The president said there was a system in place to prevent intel from being abused. But he said he understood the public's concern over not knowing how much information was being gathered and who had access to the data.
President Obama is distancing himself from former vice president Dick Cheney after criticism of government surveillance, in an interview on PBS Monday night with Charlie Rose.
“Some people say, ‘Well, you know, Obama was this raving liberal before. Now he’s, you know, Dick Cheney,’” Obama said, according to an early transcript. “Dick Cheney sometimes says, ‘Yeah, you know? He took it all, lock, stock and barrel.’”
Cheney, who appeared Sunday on Fox News, defended the surveillance program, which he helped craft post-9/11, and called former NSA contractor Edward Snowden a “traitor” for leaking information about the program.
The president defended intelligence gathering under the NSA by arguing that there was a system of “checks and balances” in place to ensure the information obtained would not be abused. ”On this telephone program, you’ve got a federal court with independent federal judges overseeing the entire program, and you’ve got Congress overseeing the program—not just the intelligence committee and not just the judiciary committee,” he said.
But he also acknowledged that he understood the public’s concern over not knowing how much information was being gathered and who had access to the data. “What I’ve asked the intelligence community to do is see how much of this we can declassify without further compromising the program,” 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.”
Obama added that he would be meeting with independent citizens, “including some fierce civil libertarians,” to discuss the intelligence gathering process. “What I want to do is to set up and structure a national conversation—not only about these two programs, but also the general problem of data, big data sets, because this is not going to be restricted to government entities.”
The president also refused to comment on U.S. action regarding Snowden. “The case has been referred to the DOJ for criminal investigation…and possible extradition,” he said. “I will leave it up to them to answer those questions.”