Two months after National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden sparked a public debate about government surveillance, President Obama today vowed to "put the whole elephant out there" when it comes to the controversial programs and unveiled steps to increase transparency and accountability at the NSA.
"I want to make clear, once again, that America is not interested in spying on ordinary people," Obama said during a White House news conference. "Our intelligence is focused, above all, on finding the information that's necessary to protect our people and, in many cases, protect our allies."
The president insisted the new reforms are not a direct response to Snowden's classified leaks.
"I called for a thorough review of our surveillance operations before Mr. Snowden made these leaks," he said.
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But the president admitted Snowden's disclosures "triggered a much more rapid and passionate response."
Once the programs were made public, Obama said it created the impression that the U.S. is "out there willy-nilly just sucking in information on everybody and doing what we please with it. Now, that's not the case."
The president likened public skepticism about U.S surveillance to skepticism his wife might have about him doing the dishes.
"If I tell Michelle that I did the dishes -- now, granted, in the White House, I don't do the dishes that much, but back in the day -- and she's a little skeptical, well, I'd like her to trust me, but maybe I need to bring her back and show her the dishes and not just have her take my word for it," he said.
Today, he outlined a series of reforms to boost transparency in the surveillance programs, including changes to Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which allows for the collection of metadata associated with telephone records, and the creation of a civil liberties officer position at the NSA.
"It's not enough for me, as president, to have confidence in these programs," he said. "The American people need to have confidence in them as well."
Today's news conference came just two days after the White House cancelled the president's planned summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin next month, citing Russia's "disappointing decision" to grant asylum to Snowden and a lack of progress on the U.S.-Russian bilateral agenda.
The president admitted that "there's always been some tension in the U.S.-Russian relationship" after the fall of the Soviet Union.
"I don't have a bad personal relationship with Putin," he said. "When we have conversations, they're candid. They're blunt. Oftentimes, they're constructive."
But Obama also took a stab at Putin, saying, "I know the press likes to focus on body language, and he's got that kind of slouch, looking like the bored kid in the back of the classroom. But the truth is, is that when we're in conversations together, oftentimes it's very productive."
There are also growing calls for the U.S. to boycott the upcoming winter Olympics in Sochi over Russia's new anti-gay law.
"I want to just make very clear right now: I do not think it's appropriate to boycott the Olympics," the president said, adding, "nobody's more offended than me by some of the anti-gay and -lesbian legislation."
"One of the things I'm really looking forward to is, maybe, some gay and lesbian athletes bringing home the gold or silver or bronze, which I think would go a long way in rejecting the kind of attitudes that we're seeing there," he said.