Obama: ‘No apologies’ for focus on national security leaks


barack_obamaU.S. President Barack Obama gave his top justice official a vote of confidence on Thursday, defending his government’s focus on prosecuting leaks of national security information.

“I make no apologies, and I don’t think the American people would expect me, as commander in chief, not to be concerned about information that might compromise their missions or might get them killed,’’ Obama said.

“Now, the flip side of it is we also live in a democracy where a free press, free expression and the open flow of information helps hold me accountable, helps hold our government accountable and helps our democracy function.’’

Attorney General Eric Holder came under sharp criticism across the media and in Congress – from both opposition Republicans and Obama’s own Democrats, after The Associated Press revealed that records from some 20 telephone lines at its New York City office had been accessed by Justice Department investigators.

The action, which seemed to go against normal Justice Department procedures for investigations involving journalists, followed the wire service’s 2012 revelation that U.S. security agencies had thwarted a Yemen-based terrorist plot.

Holder has largely declined to answer questions about the probe of AP records, saying that he had rescued himself from the case a year ago for legal reasons and delegated the decisions to his top deputy.

“I have complete confidence in Eric Holder as attorney general,’’ Obama said on Thursday. “He’s an outstanding attorney general and does his job with integrity, and I expect he will continue to do so.’’

Civil liberties activists have long criticised the left-leaning Obama for the increased pace of prosecutions of government leak cases during his administration since 2009.

Obama renewed his call for a federal media shield law, which would give reporters more legal protections to refuse to reveal sources in court cases as “a way to strike that balance appropriately’’.

“To the extent that this case has prompted renewed interest about how do we strike that balance properly, I think now’s the time for us to go ahead and revisit that legislation,’’ Obama said.

“I think that’s a worthy conversation to have, and I think that’s important.’’

“It’s important to recognise that when we express concern about leaks at a time when I’ve still got 60,000-plus troops in Afghanistan and a whole bunch of intelligence officers around the world who are in risky situations, part of my job is to make sure that we’re protecting what they do, while still accommodating the need for the public to be informed and be able to hold my office accountable.’’



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