August 23rd, 2013
06:00 AM ET
9 years ago

Obama: NSA revelations show 'oversight worked'

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(CNN) – President Barack Obama said he believes the latest revelation that the National Security Agency inadvertently collected emails of some Americans shows "all these safeguards, checks, audits, oversight worked."

Obama said in an exclusive interview with CNN “New Day” anchor Chris Cuomo that he is confident no one at the NSA is "trying to abuse this program or listen in on people's e-mail." The president chalked much of the concern with domestic snooping on changes in technology.

"I think there are legitimate concerns that people have that technology is moving so quick," Obama said. "What I recognize is that we're going to have to continue to improve the safeguards and as technology moves forward, that means that we may be able to build technologies that give people more assurance."

The Washington Post reported last week that an internal audit of the NSA found the agency had broken privacy rules "thousands of times each year" since 2008. The 2012 audit discovered 2,776 incidents of "unauthorized collection, storage, access to or distribution of legally protected communications" in the preceding 12 months.

"Most were unintended,” the Post reported. “Many involved failures of due diligence or violations of standard operating procedure. The most serious incidents included a violation of a court order and unauthorized use of data about more than 3,000 Americans and green-card holders."

The Post received the internal audit from NSA leaker Edward Snowden, who began the on-going controversy over domestic surveillance when he stepped forward publicly in June to claim responsibility for leaking to the media that the NSA had secretly collected and stored millions of phone records from accounts in the United States.

Snowden fled first to Hong Kong and then to Russia before Moscow granted him temporary asylum despite pressure from the Obama administration to return him to the United States to face charges.

For providing documents to the Guardian newspaper and the Post, the government has charged Snowden with three felony counts, including violations of the U.S. Espionage Act, for the leaks.

The revelations of domestic surveillance have led many Americans, according to polls, to harbor skepticism about the NSA programs.

"There's no doubt that, for all the work that's been done to protect the American people's privacy, the capabilities of the NSA are scary to people," Obama said.

Earlier this week, the Obama administration declassified opinions from a secret court that oversees government surveillance showing the National Security Agency was broadly collecting domestic Internet communications of Americans and misrepresenting the scope of that effort to the court.

U.S. District Judge John Bates of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court scolded the government in one opinion for collecting information beyond what it gets from Internet service providers, and included data that was entirely domestic. According to Bates' opinion, the monitoring proved to be "substantial intrusions on Fourth Amendment protected interests."

Although Obama said he understands the concerns over the NSA program, he said it was important to remember that other countries "have these capabilities."

"These (spying capabilities) aren't unique to the NSA," Obama said. "Even as we put in safeguards to make sure that the U.S. government doesn't abuse these capabilities, we've also got to make sure that foreign governments aren't hacking into our banks, aren't hacking into our critical infrastructure, are making sure that consumers are protected."

- CNN's Evan Perez and Ed Payne contributed to this report.

Filed under: NSA • President Obama
soundoff (5 Responses)
  1. SixDegrees

    Funny – it looks to me like the revelations on the NSA show an agency that is utterly out of control, and a government completely uninterested in controlling it.

    August 23, 2013 06:06 am at 6:06 am |
  2. PaulG

    Bottom line, .gov shouldn't be snooping in our communication without a warrant (and not some blanket catch all version NSA thinks is OK).
    Oversight is not working when they are not informed truthfully by the government agency in question. Enough lies already.

    August 23, 2013 06:18 am at 6:18 am |
  3. Controlled Demolition

    Of course it works; it works well for them.

    August 23, 2013 06:21 am at 6:21 am |
  4. daggerstab

    Well, if the NSA broke the rules 2776 time, willful or not, there apparently is nobody is being held accountable for the misappropriate behavior. Obama should not be stating that the oversight "works". On the contrary, it proves that it's a failure. When I hear that there were 3 infractions and one firing in one year, then I will believe that the oversight works.

    August 23, 2013 06:28 am at 6:28 am |
  5. daggerstab

    Well, if the NSA broke the rules 2776 times, willful or not, then apparently nobody is being held accountable for the inappropriate behavior. Obama should not be stating that the oversight "works". On the contrary, it proves that it's a failure. When I hear that there were 3 infractions and one firing in one year, then I will believe that the oversight works.

    August 23, 2013 06:32 am at 6:32 am |