President Barack Obama stressed that he is focused on balancing U.S. citizens' right to privacy with the demands of intelligence gathering during a wide-ranging interview with Charlie Rose on Monday.
The president's handling of this thorny issue is front and center following blockbuster revelations this month by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden of government programs that monitor telephone and electronic communications ostensibly to guard against terrorist and other national security threats.
Obama declined to weigh in on the particulars of Snowden's case, saying he would leave that to the Justice Department, but he did vigorously defend the need for secrecy by citing one of his administration's greatest foreign policy successes.
"We could not have carried out the [Osama] bin Laden raid if it was carried out on the front page of the papers," Obama said.
However, the president also told Rose that he is working with the intelligence community to see what aspects of the program can be declassified in the hopes of fostering a national debate.
"We have to make decisions about how much classified information and how much covert activity we are willing to tolerate as a society," he said.
"We don't have to sacrifice our freedom in order to achieve security, that's a false choice," Obama added. "That doesn't mean that there are not tradeoffs involved in any given program."
The president said he understood that the kind of data mining the NSA has been doing has the potential for abuse but added that government agencies are still required to obtain warrants in order to monitor citizens' phone calls or access their emails.
Obama acknowledged that his muscular approach to foreign policy, such as authorizing the use of drones, has puzzled critics on the right and left sides of the political spectrum.
"Some people say, 'Well, you know, Obama was this raving liberal before. Now he's, you know, Dick Cheney,'" Obama said. "Dick Cheney sometimes says, 'Yeah, you know? He took [the Bush-Cheney approach] all lock, stock, and barrel.'
"My concern has always been not that we shouldn't do intelligence gathering to prevent terrorism, but rather are we setting up a system of checks and balances."