Washington, 7 Aug (PTI): President Barack Obama said he was “disappointed” that Russia had granted temporary asylum to CIA whistle-blower Edward Snowden, but confirmed that he would attend the G-20 Summit later this year in Russia.
“I was disappointed because, you know, even though we don’t have an extradition treaty with them, traditionally we have tried to respect if there’s a law breaker or alleged law breaker in their country, we evaluate it, and we try to work with them,” Obama told NBC channel in an interview.
Snowden, a former NSA contractor, is accused of leaking details about highly-secretive government surveillance programmes. The US wanted Russia to hand over Snowden to face trial for unauthorised leaking of highly classified information. Russia, however, granted him temporary asylum.
“They didn’t do that with us, and in some ways it’s reflective of some underlying challenges that we’ve had with Russia lately. A lot of what’s been going on hasn’t been major breaks in the relationship. They still help us on supplying our troops in Afghanistan. They’re still helping us on counter-terrorism work,” he said.
“I will be going there (to Russia). I will be going because the G20 Summit is the main forum where we talk about the economy, the world economy with all the top economic powers in the world. So it’s not something unique to Russia. They are hosting it this year,” he said. It’s important for us as the leading economy in the world to make sure that we’re there. In part because we’re creating jobs, improving our economy, building up our manufacturing base, increasing wages. All those things now depend on how we compete in this global economy. And when you’ve got problems in Europe or China is slowing down, that has impact here in United States,” he added.
“Russians,” Obama said, “were helpful after the Boston bombing in that investigation. So there’s still a lot of business we can do with them. But there have been times where they slip back into Cold War thinking and a Cold War mentality, and what I consistently say to them and what I say to President Putin is that’s the past, and we’ve got to think about the future, and there’s no reason why we shouldn’t be able to cooperate more effectively than we do.”
In the wake of the Snowden episode, Obama said his administration is trying to reduce dependence on contractors. “We’ve been trying to reduce the reliance on contractors. Some of the contractors do a great job, and they are patriots, and they’re trying to support our mission. Sometimes they can do it more efficiently or effectively if they have some specialized knowledge, but one of the things I’ve asked our team to look at is when it comes to intelligence should we in fact be farming that much stuff out.”
The President said he does not know yet exactly what Snowden did. “Well, we don’t know yet exactly what he did other than what he said on the Internet, and it’s important for me not to prejudge something. Hopefully at some point he’ll go to trial, and he will have a lawyer and due process, and we can make those decisions. I can tell you that there are ways, if you think that the government is abusing a programme, of coming forward. In fact, I, through executive order, signed whistle-blower protection for intelligence officers or people who are involved in the intelligence industry so you don’t have to break the law. You don’t have to divulge information that could compromise American security. You could come forward, come to the appropriate, individuals and say, Look, I’ve got a problem with what’s going on here. I’m not sure whether it’s being done properly,” he said.
“If in fact the allegations are true that he didn’t do that, then that is a huge problem because a lot of what we do is terrorist networks not knowing that, in fact, we may be able to access their information,” he said.
Responding to questions, Obama said the intelligence gathering done is a critical component to counter terrorism. “Obviously with Snowden and the disclosures of the classified information, it’s raised a lot of questions for people. But what I said as soon as it happened, and I continue to believe it, which is a lot of these programs were put in place before I came in. I had some skepticism, and we should have healthy skepticism about what government is doing. I had the programs reviewed. We put in some additional safeguards to make sure there’s Federal Court oversight as well as Congressional oversight that there is no spying on Americans. We don’t have a domestic spying program. What we do have are some mechanisms where we can track a phone number or an email address that we know is connected to some sort of terrorist threat and that information is useful.”
“But what I’ve said before and I want to make sure I repeat and that is we should be skeptical about the potential encroachments on privacy. None of the revelations show that the government has actually abused these powers, but they are pretty significant powers,” he concluded.