December 17th, 2013
10:02 PM ET
11 months ago

Tech source: We weren't at White House for health care chat

Washington (CNN) - While President Barack Obama and White House aides may have wanted the nation's top tech executives to help dissect their botched health care website, the industry titans themselves had something else in mind: the federal government's vast cybersnooping.

A source familiar with Tuesday's discussion at the White House said several executives at the meeting were frustrated with the White House's focus on HealthCare.gov, because the chiefs came to Washington to voice their concerns on surveillance issues.
"We didn't fly across the country for a discussion on HealthCare.gov," the source, who represents one of the companies at the meeting, told CNN.

The source added that President Obama didn't offer a full throated defense of the National Security Agency's surveillance activities, which caused some dismay among the assembled CEOs.

After the meeting, the tech companies issued a short joint statement saying they "appreciated the opportunity to share directly with the President our principles on government surveillance that we released last week and we urge him to move aggressively on reform."

The statement didn't mention any discussion of the federal health website, which failed at its October 1 launch but has since been vastly improved.

Meanwhile, the White House's readout of the two-hour meeting specified the "group discussed a number of issues of shared importance to the federal government and the tech sector," including HealthCare.gov and the system for hiring technology companies for government projects.

The White House also said Obama heard the executives' concerns about widespread NSA spying and "made clear his belief in an open, free and innovative Internet."

Wednesday morning White House Senior Adviser Valerie Jarrett said she didn't think "there was a disconnect at all," between the President and the CEOs. At a Politico Playbook Breakfast, Jarrett added that before the President arrived at the meeting, the CEOs were given a presentation on HealthCare.gov, but that when he arrived, the bulk of the meeting focused on NSA matters.

"We made it clear it was going to be a two-part meeting," Jarrett added.

The technology industry has pressured Obama to make changes to the federal snooping programs, concerned their bottom lines could take a hit. Last week a group of top firms wrote an open letter to the President alleging the recently revealed programs undermine "the freedoms we all cherish" and declaring "it's time for a change."

However another source familiar with the meeting insisted several of the executives came away satisfied that a discussion on such a sensitive matter had begun.

"We're having a dialogue. And we welcome that," another source familiar with the meeting added.

A source familiar with the meeting told CNN Chief Washington Correspondent Jake Tapper that one of the executives, Mark Pincus, founder of Zynga, which makes on-line social games, suggested to the President that he pardon NSA leaker Edward Snowden, but Obama said he could not do that.  The suggestion of the pardon was first reported by the Washington Post.

And sources told Tapper, anchor of CNN's "The Lead with Jake Tapper," that Obama shared with the executives that NSA reforms will be announced in January, but those invited to the meeting got the impression from the President that bulk collection from the NSA would not likely stop any time soon, but that more attempts at transparency would be made.

CNN White House Producer Kevin Liptak contributed to this report.


Filed under: Health care • Healthcare • NSA • Obama administration
soundoff (79 Responses)
  1. al

    Obama the liar in chief can never be trusted on anything. We ALL need to fight this jerk on every turn. He is NOT for America....just his community organizing self!!

    December 18, 2013 10:42 am at 10:42 am |
  2. Tim

    The Obama administration is completely unable to admit their many failures.

    December 18, 2013 10:42 am at 10:42 am |
  3. tom l

    I think it's pretty amazing that people on here are ok with the president scheduling a meeting with all of these executives and then they meet about something totally different than what they thought. That's just inexcusable.

    December 18, 2013 10:45 am at 10:45 am |
  4. keeth

    I don't want the govt spying on me, but it seems very hypocritical of the tech companies to complain about the govt doing to us what the tech companies already do to us for profit.

    December 18, 2013 10:47 am at 10:47 am |
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