-Qaida is less able to carry out a terrorist attack on the scale of 9/11. But he says offshoots like the one in Yemen have the capacity to go after U.S. embassies and businesses around the world.
It was the threat of such an attack that prompted the U.S. government to close 19 diplomatic posts in the Middle East and North Africa last week.
U.S. intelligence officials had intercepted a message between a top al-Qaida official and his deputy in Yemen about plans for a major terror attack targeting American or other Western sites abroad.
He is also vowing to bring to justice those responsible for last year's deadly assault on a U.S. diplomatic post in Benghazi, Libya.
Obama says his administration is intent on capturing those who carried out the attack, noting that it took him longer than 11 months to make good on his promise to find Osama bin Laden.
Obama also says his government has a sealed indictment on some suspected of involvement.
Officials said earlier this week the Justice Department filed the first criminal charges as part of its investigation of the September attack that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.
Republicans have criticized the administration's response to the attack and its shifting explanation of what happened.