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Obama to Leno: 'We Don't Have a Domestic Spying Program'

Image: Obama to Leno: 'We Don't Have a Domestic Spying Program'

By Greg Richter   |   Tuesday, 06 Aug 2013 11:39 PM

Making his sixth appearance on NBC's "Tonight Show with Jay Leno" on Tuesday, President Barack Obama took on serious subjects with the late night funnyman.
He defended the National Security Agency's work, expressed disappointment that Russia has granted temporary asylum to NSA leaker Edward Snowden and broke his silence on the closing of 22 American embassies in the wake of terrorist threats.

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"We don't have a domestic spying program," Obama said. "What we do have are some mechanisms that can track a phone number or an email address that we know is connected to some sort of terrorist threat. That information is useful."
Obama said the public's skepticism of the program is good, adding that he was skeptical himself when he came into office. He said he had the programs reviewed and added additional safeguards to protect Americans' privacy.
Obama declined to say whether he thinks Snowden is a whistleblower, saying he shouldn't "prejudge" him. He said he hopes to see him brought back to America to face a fair trial.
But he did say there are avenues for people in his position to bring concerns forward "without breaking the law," which he said Snowden may have done the allegations are true.
"That is a huge problem," Obama said, because America's spy program depends on terrorists not knowing how the U.S. can know what they are doing.
On Russia's aid for Snowden, the 29-year-old former NSA contract employee who leaked information on the agency, the president said America's old nemesis is living in the past.
"There are times when they slip back into Cold War thinking and Cold War mentality," Obama said. He agreed with Leno that there are probably too many contract employees handling intelligence information.
Obama said he will not boycott the G-20 summit in St. Petersburg over the Snowden issue because it includes discussions on the world economy with the top economic powers across the globe and America, as the leading economy, should be there.
He wasn't asked about whether he will still have a scheduled one-on-one meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in September.
Despite the extended closings of 19 embassies and a global travel warning, Obama said Americans should not change their travel plans.
"Terrorists depend on the idea that we're going to be terrorized. We're going to live our lives, and the odds of people dying in a terrorist attack are a lot lower than in a car accident," Obama said.
Still, Americans should "show some common sense and some caution" when traveling and realize that some countries pose a greater risk of terrorist attack than others.
To people who have accused him of overreacting to the deadly Benghazi attacks when he shut the embassies, Obama said he has done his best not to go too far, while still letting Americans know that "genuine risks" still exist.
"The first thing I think about when I wake up and the last thing I think about when I go to bed is making sure that I'm doing everything I can to keep Americans safe," Obama said.
It wasn't all serious. Leno noted that Obama and Republican Sen. John McCain seem to be having a "bromance" recently, though they had previously butted heads.
"That's how a classic romantic comedy goes, right?" Obama answered. "Initially you're not getting along, and then you keep bumping into each other."
He also said Hillary Clinton need not worry about measuring the drapes if she is elected president in 2016. 
"Keep in mind she's been there before," Obama said of the former first lady and secretary of state.
Obama said when he met Clinton for lunch last week she "had that post-administration glow. When folks leave the White House, like two weeks later, they look great!"

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