Embarrassed by national security leaks of historic proportions, the White House rebutted accusations Monday by the disillusioned former government contractor who leaked the surveillance secrets that President Obama is no different from President George W. Bush in his anti-terrorism tactics.
As a debate raged over whether the leaker, former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, is a hero or a criminal, White House spokesman Jay Carney said there was no reason for Mr. Snowden to have been disappointed in Mr. Obama.
“The president’s record on making the kinds of changes that he promised he would make to the ways that we pursue our fight against al Qaeda and our fight against terrorists and extremists, he has lived up to,” Mr. Carney said.
Mr. Snowden, 29, who donated $500 to the 2012 presidential campaign of libertarian Ron Paul, said he leaked information about the top-secret government surveillance programs because Mr. Obama perpetuated what he considers overly invasive tactics from the Bush administration for hunting terrorists.
“I believed in Obama’s promises,” Mr. Snowden told Britain’s Guardian newspaper. “He continued with the policies of his predecessor. I do not want to live in a world where everything I do and say is recorded.”
Among the data he released were details of an Internet monitoring program called Prism, which had the ability to retrieve large quantities of information from companies such as Google and Facebook. Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper has said the disclosures have harmed America’s ability to hunt down terrorism suspects, and lawmakers in Washington have called the extradition and prosecution of the former CIA employee.
The White House, while refusing to comment on Mr. Snowden’s actions, rejected the notion that Mr. Obama’s policies were valid provocation for the unprecedented disclosure of national security secrets.
Mr. Carney said in four key areas — enhanced interrogation of terrorism suspects, the war in Iraq, the detainee center at Guantanamo Bay and warrantless wiretapping — Mr. Obama has lived up to his campaign promises to end Bush-era policies.
“In every case … this president’s policy has been different,” Mr. Carney said. “When it comes to Guantanamo Bay, as you know, the president has sought to close that facility,” though Congress has thwarted efforts by Mr. Obama and Mr. Bush to do so.
“He has ended torture. … The president has ended the war in Iraq,” Mr. Carney said.
As for the wide-ranging monitoring of Internet data and the seizure of millions of citizens’ phone records under the Obama administration, Mr. Carney said the surveillance has involved judicial and congressional review and oversight.
But the American Civil Liberties Union filed a motion Monday with the secret court that oversees government surveillance in national security cases, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, requesting that it publish its opinions on the meaning, scope, and constitutionality of the section of the USA Patriot Act that authorizes such seizures.
That section, which authorizes the government to obtain “any tangible thing” relevant to foreign-intelligence or terrorism investigations, was the legal basis an order requiring Verizon to turn over data on phone calls for three months. Lawmakers and counterterrorism specialists say the program almost certainly was broader in scope and time than that.
“The ultimate check on governmental overreach is the American people,” said Alexander Abdo, staff attorney with the ACLU National Security Project. “The government appears to have secretly given itself shockingly broad surveillance powers, thereby depriving the public of the chance to weigh in on the wisdom of an unprecedented invasion of privacy.”
Mr. Snowden carried on his war of words with the administration from Hong Kong, where he fled to seek asylum as calls intensified for his extradition to the U.S. The Justice Department and intelligence agencies are conducting a review of the leaks to decide whether a criminal probe should be opened.