US fugitive Edward Snowden has provoked Russia crisis says Barack Obama as he announces proposals to reform controversial surveillance operations

President pledges more open surveillance and says whistleblower has provoked Russia crisis

President Barack Obama vowed to launch a review of the openness and transparency of American intelligence surveillance operations and conceded that Edward Snowden, the fugitive in Russia, had triggered a “more rapid and passionate response” to the issue than otherwise would have happened.

Referring to the leaks made by Mr Snowden, whose acceptance of temporary asylum in Russia has prompted a new crisis in relations with Washington, Mr Obama was at pains, however, not to suggest any change of heart towards him and his actions. “Mr Snowden was not a patriot,” he said answering a reporter’s question. He went on: “If he believes that what he has done was right”, he can come back to the United States and make his case in court.

In a wide-ranging press conference, Mr Obama also openly acknowledged that ties with Moscow had become more difficult since Vladimir Putin reclaimed the Russian presidency last year. He was speaking just two days after cancelling a bilateral summit in Moscow with Mr Putin that was to have happened in early September.

Mr Obama said it was true that since Mr Putin came back into power “we saw more rhetoric on the Russian side that was anti-American that played into some of the old stereotypes about the Cold War contest between the United States and Russia.  I have encouraged Mr Putin to think forward rather than backwards on those issues”.

Whatever happens with Mr Snowden, the announcements by Mr Obama were a clear admission that ordinary citizens domestically and around the world, are concerned that the main US intelligence, the National Security Agency, may be abusing its considerable powers to intrude on privacy in the name of fighting terrorism.

Mr Obama spoke of four initiatives to ensure that the balance between privacy and national security is set correctly, including having the NSA set up a web site explaining its programmes to the general public and appointing of a high-level review board of outside intelligence and civil liberties specialists to advise the government.

In addition, Mr Obama said he was would back imposing reforms on the secret court that approves electronic spying under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and which sets the constitutional limits to the NSA’s activities far from the public gaze.  Mr Obama agreed with critics who believe those advocating against what the US government seeking from the court in each case should be given greater voice in its proceedings.

“The president shares the views that have been expressed by civil libertarians and critics of the government,” a White House official commented ahead of the news conference. “It’s not enough for him as president to have confidence in these programs. The American people have to have confidence in them as well.”

On Mr Snowden, Mr Obama averred that he had “triggered a much more rapid and passionate response than would have been the case if I had simply appointed this review board”. The process without Snowden “would have been less exciting, it wouldn’t have generated as much press,” he went on. “I actually think we would have got to the same place and would not have put at risk our national security,” he said.

While the President stopped very far short of endorsing Mr Snowden and recalled that he is facing criminal charges in the United State, he nonetheless did not condemn him either as clearly as might have been expected.

How is comments on Mr Putin will play in Moscow is unclear. Mr Obama noted that the media sometimes exaggerate the problems in the relationship because Mr Putin “has got that kind of slouch” of a student at the back of the classroom. But he added quickly that “when we are in conversation together, oftentimes it’s very productive”.

Drawn into a brief exchange on recent anti-gay legislation in Russia, Mr Obama said “no one more offended” than himself but he did not believe it would be appropriate to boycott the Winter Olympics coming up in Sochi, Russia.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Life and Style
Living for the moment: Julianne Moore playing Alzheimer’s sufferer Alice
Jay Z
businessJay-Z's bid for Spotify rival could be blocked
The spider makes its break for freedom
A propaganda video shows Isis forces near Tikrit
voicesAdam Walker: The Koran has violent passages, but it also has others that explicitly tells us how to interpret them
Ashley Young celebrates the winner for Manchester United against Newcastle
footballNewcastle v United player ratings
Arts and Entertainment
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: 1st Line Customer Support Technician

£15000 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Waterlooville based softwa...

Ashdown Group: C# Developer - (C#, VB.Net, SQL, Git, TDD)

Negotiable: Ashdown Group: Developer (C#, VB & ASP.Net, SQL Server, TSQL) - Pe...

Recruitment Genius: Associate Sales Consultant

£16000 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Associate Sales Consultant i...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Well established and expanding ...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

Setting in motion the Internet of Things

British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

Cult competition The Moth goes global

The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

Pakistani women come out fighting

Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

Education: LGBT History Month

Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
11 best gel eyeliners

Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot