US 'won't scramble jets' to capture 'hacker' Snowden, says Obama

President Obama said Thursday he won't "scramble jets" or poison relations with China or Russia to capture Edward Snowden. 

Obama dismissed Snowden as a “29-year-old hacker” during a press conference in Senegal and said the damage was done when Snowden leaked information about the National Security Agency's data-mining programs to the press. 

If Snowden leaves the international transit zone of the Moscow airport where he is now holed up, Obama said he wouldn't try to intercept him.

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“No, I'm not going to be scrambling jets to get a 29-year-old hacker,” Obama said.

The president has come under criticism for failing to get Snowden back. China allowed him to leave Hong Kong on Sunday and Russia's Vladimir Putin has said he won't turn him over.

Obama said he hasn't called the leaders of either country personally to press his case because, “No. 1, I shouldn't have to.”

“This is something that routinely is dealt with between law enforcement officials in various countries,” Obama said. “This is not exceptional from a legal perspective.”

And, the president said, he doesn't want to elevate the issue.

“We've got a whole lot of business that we do with China and Russia,” Obama said. “And I'm not going to have one case of a suspect that we're trying to extradite suddenly being elevated to the point where I've got to start doing wheeling and dealing and trading on a host of other issues, simply to get a guy extradited so that he can face the Justice system here in the United States.”

“I get why it's a fascinating story from a press perspective,” Obama quipped. “And I'm sure there will be a made-for-TV movie somewhere down the line.”

“But in terms of U.S. interests, the damage was done in terms of the initial leaks.”

The president said his focus now was twofold: Preventing such leaks from ever happening again, and having a “healthy, effective debate in the United States about how we balance our security and our privacy concerns.”

“I want to make sure that everybody — Congress, opinion leaders and our government officials — are confident that the laws are being obeyed, that there's strong oversight and that the American people don't have a Big Brother who's snooping into their business,” he said. “I'm confident of that. But I want to make sure everybody's confident of that, and so I think we need to have a strong public debate to make that happen.”

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