OBAMA: I'm Not Dick Cheney

Barack Obama Dick Cheney

After nearly two weeks of leaks from an NSA whistleblower, President Obama will defend a controversial spying program Monday night in a television interview with Charlie Rose.

“The way I view it, my job is both to protect the American people and to protect the American way of life, which includes our privacy,” Obama said, according to a transcript obtained by BuzzFeed. “And so every program that we engage in, what I’ve said is ‘Let’s examine and make sure that we’re making the right tradeoffs.'”

The very existence of the program, referred to as Prism by the NSA, was kept secret from the public until government contractor Edward Snowden leaked top-secret documents to The Guardian newspaper earlier this month.

“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,'” the president said. “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?”

Since the public was kept in the dark, Rose asked about transparency of the programs.

“It is transparent. That’s why we set up the FISA court,” Obama answered, referring to the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. Oversight, Obama said, came from independent federal judges, and from all members of congress.

The President acknowledged that a massive collection of data could lead to an invasion of privacy, but pushed back by saying that going further than metadata — such as listening to call content — “would be illegal. We would not be allowed to do that.”

While illegal to listen to phone calls without a warrant, Edward Snowden told questioners early Monday on the Guardian website that those restrictions are based on policy — and the NSA certainly has the technical ability to listen in.

“[The policy] can change at any time,” Snowden wrote. “Additionally, audits are cursory, incomplete, and easily fooled by fake justifications. For at least GCHQ, the number of audited queries is only 5% of those performed.”

The 45-minute interview with the President airs on PBS’ “The Charlie Rose Show” at 11 p.m. EST.

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