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Obama backs CIA; defends memos decision

WASHINGTON, April 20 (UPI) -- U.S. President Barack Obama Monday defended release of memos on harsh interrogation methods, saying the covert nature of the information had been compromised.

"I have fought to protect the integrity of classified information in the past and I will do so in the future," Obama told about 1,000 employees at the Central Intelligence Agency headquarters, adding the agency enjoyed his full support. "And there is nothing more important than protecting the identity of CIA officers."

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A pending court case and difficulty in mounting a legal defense led Obama to release the Office of Legal Counsel memos that said harsh interrogation techniques were legal. Obama also said his administration would not prosecute agents because they acted on the basis of the legal office's orders.

Obama said he ended the techniques described in the memos "because I believe our nation is stronger and more secure when we deploy the full measure of both our power and the power of our values, including the rule of law."

Obama said he understands how agents can be conflicted when "asked to protect the American people against people who have no scruples, and would willingly and gladly kill innocents."

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But what makes the United States and the CIA special is "precisely the fact that we are willing to uphold our values and our ideals even when it's hard, not just when it's easy; even when we are afraid and under threat, not just when it's expedient to do so," Obama said. "That's what makes us different."

Commenting on the raucous welcome the CIA staff gave Obama, CIA Director Leon Panetta said, "This is a very loud welcome from a group that is supposed to be silent warriors."

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