By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Aug. 7, 2013 – The threats to U.S. embassies and consulates in the Middle East and Africa show the importance of America staying ahead of terrorists, President Barack Obama said on NBC’s “Tonight Show” yesterday.
Obama told host Jay Leno that the United States is taking every precaution to protect American diplomats from al-Qaida threats. “Whenever we see a threat stream that we think is specific enough that we can take some specific precautions within a certain timeframe, then we do so,” he said.
Obama cited the progress the United States has made against al-Qaida in the past. But the violent radical extremist group is still a danger, he said, “and we've got to stay on top of it.”
Americans traveling overseas should exercise common sense and check State Department websites about the latest developments, the president said. He urged Americans to not overreact.
“What’s great about what we’ve seen with America over the last several years is how resilient we are,” the president told Leno. “So after the Boston bombing, for example, the next day folks were out there – they’re going to ball games. They are making sure that we’re not reacting in a way that somehow shuts us down. And that’s the right reaction.”
Obama also said he will attend the G-20 summit in St. Petersburg, Russia, next month. However, the White House issued a statement this morning saying the president will not hold a bilateral summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“Given our lack of progress on issues such as missile defense and arms control, trade and commercial relations, global security issues and human rights and civil society in the last 12 months, we have informed the Russian government that we believe it would be more constructive to postpone the summit until we have more results from our shared agenda,” read a White House statement released today. “Russia’s disappointing decision to grant Edward Snowden temporary asylum was also a factor that we considered in assessing the current state of our bilateral relationship.”
Secretary of State John F. Kerry and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel are scheduled to meet with their Russian counterparts at the State Department on Aug. 9.
Gathering intelligence is a critical component in keeping America safe, the president said. The Snowden revelations provoked questions among the American people, and Obama said this is good.
“I think we should have a healthy skepticism about what government is doing,” he said. “I had the programs reviewed. We put in some additional safeguards to make sure that there’s federal court oversight as well as congressional oversight, that there is no spying on Americans. We don't have a domestic spying program.”
The United States does have mechanisms to track phone numbers or email addresses connected to some sort of terrorist threat, he said. “And that information is useful,” he said. “But what I’ve said before I want to make sure I repeat, and that is we should be skeptical about the potential encroachments on privacy. None of the revelations show that government has actually abused these powers, but they are pretty significant powers.”