President's Remarks at Press Conference 8-9-13
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.
. . . 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.
. . . 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.
Julie Pace. 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: . . . 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.
. . . 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....
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 --
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.
Edward Snowden, Patriot
President Obama’s news conference today was … weird.
. . . the White House could have led that thoughtful, fact-based debate, and despite Obama’s protestations to the contrary, they didn’t. They prevented it. If this conversation, and these reforms, are as positive for the country as Obama says they are, then it’s hard to escape the conclusion that Snowden did the country a real service — even if the White House can’t abide crediting him with it.
~ Ezra Klein in Washington Post
If this is, as Obama says, an important conversation to be having, then isn't Edward Snowden an American hero for forcing it?— Ezra Klein (@ezraklein) August 9, 2013
@ezraklein I guess you can be a hero and also a dumbass— Robert Bennett (@robertjbennett) August 9, 2013
That's silly @ezraklein. The 9/11 attacks made America rethink its counter-terrorism policies. Didn't make Osama a hero.— Noel Sheppard (@NoelSheppard) August 10, 2013
Today the President of the United States validated Edward Snowden’s role as a whistleblower by announcing plans to reform America’s global surveillance program. But rather than thank Edward Snowden, the President laughably attempted to criticize him while claiming that there was a plan all along, “before Edward Snowden.” The simple fact is that without Snowden’s disclosures, no one would know about the programs and no reforms could take place. As Thomas Jefferson so eloquently once stated, “All tyranny needs to gain a foothold is for people of good conscience to remain silent.” Luckily for the citizens of the world, Edward Snowden is one of those “people of good conscience” who did not “remain silent”, just as Pfc Bradley Manning and Daniel Ellsberg refused to remain silent.
. . . Today was a victory of sorts for Edward Snowden and his many supporters. As Snowden has stated, his biggest concern was if he blew the whistle and change did not occur. Well reforms are taking shape, and for that, the President and people of the United States and around the world owe Edward Snowden a debt of gratitude.
~ Wikileaks Founder Julian Assange
I think some people on the far left are giving Snowden way too much credit. It is not as if he “exposed” anything that we all didn’t know was already going. In most ways, the Snowden/Greenwald circus has hurt the discussion by taking attention away from the issue. I don’t believe that there is anything patriotic about what Snowden did. A true patriot doesn’t abandon the cause and run to Russia to save his own skin. Patriots don’t put themselves first. Obama pointed out that what Snowden revealed was the prospect that these programs could be abused, not actual abuse of the programs.
I think more transparency is a wonderful idea, but do you what’s even better than transparency? Getting rid of the Patriot Act.
~ Jason Easley, PoliticusUSA
What I've learned so far: Obama is really mad at Edward Snowden for forcing us patriots to have this critically important conversation.— Binyamin Appelbaum (@BCAppelbaum) August 9, 2013
Obama's claim that the debate would have happened absent Snowden's revelations is . . . laughable http://t.co/lQIs32f1BD— Glenn Greenwald (@ggreenwald) August 9, 2013
Obama: we were right on the verge of launching a really great, open debate on secret surveillance when Snowden went & did this #StraightFace— Glenn Greenwald (@ggreenwald) August 9, 2013
Glenn Greenwald is already upset that Pres Obama is conducting reforms to intelligence surveillance without consulting him.— Ignacio Carrion (@igcarr) August 9, 2013
A bit confused by the response to Obama's NSA reform announcement - isn't that people wanted him to do?— Michael Cohen (@speechboy71) August 9, 2013
One of the things that Obama did to protect legitimate whistleblowers -- last year. http://t.co/IvNh1W2qgB— Bob Cesca (@bobcesca_go) August 9, 2013
PPD19: People"(1) serving in the Intelligence Community or (2) who are eligible for access to classified information can effectively report"— Bob Cesca (@bobcesca_go) August 9, 2013
Yet we're supposed to believe Obama is waging a "war on whistleblowers."— Bob Cesca (@bobcesca_go) August 9, 2013
*Snowden is a patriot! And Gandhi! Now don't reply to that or else I'll accuse you of focusing on Snowden.* -My Trolls— Bob Cesca (@bobcesca_go) August 9, 2013
Okay if you don't want us to talk about Snowden, maybe stop trying to deify the man.— Bob Cesca (@bobcesca_go) August 9, 2013
The REAL Snowden effect: DERP “@jpaceDC: Overheard at the news conference: "Oh no, they're jamming the signal & I can't get on Instagram!"”— Ls (@pettybooshwah) August 9, 2013
The Guardian's latest story on a "secret NSA backdoor" follows the same pattern - not a single case of actual wrongdoing is exposed.— Charles Johnson (@Green_Footballs) August 9, 2013
Ok, jig's up. Guardian figured it out - Obama really is Stalin with a tan. That #NSA UT Data Center? It's really the FEMA GULAG. TRUTH!!— John Schindler (@20committee) August 9, 2013
So POTUS announces greatest efforts at transparency in history of US intelligence (or anyone's intel) and he's the problem? #gethelpnow— John Schindler (@20committee) August 9, 2013