WASHINGTON -- President Obama continues to defend government surveillance programs overseen by his administration this week. The president told Charlie Rose he has no problem with NSA tactics and insists the surveillance is minimally invasive and necessary for national security.
In a wide-ranging interview with “CBS This Morning” co-host and PBS host Charlie Rose, Obama sought to clarify details around NSA surveillance.
“So point number one, if you’re a U.S. person, then NSA is not listening to your phone calls and it’s not targeting your emails unless it’s getting an individualized court order. That’s the existing rule,” Mr. Obama explained. “There are two programs that were revealed by Mr. Snowden, allegedly, since there’s a criminal investigation taking place, and they caused all the ruckus.
“Program number one, called the 2015 program ... gets data from the service providers like a Verizon in bulk, and basically you have call pairs. You have my telephone number connecting with your telephone number. There are no names. There is no content in that database. All it is, is the number pairs, when those calls took place, how long they took place.”
The second program in question, according to Obama is the 702 program, which he said does not apply to “any U.S. person” and can only be used to gather information on a “foreign entity.”
“It can only be narrowly related to counterterrorism, weapons proliferation, cyber hacking or attacks, and a select number of identifiers—phone numbers, e-mails, etc. Those—and the process has all been approved by the courts—you can send to providers—the Yahoos or the Googles ... and in the same way that you present essentially a warrant. And what will happen then is that you there can obtain content. But again, that does not apply to U.S. persons. And it’s only in these very narrow bands.”
“So I hear you saying, I have no problem with what NSA has been doing,” Charlie Rose interjected.
“I don’t,” Mr. Obama said. “So, what happens is that the FBI—if, in fact, it now wants to get content; if, in fact, it wants to start tapping that phone—it’s got to go to the FISA court with probable cause and ask for a warrant.”
He agreed that it is rare that the FISA court turns down a request, but added, “The number of requests are surprisingly small. ... Number two, folks don’t go with a query unless they’ve got a pretty good suspicion.”
Mr. Obama also defended his shifting stance on government surveillance programs. On Monday, Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said that although then-Sen. Obama agreed with his legislative efforts to narrow the scope of information-gathering from American citizens, the policies of the Obama White House are of great concern to him.
“Look. The whole point of my concern, before I was president—because some people say, ‘Well, you know, Obama was this raving liberal before. Now he’s, you know, Dick Cheney.’ Dick Cheney sometimes says, “Yeah, you know? He took it all lock, stock, and barrel,’” Mr. Obama said.
“My concern has always been not that we shouldn’t do intelligence gathering to prevent terrorism, but rather are we setting up a system of checks and balances? So, 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, but all of Congress had available to it before the last re-authorization exactly how this program works.”