President Obama spoke with Charlie Rose in an wide-ranging interview discussing Syria, Iran, security and surveillance that will air tonight. The video of the entire interview is below, followed by some transcribed excerpts about the National Security Agency. The NSA discussion begins at 26:41.
26:41Talking Points Memo has a "face off" between Edward Snowden and President Obama, namely the President's quotes from the Charlie Rose interview vs. Snowden's interview with the Guardian.
CHARLIE ROSE: Let's turn to the NSA. You famously talked about what you called "the wrong choice" between security and freedom. Where do you put what NSA is doing, in that balance, between security and freedom? A false choice is what you called it.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Let me start with, the fact that, at National Defense University several weeks ago--when most of the focus was around the drone program and my plans in Afghanistan and the need for us to move away from a perpetual war footing--that I specifically said that one of the things that we need to debate and examine is our surveillance programs.
Because those were set up right after 9/11. It's now been over a decade and we have to examine them.
ROSE: And what should the debate be?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: : Well, what I’ve said, and I continue to believe, is that we don’t have to sacrifice our freedom in order to achieve security. That’s a false choice. That doesn’t mean that there are not tradeoffs involved in any given program, in any given action that we take. So all of us make a decision that we go through a whole bunch of security at airports, which when we were growing up that wasn’t the case, right? You ran up to the gate
PRESIDENT OBAMA: You know, five or six minutes to catch a plane. You're running on. It's been a while since I took a commercial plane but I get the experience is not the same.
ROSE: It's not. It's gotten worse.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Right. And so that’s a tradeoff we make, the same way we make a tradeoff about drunk driving. We say, 'Occasionally there are going to be checkpoints. They may be intrusive.' To say there’s a tradeoff doesn’t mean somehow that we’ve abandoned freedom. I don’t think anybody says we’re no longer free because we have checkpoints at airports.
ROSE: But there's a balance here.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: There is a balance. So I'm going to get to your question. The way I view it, my job is both to protect the American people and to protect the American way of life, which includes our privacy.
And so every program that we engage in, what I’ve said is “Let’s examine and make sure that we’re making the right tradeoffs.” Now, with respect to the NSA, a government agency that has been in the intelligence gathering business for a very long time —
ROSE: Bigger and better than everybody else.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Bigger and better than everybody else, and we should take pride in that because they’re extraordinary professionals; they are dedicated to keeping the American people safe. What I can say unequivocally is that if you are a U.S. person, the NSA cannot listen to your telephone calls, and the NSA cannot target your emails … and have not. They cannot and have not, by law and by rule, and unless they — and usually it wouldn’t be “they,” it’d be the FBI — go to a court, and obtain a warrant, and seek probable cause, the same way it’s always been, the same way when we were growing up and we were watching movies, you want to go set up a wiretap, you got to go to a judge, show probable cause….
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.
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, what that does is it 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. So that database is sitting there.
Now, if the NSA through some other sources, maybe through the FBI, maybe through a tip that went to the CIA, maybe through the NYPD. Get a number that where there’s a reasonable, articulable suspicion that this might involve foreign terrorist activity related to Al-Qaeda and some other international terrorist actors. Then, what the NSA can do is it can query that database to see did any of the — did this number pop up? Did they make any other calls? And if they did, those calls will be spit out. A report will be produced. It will be turned over to the FBI.
Here's an excerpt from that article:
This disclosure provides Obama an opportunity to appeal for a return to sanity, constitutional policy, and the rule of law rather than men. He still has plenty of time to go down in history as the President who looked into the abyss and stepped back, rather than leaping forward into it. I would advise he personally call for a special committee to review these interception programs, repudiate the dangerous “State Secrets” privilege, and, upon preparing to leave office, begin a tradition for all Presidents forthwith to demonstrate their respect for the law by appointing a special investigator to review the policies of their years in office for any wrongdoing. There can be no faith in government if our highest offices are excused from scrutiny - they should be setting the example of transparency.
So, you asked, what should we do? …What I’ve said is — is that what is a legitimate concern — a legitimate critique — is that because these are classified programs — even though we have all these systems of checks and balances, Congress is overseeing it, federal courts are overseeing it — despite all that, the public may not fully know. And that can make the public kind of nervous, right? Because they say, “Well, Obama says it’s okay — or Congress says it’s okay. I don’t know who this judge is. I’m nervous about it.” What I’ve asked the intelligence community to do is see how much of this we can declassify without further compromising the program, number one. 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. Number two. I’ve stood up a privacy and civil liberties oversight board, made up of independent citizens including some fierce civil libertarians. 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 programs, but also the general problem of data, big data sets, because this is not going to be restricted to government entities.