President Obama on Thursday downplayed the intensifying focus on National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden, calling the former government contractor just a “29-year-old hacker,” saying he expected Russia or any other country that harbors the wanted man to turn him over to American authorities.
“I’m not going to be scrambling jets to get a 29-year-old hacker,” Obama said, almost mocking the suggestion that he should play a more active role in tracking down Snowden, who disclosed top-secret information about American Internet and phone surveillance programs.
Still, Obama acknowledged that Snowden, hiding in a Moscow airport, will continue to dominate the headlines.
“I get why it’s a fascinating story from a press perspective,” he said. “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 with respect to the initial leaks.”
Obama took questions on Snowden, as well as landmark Supreme Court decisions this week, during a joint press conference with Senegal President Macky Sall. Obama’s trip to Senegal begins a weeklong trip through Africa that was organized to focus on growing democracies in the region. However, the search for Snowden and major Supreme Court decisions so far are clearly overshadowing that agenda.
Before revealing the NSA secrets, Snowden fled to Hong Kong. Chinese officials then allowed the ex-CIA official to fly to Russia. Snowden is hoping to receive asylum in Ecuador.
Obama’s frustration with Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin, both of whom decided not to detain Snowden, was on full display Thursday. The president defended his decision not to reach out to the leaders.
“The reason is because, number one, I shouldn’t have to; this is something that is routinely dealt with between law enforcement officials in various countries,” Obama said, explaining he wouldn’t engage in “wheeling, dealing and trading” to get Snowden back on U.S. soil.