Arik Hesseldahl

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White House Steps Up Defense of Surveillance Programs (Video)

Barack Obama Mac LaptopPresident Obama doesn’t think the privacy of American citizens has been violated by recently disclosed surveillance efforts carried out by the National Security Agency and other government entities and will make his case more directly on the subject in the coming days.

That’s the word from White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough who appeared on the CBS Sunday morning talk show “Meet the Press.”

Asked directly by host Bob Scheiffer if Obama feels the privacy of Americans has been violated, McDonough said, “He does not.”

Additionally, he said, Obama took a skeptical look at existing surveillance programs when he first took office in 2009 and made substantive changes to them. The White House, he said, took pains to get Congress involved in authorizing the programs. Every member of Congress, McDonough said, has been briefed on the programs, and they were approved after a vigorous debate.

If the president is going to make a stronger case about the operation, privacy protections and other aspects of Prism and other surveillance programs, it would be a logical follow-on to a deal struck between the government, Facebook and Microsoft late Friday, allowing those companies to disclose how many national security requests they’ve received.

Here’s a preview of at least some of that defense. The Associated Press is reporting this morning that terrorist plots in the U.S. and at least 20 other countries were broken up using data collected from the programs. The story cites unnamed intelligence officials who go on to say that fewer than 300 phone numbers were checked against a database of millions of phone records gathered by the NSA.

The disclosures were made to members of Congress on Saturday. Intelligence officials say they’d like to declassify more details about the plots themselves so that Americans can have a sense about the benefits of the surveillance programs, but they haven’t gotten that far yet. Problem is that doing so might reveal still-secret counter-terrorism tactics.

Facebook disclosed Friday that it had received requests for information on as many as 19,000 accounts during the last half of 2012. Microsoft made similar disclosures the next day. Google and Twitter are still arguing with the government over the terms of the disclosure they’d like to make.

You can see McDonough’s comments in the video below.


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