President Bush's new White House spokesman, Tony Snow, appeared at ease during his first formal briefing.

Snow Tuesday fielded questions from reporters about border security and surveillance programs in a fashion one White House reporter characterized as "nice and zippy."

Standing at the podium, Snow defended his refusal to comment about a controversial surveillance program, saying "al-Qaida does not believe in transparency."

At another point, when asked for a figure, he deferred saying, "Rather than have me fake it, I'll get the precise number for you."

The 50-year-old Snow is a well-known figure in Washington political and media circles. He was a conservative television commentator for Fox News, and has served as a speechwriter for Mr. Bush's father, former President George H.W. Bush.

Snow's hiring is part of an overall shake-up of the White House staff, in an attempt to boost declining public support for the president.