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President Obama says the NSA disclosures, through leaks by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, have been damaging to the United States, its intelligence capabilities and its diplomacy.

While Mr. Obama acknowledged that the debate over U.S. surveillance activities is an important one the country needed to have, he said he thinks there was a way to have the conversation without the damage.

The president said the leaks have led to a "pretty distorted" view. He said for all its "warts," the United States is a country that abides by the rule of law and cares deeply about privacy and civil liberties; but, he said the disclosures have allowed other countries that actually do the things Snowden says he worries about, such as spying on their own citizens, targeting political dissidents and suppressing the press, to sit on the sidelines and act like the U.S. is the country with the problems.

The president refused to comment on whether he might consider amnesty for Snowden as Rick Leggett, head of the NSA's Snowden task force, has said could be worth considering. Mr. Obama said he will leave weighing in on the Snowden case to the U.S. attorney general.

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