President Obama smile during a news conference in the East Room at the White House in Washington, Friday, Aug. 9, 2013. The president said he'll work with Congress to change the oversight of some of the National Security Agency's controversial surveillance programs and name a new panel of outside experts to review technologies.(AP Photo/Charles Dharapak) ORG XMIT: WHCD105
(Photo: Charles Dharapak AP)
WASHINGTON -- President Obama said Friday that former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden is not a patriot for leaking details of previously secret U.S. surveillance programs.
"No I don't see Mr. Snowden as a patriot," said Obama, who added that Snowden has been charged with three felonies for the leaks.
The president's comments came in a 50-minute news conference at the White House, one day before he sets off for a week-long vacation on Martha's Vineyard
Obama said he called for a review of the secret surveillance programs before details of documents Snowden leaked to reporters were publicized earlier this summer.
There were other avenues available for someone "whose conscience felt stirred," Obama said. He said Snowden's leaks, which have come out in dribs and drabs, have unfairly set the impression that the U.S. government is spying on its citizens.
But the president said Americans do have real questions about the surveillance programs and acknowledged the leaks have spurred a national conversation about the government's methods.
"There is no doubt that Mr. Snowden's leaks triggered a much more rapid and passionate response," Obama said.
Obama opened his press conference with the announcement of a plan for greater oversight of the intelligence community's surveillance programs, a move he said that will help strike a balance between protecting Americans safety and their privacy.
He also confirmed that former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers and Federal Reserve vice chairman Janet Yellen are among the contenders he is considering to replace Ben Bernanke at the Federal Reserve when his term expires at the end of January.
Obama acknowledged he recently defended Summers, who has come under attack from some liberals, during a closed-door meeting with House Democrats. But he suggested that his defense of Summers does not mean he has settled on him to be the next Fed chairman.
Obama also weighed in on the strength of the terrorist group al-Qaeda, which as recently as May he referred to as being "on its heels." In recent days, his administration has closed embassies in several countries in the Muslim world as a result of intelligence suggesting that al-Qaeda may be preparing to strike American interests overseas.
"Core al-Qaeda is on its heels, but what I also said was that al-Qaeda and other extremists have metastasized into regional groups that are dangerous," he said.
The president said he holds hopes that the GOP-controlled House will agree to pass legislation overhauling the nation's immigration laws. If passed, it would be a monumental legislative victory for Obama. Though it won broad support in the Senate, it is facing a tough climb in the GOP-controlled House.
Obama seemed to be daring House Republicans to put the Senate legislation to a vote. If they did, he said he was confident it would pass.
"The problem is internal caucus politics, and that's not what the American people want us worrying about," he said.