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Obama Defends Importance of U.S. Intelligence Community

President Obama says the same technological advances that allow U.S. intelligence agencies to pinpoint an al-Qaida cell in Yemen also put routine communications around the world within the reach of government investigators. He admitted how disquieting that prospect can be for everyone as the digital revolution transforms the world.

The president also said legal safeguards that bar government surveillance of U.S. citizens without a warrant do not apply to foreign persons overseas. He said this is a precaution similar to the practices of many other nations, and added: "the whole point of intelligence is to obtain information that is not publicly available."

Mr. Obama said intelligence agencies cannot function without keeping details of their work secret, but that continuing attacks and cyber attacks make it necessary for the intelligence community to be able to "connect the dots" as a central defender of the nation.

The president said U.S. intelligence agencies are not abusing their authority. Mistakes will happen, he added, but said U.S. operatives correct such errors when they occur.

Mr. Obama spoke at the U.S. Department of Justice before an audience of top government officials and lawmakers. He said his aim in speaking out Friday is to assure the American public that he has found no evidence that the U.S. intelligence community has sought to violate the law, or is "cavalier about the civil liberties of their fellow citizens."