Ever since U.S National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden first emerged in 2013 with scathing details about the scope of intelligence-gathering capabilities, American officials have been on the defensive.
Today in a policy speech, President Barack Obama outlined a number of reforms to reassure both U.S citizens and foreign governments that NSA is not violating individual rights. Obama's policy speech came as a response to recommendations made at the end of 2013 by a presidential task force for multiple reforms within U.S intelligence agencies.
"Intelligence agencies cannot function without secrecy, which makes their work less subject to public debate," Obama said.
That said, Obama noted that since the beginning of his presidency and following reviews ever since, he has seen no indications that the U.S. intelligence community is "cavalier about the civil liberties of their fellow citizens."
The president stressed that the intelligence community follows protocols intended to protect privacy and they are not abusing their authority in order to listen to private phone calls and read emails. Obama emphasized that the intelligence efforts are focused on national security and not on violating individuals' rights.
"When mistakes are made, which is inevitable in any large and complicated human enterprise, they correct those mistakes," Obama said. "Laboring in obscurity, often unable to discuss their work even with family and friends, they know that if another 9/11 or massive cyber-attack occurs, they will be asked, by Congress and the media, why they failed to connect the dots."
While some have called on the administration to pardon the actions of Snowden, Obama's comments today make that seem unlikely.
"I'm not going to dwell on Mr. Snowden's actions or motivations," Obama said. "I will say that our nation's defense depends in part on the fidelity of those entrusted with our nation's secrets."
Obama added that if any individual who doesn't like the government's policies decides on his or her own to reveal classified information, the United States will not be safe. That said, Obama does agree that some changes are required in the way the U.S. collects intelligence.
"Moreover, the sensational way in which these disclosures have come out has often shed more heat than light, while revealing methods to our adversaries that could impact our operations in ways that we may not fully understand for years to come," Obama said.