By Justin Sink - 08/23/13 11:10 AM EDT
Recent revelations that the National Security Agency violated its own surveillance rules on thousands of occasions is evidence "all these safeguards, checks, audits, oversight worked," President Obama said.
"This latest revelation that was made, what was learned was that NSA had inadvertently, accidentally pulled the emails of some Americans in violation of their own rules because of technical problems that they didn't realize," Obama told CNN's "New Day" in an interview airing Friday.
"They presented those problems to the [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance] court. The court said, 'This isn't going to cut it. You're going to have to improve the safeguards, given these technical problems.' That's exactly what happened. So the point is, is that all these safeguards, checks, audits, oversight worked."
A report in The Washington Post last week found that an internal NSA audit revealed thousands of instances where the spy agency broke its own privacy rules. In 2012 alone, the NSA reported 2,776 instances of "unauthorized collection, storage, access to or distribution of legally protected communications."
Obama insisted that there was nobody "out there trying to abuse this program or listen in on people's email," but admitted that the government had not done enough to explain how the program's function.
The administration has been on the defensive for weeks following revelations by former Defense contractor Edward Snowden about two previously unknown NSA surveillance programs.
"What's been clear since the disclosures that were made by Mr. Snowden is that people don't have enough information and aren't confident enough that, between all the safeguards and checks that we put in place within the executive branch, and the federal court oversight that takes place on the program, and congressional oversight, people are still concerned as to whether their emails are being read or their phone calls are being listened to," Obama said.
Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle, including top Democrats like Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), expressed outrage last week at the revelations.
Leahy said in a statement he would "continue to demand honest and forthright answers from the intelligence community."
“I remain concerned that we are still not getting straightforward answers from the NSA," Leahy continued.
The revelations in the Post were the latest in a series of disclosures by Snowden, who has claimed responsibility for leaking documents outlining the top-secret surveillance programs. Since their release, the White House has been besieged by concerns over privacy rights, while President Obama has seen his approval numbers fade.
In the interview, Obama acknowledged that "the capabilities of the NSA are scary to people."
"We've got to do it in the right way. We've got to do it in a way that makes sure that people know their own government is looking out for their interests, but we've also got to do it in a way that recognizes that we've got some hostile folks out there that potentially are trying to do us harm," Obama continued.