President Barack Obama. (Photo credit SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
David Jackson, USA TODAY
President Obama is defending National Security Agency surveillance programs, and disputing the notion that he is following in the footsteps of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney.
In a PBS interview with Charlie Rose, Obama said efforts to track terrorists through phone and Internet surveillance have safeguards to prevent abusing the civil liberties of innocent Americans. Obama cited both congressional and judicial oversight.
When Rose asked, "should this be transparent in some way?" Obama responded: "It is transparent. That's why we set up the FISA court."
Critics note that this court -- created through the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act -- issues rulings in secret.
Some of those critics also say Obama is continuing programs he criticized when they were operated by President Bush and Vice President Cheney.
Obama told Rose his goal is to prevent terrorism:
"Some people say, 'well, you know, Obama was this raving liberal before. Now he's, you know, Dick Cheney.' Dick Cheney sometimes says, 'yeah, you know? He took it all lock, stock, and barrel.'
"My concern has always been not that we shouldn't do intelligence gathering to prevent terrorism, but rather are we setting up a system of checks and balances? So, on this telephone program, you've got a federal court with independent federal judges overseeing the entire program. And you've got Congress overseeing the program, not just the intelligence committee and not just the judiciary committee -- but all of Congress had available to it before the last re-authorization exactly how this program works."
Obama also said his conservative critics are exhibiting a fair share of hypocrisy: "What amuses me is now folks on the right who are fine when there's a Republican president -- but now, Obama's coming in with the black helicopters."
The interview was taped Sunday, before Obama left for the G-8 summit in Northern Ireland.