Obama-Snowden: President Obama name-drops Snowden during his NSA reform speech.

Surprise: Obama Name-Drops Snowden In His NSA Speech

Surprise: Obama Name-Drops Snowden In His NSA Speech

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Jan. 17 2014 11:57 AM

Surprise: Obama Name-Drops Snowden In His NSA Speech

In this handout photo provided by The Guardian, Edward Snowden speaks during an interview in Hong Kong

Photo by The Guardian via Getty Images

One thing myself and a lot of other observers were listening for during President Obama's big NSA speech this morning was whether the president was going to utter Edward Snowden's name aloud during his remarks. Much to my surprise, he did. (I confess, I expected to be writing a headline like "President Obama Said More Than 5,000 Words About the NSA and None of Them Were Edward or Snowden" this morning.) Here's the snippet in question via the president's prepared remarks:

Given the fact of an open investigation, I'm not going to dwell on Mr. Snowden's actions or motivations. I will say that our nation's defense depends in part on the fidelity of those entrusted with our nation's secrets. If any individual who objects to government policy can take it in their own hands to publicly disclose classified information, then we will never be able to keep our people safe, or conduct foreign policy. Moreover, the sensational way in which these disclosures have come out has often shed more heat than light, while revealing methods to our adversaries that could impact our operations in ways that we may not fully understand for years to come.
Regardless of how we got here, though, the task before us now is greater than simply repairing the damage done to our operations; or preventing more disclosures from taking place in the future. Instead, we have to make some important decisions about how to protect ourselves and sustain our leadership in the world, while upholding the civil liberties and privacy protections that our ideals – and our Constitution – require. We need to do so not only because it is right, but because the challenges posed by threats like terrorism, proliferation, and cyber-attacks are not going away any time soon, and for our intelligence community to be effective over the long haul, we must maintain the trust of the American people, and people around the world.

Obama name-dropped Snowden largely in an effort to brush him side ("I'm not going to dwell..."), but it's nonetheless noteworthy that the president felt it necessary to work the word Snowden into his speech. Regardless of which side of the whistleblower-or-criminal debate you come down on, it's pretty clear Obama wouldn't have been on stage at the Justice Department talking about how he plans to reform the government's surveillance programs if it weren't for the former CIA contractor's decision to hand over a trove of top-secret info to Glenn Greenwald and co.

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Josh Voorhees is a Slate senior writer. He lives in Iowa City.