National Security Brief: Obama Defends Administration On Syria, Surveillance

(Credit: Charlie Rose)

President Barack Obama defended his administration’s national security policy from critiques on Monday night in an exclusive primetime interview with PBS’ Charlie Rose. Facing criticism of his handling of Syria’s ongoing civil war, Obama noted that the Syrian opposition needed time to mature and coalesce before the decision was made to provide military assistance.

“The fact of the matter is, the way these situations get resolved, is politically,” Obama told Rose, adding that the majority of the rebels don’t come from a military background.

Last week, the administration announced that in the face of evidence that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad had used chemical weapons against his own people, a previously declared U.S. “red-line,” the administration would be upping its support of the Syrian rebels. While officials have refused to comment on record what that entails, multiple reports say the new aid includes small arms, ammunition, and possibly anti-aircraft weapons.

On the recent revelation that the National Security Agency is collecting metadata from Americans’ cell phone records and other digital information, Obama pushed back on the notion that his counterterrorism policies are an extension of the George W. Bush administration’s spying on American citizens:

OBAMA: 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 [the Bush-Cheney approach] all lock, stock and barrel.” 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.

“And you’ve got Congress overseeing the program, not just the intelligence committee and not just the judiciary committee — but all of Congress had available to it before the last reauthorization exactly how this program works,” Obama continued. Several members of Congress have previously denied that they were fully briefed on the topics, with at least one senator claiming to have been misled in the programs’ scope.

In other news:

  • Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov says that Iran is prepared to suspend enrichment of uranium at the twenty percent level, a move Lavrov believes would justify easing the international sanctions current imposed on Tehran.
  • The Guardian reports: The British Ministry of Defence issued the BBC and other news outlets what’s known as a ‘D notice,’ a request for self-censorship, after reports leaked that the United Kingdom worked closely with the United States’ as it carried out its recently revealed surveillance programs.
  • The United States and Russia on Monday agreed to a new framework to continue allowing the U.S. to aid Moscow in tracking and decommissioning nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction from the former Soviet Union. The framework will extend the work of the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) Umbrella Agreement which was due to expire that day.