Skip to main content

Obama: Pay no attention to that man we can't capture

By Tom Cohen, CNN
updated 12:12 PM EDT, Sun June 30, 2013
Former intelligence worker <a href='http://www.cnn.com/2013/06/10/politics/edward-snowden-profile/index.html'>Edward Snowden</a> revealed himself as the source of documents outlining a massive effort by the NSA to track cell phone calls and monitor the e-mail and Internet traffic of virtually all Americans. He says he just wanted the public to know what the government was doing. "Even if you're not doing anything wrong, you're being watched and recorded," he said. Snowden has been granted temporary asylum in Russia after initially fleeing to Hong Kong. He has been charged with three felony counts, including violations of the U.S. Espionage Act, over the leaks. Former intelligence worker Edward Snowden revealed himself as the source of documents outlining a massive effort by the NSA to track cell phone calls and monitor the e-mail and Internet traffic of virtually all Americans. He says he just wanted the public to know what the government was doing. "Even if you're not doing anything wrong, you're being watched and recorded," he said. Snowden has been granted temporary asylum in Russia after initially fleeing to Hong Kong. He has been charged with three felony counts, including violations of the U.S. Espionage Act, over the leaks.
HIDE CAPTION
Notable leakers and whistle-blowers
Notable leakers and whistle-blowers
Notable leakers and whistle-blowers
Notable leakers and whistle-blowers
Notable leakers and whistle-blowers
Notable leakers and whistle-blowers
Notable leakers and whistle-blowers
Notable leakers and whistle-blowers
Notable leakers and whistle-blowers
Notable leakers and whistle-blowers
Notable leakers and whistle-blowers
Notable leakers and whistle-blowers
Notable leakers and whistle-blowers
Notable leakers and whistle-blowers
Notable leakers and whistle-blowers
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • President Obama downplays the pursuit of leaker Edward Snowden
  • His strategy mimics President Bush saying he's "not that concerned" about bin Laden
  • Conservative analyst: "No drama Obama" wants the Snowden story to go away
  • Gen. Clark: Snowden "will disappear from the pages of history"

Washington (CNN) -- If you can't nab him, then ignore him.

President Barack Obama appears to be borrowing a strategy from his predecessor in downplaying the significance of self-avowed National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden, who is believed to still be in the international transit lounge at the Moscow airport.

With Russia and other countries offering no apparent help to get Snowden into U.S. custody, Obama made clear on a trip to Africa this week that he has bigger priorities.

"In terms of U.S. interests, the damage was done with respect to the initial leaks," Obama told reporters during a news conference in Senegal, his first stop on a three-nation visit. "I'm not going to be scrambling jets to get a 29-year-old hacker."

Deal offered for Snowden's return
Still looking for Edward Snowden
Obama covers his bases on Snowden

Asked if he called Chinese or Russian leaders to ask for their assistance in arresting Snowden, who was in Hong Kong when the first leaked documents got published, Obama said it was a law enforcement issue rather than a diplomatic concern.

U.S. asks Ecuador to reject any asylum request from Snowden

"I have not called (Chinese) President Xi personally or (Russian) President Putin personally and the reason is because, number one, I shouldn't have to," he said. "This is something that routinely is dealt with between law enforcement officials in various countries."

The president's approach evoked memories of March 2002, six months after the 9/11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, when then-President George W. Bush downgraded his public concern about Osama bin Laden.

With U.S.-led coalition forces unable to kill or capture bin Laden in Afghanistan, Bush sought to shift attention away from any perception that success in fighting terrorists depended on taking out the al Qaeda leader.

"I truly am not that concerned about him," Bush told a news conference. "I know he is on the run."

Snowden, whose acknowledged disclosure of secret surveillance programs brought espionage charges, is seeking asylum in Ecuador, which previously agreed to shelter WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.

Obama's message on the Snowden case differed in tone from others in his administration who warned of detrimental consequences for U.S. relations with any country that offers asylum to the former NSA analyst.

EU furious, 'shocked' by report of U.S. spying

"We are making a consistent point to any government that might take him as a final destination that this is somebody wanted on serious felony charges and we would like him returned to the United States," State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell told reporters Friday.

The president's more detached stance reflected what analyst Peter Brookes of the conservative Heritage Foundation called a desire to avoid doing anything provocative.

"He's been dissed by both Russia and China, and I think he wants that to stop," Brookes, a former deputy assistant defense secretary, told CNN, later adding: "This is 'no drama Obama.' He doesn't want it to become a big story."

Retired Gen. Wesley Clark, the former NATO Supreme Allied Commander, said Obama certainly was angered by Snowden's classified leaks that disclosed the extent of secret U.S. programs to collect phone records and details of foreign computer use as resources to help track terrorist plots.

However, Clark told CNN that the U.S. programs were similar to surveillance programs elsewhere, and the leaks were unlikely to provide an advantage for anyone.

"I don't think people are going to stop using the Internet or stop making cell phone calls because of Snowden," Clark said, adding that "most people know it's been going on all along."

In the end, he said, "Edward Snowden is going to disappear from the pages of history."

Father proposes deal for Snowden's voluntary return

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
Data mining & privacy
updated 10:25 AM EDT, Sun June 23, 2013
He's a high-school dropout who worked his way into the most secretive computers in U.S. intelligence as a defense contractor.
updated 8:26 AM EDT, Thu May 29, 2014
Traitor or patriot? Low-level systems analyst or highly trained spy?
updated 3:27 PM EDT, Thu May 29, 2014
What are the takeaways from Snowden's NBC interview? You might be surprised.
updated 7:52 AM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Months after accepting asylum in Russia, Snowden asked Putin about Moscow's own surveillance practices.
updated 12:43 PM EDT, Wed March 12, 2014
A federal judge has refused the Obama administration's request to extend storage of classified NSA telephone surveillance data beyond the current five-year limit.
updated 8:44 PM EDT, Sun March 9, 2014
From his sanctuary in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, Julian Assange said that everyone in the world will be just as effectively monitored soon -- at least digitally.
updated 8:39 PM EDT, Mon March 10, 2014
In a rare public talk via the Web, fugitive NSA leaker Edward Snowden urged a tech conference audience to help "fix" the U.S. government's surveillance of its citizens.
updated 11:55 PM EDT, Thu August 1, 2013
The White House is "very disappointed" that National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden has been granted temporary asylum in Russia.
updated 8:57 AM EST, Tue December 10, 2013
Spies with surveillance agencies in the U.S. and U.K. infiltrated video games like "World of Warcraft" in a hunt for terrorists "hiding in plain sight" online.
updated 7:39 AM EDT, Fri August 2, 2013
Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden both held jobs that gave them access to some of their country's most secret and sensitive intelligence. They chose to share that material with the world and are now paying for it.
updated 10:35 AM EDT, Thu August 1, 2013
The NSA's controversial intelligence-gathering programs have prevented 54 terrorist attacks around the world, including 13 in the United States.
updated 2:54 PM EDT, Thu August 1, 2013
You've never heard of XKeyscore, but it definitely knows you. The National Security Agency's top-secret program essentially makes available everything you've ever done on the Internet.
updated 9:04 AM EDT, Sun August 18, 2013
You may have never heard of Lavabit and Silent Circle. That's because they offered encrypted (secure) e-mail services, something most Americans have probably never thought about needing.
updated 2:54 PM EDT, Wed July 24, 2013
"Any analyst at any time can target anyone. Any selector, anywhere ... I, sitting at my desk, certainly had the authorities to wiretap anyone."
updated 9:56 AM EDT, Tue July 2, 2013
President Barack Obama responds to outrage by European leaders over revelations of alleged U.S. spying.
updated 3:54 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Browse through a history of high-profile intelligence leaking cases.
updated 10:37 AM EDT, Tue July 2, 2013
Former President George W. Bush talks Snowden, AIDS, Mandela and his legacy.
updated 9:04 AM EDT, Wed June 26, 2013
Edward Snowden took a job with an NSA contractor in order to gather evidence about U.S. surveillance programs.
updated 6:47 AM EDT, Wed June 19, 2013
With reports of NSA snooping, many people have started wondering about their personl internet security.
updated 9:52 AM EDT, Wed August 14, 2013
Click through our gallery to learn about other major leaks and what happened in the aftermath.
updated 4:02 PM EDT, Sun June 9, 2013
What really goes on inside America's most secretive agency? CNN's Chris Lawrence reports.
ADVERTISEMENT