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Article posted: 6/16/2013 6:27 PM

Obama's chief of staff defends NSA surveillance

Washington Post

WASHINGTON -- White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough defended the administration's sweeping surveillance efforts Sunday, saying President Barack Obama does not think the tactics have violated the privacy of any American, and he signaled that the president will be elaborating on the issue soon.

"I think you'll hear the president talk about this in the days ahead," McDonough said on CBS's "Face the Nation." "You'll hear what he said when he responded to reporters last week on this question, which is we do have to find the right balance, especially in this new situation where we find ourselves with all of us reliant on Internet, on email, on texting."

"Does the president feel that he has violated the privacy of any American?" asked CBS's Bob Schieffer.

"He does not," McDonough said.

McDonough also responded to The Washington Post's report about the origins of the legal structures that allowed Presidents George W. Bush and Obama to expand the reach of the government's surveillance efforts.

"I saw the Bart Gellman story, and he's obviously worked on this over the course of the last couple of weeks pretty aggressively," McDonough said. "I will say that much of what he was reporting on was a draft inspector general report about a program that was suspended now several years ago because of the way we saw its usefulness."

McDonough added that when Obama took office, his skepticism about surveillance programs led to key changes, including looping in Congress to a greater extent.

While McDonough declined to go into detail about the investigation involving Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor who acknowledged disclosing details of the agency's broad surveillance techniques, he said he did not know where Snowden is currently located.

"I'm sure you'll understand when I tell you I don't want to get involved in any ongoing investigation or any kind of effort that's being undertaken. But I can tell you that I don't know where he is right now," McDonough said.

Sen. Mark Udall, a Colorado Democrat, said he doubts that the NSA telephone surveillance effort has made the country safer.

"I don't think collecting millions and millions of Americans' phone calls -- now, this is the metadata, this is time, place, to whom you direct the calls -- is making us any safer," Udall said on NBC's "Meet the Press." "And I think it's ultimately perhaps a violation of the Fourth Amendment."

Meanwhile, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers, a Michigan Republican, said that once Americans learn more about the extent to which the NSA's surveillance has helped thwart terrorist plots, they will warm up to the efforts.

"If you can see just the number of cases where we've actually stopped a plot, I think Americans will come to a different conclusion than all the misleading rhetoric I've heard over the last few weeks," Rogers said on CNN's "State of the Union."

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