December 17th, 2013
10:02 PM ET
9 years 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, because the chiefs came to Washington to voice their concerns on surveillance issues.
"We didn't fly across the country for a discussion on," 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 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, 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. scranton

    The opaqueness of the Obama administration continues.

    December 18, 2013 09:11 am at 9:11 am |
  2. Obama

    Obviously the administration is out to lunch and the NSA is in charge. All the critics wilt once there is a terror attack anyways.

    December 18, 2013 09:12 am at 9:12 am |
  3. SNSpeer

    How sure is the NSA that they are the most sinister agency? Is that the question that keeps them looking and listening? As Goldwater said: "Paranoia in the defense of liberty is no disease."

    December 18, 2013 09:22 am at 9:22 am |
  4. Phil in KC

    Not too surprising really. While there has been a fair amount of attention paid to the NSA scandal, the President has taken much more heat over the ACA website. And it is the signature piece of legislation from his first term. So of course he's going to want to talk about that. And he's the guy sitting in the White House. So – you go to his court, you play his game.

    December 18, 2013 09:23 am at 9:23 am |
  5. The Real Tom Paine

    @tom l

    One would think that liberals on here would be very concerned by the NSA overreach and a story like this. Somehow, I think we're going to get the usual whining about CNN trying to start up a "nontroversy". I can only imagine what the "gang" would be saying with a repub as president and this going on...
    Funny, every time I have tried to post something critical of the adminstration on this, its been censored. Anyway, yes, I am very concerned about what the adminsitration has done: I was also concerned about it in the previous adminstration as well, who spearheaded the original programs, something the Right has always glossed over. The practical reality of it is that if the programs were discontinued, we would be eliminating an affective means of preventing an attack. Its the reality of the world we live in, one that I have had to grudgingly accept. Did we ask for this reality? Nope, but, since the alternative is to make ourselves vulnerable to an attack of somekind, I'm willing to live with it. Private companies have been gathering data on us for years: credit bureaus have sent information on spending patterns to the FBI to help develop psych profiles, which has aided in the capture of people who have broken the law. Marketing companies crunch data to hone pitches to people and to interpret sales results, so how is this really any different? Its gathering of data, and its been going on, both privately and publically, fora very long time. If there has been a widespread, systematic abuse of the data, by all mean, lets investigate: appoint a bipartisan, independent panel to investigate, since its highly doubtful we could trust a House or Senate panel to do the job in anything approaching an objective fashion. I, for one, would accept the findings of that independent group more than a House or Senate committee, regardless of where the findings came down.

    December 18, 2013 09:25 am at 9:25 am |
  6. destroyerofeconomies

    The commander-in-cheif has lost his marbles.

    December 18, 2013 09:26 am at 9:26 am |
  7. shorething

    Not only is Obama out of touch with the American public, he is out of touch with the people he invites over for a meeting. Obama is all about himself, ego maniac hell bent on his own personal agendas and beliefs which clearly have been harmful and negative to the country he is supposed to be leading. The day he gets out of offices and stops destroying people's lives is the day people can begin to live again!

    December 18, 2013 09:28 am at 9:28 am |
  8. drudown

    This HEARSAY account is NOT "news", sorry.

    Moreover, simply because the “conservative” media controls more of the message dispensed to the People- say, the GOP talking points about the (enter dramatic Halloween screech) “horrors of the Obamacare website”…at the end of the day, the EVIDENCE unequivocally PROVES that since the Obamacare (or the “ACA”) was enacted, Health Care costs have SLOWED to most favorable levels both FOR CONSUMERS and the GOVERNMENT in decades. So, regardless of one’s “partisan identification,” the GOP “talking points” are going to be exposed basic FACT-CHECKING including, but not limited to the FACT the ACA LOWERS HEALTH CARE premiums and IMPROVES COVERAGE to such a degree that by the time the mid-terms run around, the FACT the GOP “leaders” in Red States have DENIED their own constituents the BENEFITS is likewise going to win out over the lobbyist-driven “liberal vs. conservative” blah blah blah. Notably, the ACA “fears” the GOP and its Faux News has tried to continuously drum up and exacerbate is no more than an imageless act.

    “True nobility is exempt from fear.” – Shakespeare, Henry VI

    To be sure, I think many, many GOP voters are completely DISILLUSIONED with the half-baked, LOBBYIST-driven “strategy” to “deny President Obama any victories” at the EXPENSE of the public and proper FUNCTIONING of Government.

    To the contrary, the VOTERS now understand that the GOP is unapologetically OBSTRUCTING the President's ability to implement not only additional Stimulus on account of the GOP's Filibuster abuse and "no new taxes, ever" mantra, but this "strategy" is not going to change.

    What possible relevance does “being true to [allegedly] ‘conservative’ values” really have to a struggling Middle Class family that WANTS actual COVERAGE for their LOVED ONES. I mean, the “game” is up for the GOP. No independent or “undecided” voter actually believes the GOP’s crocodile tears over the “poor people with their policies dropped” in Blue States that implemented the ACA and its CONSUMER PROTECTIONS because the “old law” (i.e., still operative in the aforementioned Red States) SANCTIONS the Evil Insurance Companies to indiscriminately DROP COVERAGE on a dime, often on account of real or fabricated technicalities, and the people with no Health Insurance coverage to begin with are, upon closer inspection, NO DIFFERENT than someone that gets so arbitrarily DENIED in non-ACA jurisdictions. This should be carefully considered.

    “The facts are to blame, my friend. We are all imprisoned by facts: I was born, I exist.” – Luigi Pirandello

    December 18, 2013 09:34 am at 9:34 am |
  9. bigjohnhunkler

    The fact that CNN didn't bury this proves the honeymoon with bobo is coming to a close.

    December 18, 2013 09:34 am at 9:34 am |
  10. wheeljc

    Has Obama lost it? His thoughts and actions appear to meander without purpose. Noticed that he takes Valerie Jarrett everywhere he goes - suggesting that she is the 'cognitive' element in his inner circle. She was present during his 'NSA session with the Technical folks' on Dec 17 - that turned into a pitch on OBAMACARE! Know the Tech guys were leaning forward to hear the latest tale of the roll out debacle!

    December 18, 2013 09:36 am at 9:36 am |
  11. tom l

    "The NSA over reach on our liberties occurred under the previous reign of error with the blessing of Alberto Gonzales"

    Dude, do you really believe all of the drivel you post? It was started under Bush and extended and expanded under Obama with the blessing of Eric Holder.

    December 18, 2013 09:39 am at 9:39 am |
  12. Rudy NYC

    The President's critics on this topic must not be able to hear themselves. They're critical of the fact that the President put his concerns for ahead of the profit concerns of the companies that attended. I find it refreshing to hear that President Obama placed "People over Greed", instead of "Greed over People."

    December 18, 2013 09:39 am at 9:39 am |
  13. Goblin King

    Most transparent administration ever

    December 18, 2013 09:41 am at 9:41 am |
  14. eddieb

    who cares about the CEO of the tech companys

    December 18, 2013 09:44 am at 9:44 am |
  15. katincal

    Time for a new president and new leadership at the NSA. Just a reminder to all you folks out there who voted for the man, he and his administration are invading your privacy.

    December 18, 2013 09:46 am at 9:46 am |
  16. tom l

    The President's critics on this topic must not be able to hear themselves. They're critical of the fact that the President put his concerns for ahead of the profit concerns of the companies that attended. I find it refreshing to hear that President Obama placed "People over Greed", instead of "Greed over People."

    I am so impressed with how you have twisted this. These CEO's (and the Silicon Valley CEO's are almost all hardcore dem supporters from Gates to Zuckerberg to Cuban to Ellison to Brin to Bezos etc). Obama invites them to talk and they believe it's to discuss the NSA. He hoodwinks them, uses them, and tries to talk about a subject that they had no intention of discussing...and all for show, by the way. You then twist into something about "greed". Why do you have such a problem with businesses making money?

    December 18, 2013 09:48 am at 9:48 am |
  17. Phillip McCraviss

    Please define "vastly improved" in regard to the website. This government is a joke.

    December 18, 2013 09:49 am at 9:49 am |
  18. Peppy

    Don't you people get tired of making excuses for bamman every day ?????

    December 18, 2013 09:49 am at 9:49 am |
  19. nclaw441

    Did the meeting not have an agenda that was agreed to by all participants? Was health care on the agenda or not? This is not how meetings are supposed to be run.

    December 18, 2013 09:49 am at 9:49 am |
  20. mkuske

    So Obama's outright and obvious disdain for the intelligence of the American public at large has progressed to an outright and obvious disdain for the intelligence of top executives of whom he is asking favors. You know, in most cases audacity is rightfully a negative trait. It's insulting the disregard this president holds for people.

    December 18, 2013 09:49 am at 9:49 am |
  21. sofork

    I wonder if Obama took some pictures of himself at the meeting with his cell phone?

    December 18, 2013 09:49 am at 9:49 am |
  22. Don

    NSA – not a problem.
    China has more ears in the sky than the NSA.
    Who should you be worried about?
    No pardon for snowden.
    What if one of your IT people gave out to world your formulas/plans etc..
    You expect those who work for you to be trustworthy. If they don't like what you do then why did they take the job?

    December 18, 2013 09:56 am at 9:56 am |
  23. Johnnie Mayer

    "The freedoms we all cherish.." so says the top executives concerned with NSA snooping. I really get tired of that phrase when I hear it over and over again by cigarette manufacturers, gun manufacturers, abortion foes, religious bigots and so on. I wonder if they all understand that "the freedoms we all cherish" need to be examined and critiqued in terms of the death and damage they inflict on so many people. Somehow this carnage gets ignored when defending these "freedoms." My wish is that the negatives of these "freedoms" could be a significant part of the debate.

    December 18, 2013 09:57 am at 9:57 am |
  24. Rudy NYC

    'Obama is an idiot' posted:

    ..not to mention the Obama administration outsourced the health care website.
    In other words, the Obama administration are idiots because they outsourced to the private sector. Right?

    December 18, 2013 09:57 am at 9:57 am |
  25. The Real Tom Paine


    Don't you people get tired of making excuses for bamman every day ?????
    If taking the time to look at an issue or a situation and attempting to reach my own conclusion about it as opposed to the ready-made answers/abuse that you post every day fits the definition of an excuse, the answer is no. It must be nice being a right-wing parrot who does nothing more than squawk out whatever he/she hears while praying to the oracle on FOX. Certainly saves you any mental strain of actually thinking.

    December 18, 2013 10:04 am at 10:04 am |
1 2 3 4