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Cheney defends NSA programs, says Snowden a 'traitor,' Obama 'lacks credibility'

Former Vice President Dick Cheney on Sunday strongly defended the recently exposed U.S. surveillance programs, which he helped craft in the aftermath of 9/11, but sharply criticized President Obama for his handling of a range of issues from the Syrian civil war to the Benghazi terror attacks.

Cheney, a Republican vice president from 2001 to 2009 under the Bush administration, told “Fox News Sunday” the National Security Agency-led programs have to remain confidential to keep the information from enemies and that he and other U.S. intelligence officials were concerned about a nuclear attack.

“It was 19 guys with box cutters and airplane tickets,” but the next time it could have been a “nuclear attack,” the 72-year-old Cheney said.

He said former NSA contractor Edward Snowden exposing the gathering of information on phone calls and emails has done “enormous damage” to the United States' anti-terror programs and called Snowden a “traitor.”

Cheney also said top Capitol Hill lawmakers participated in the drafting of the Patriot Act.

“We did it in my office in the West Wing,” he said.

Cheney also said the lawmakers advised him not to seek further congressional oversight for fear of leaks and argued that 9/11 attacks in which terrorists killed roughly 3,000 people by hijacking commercial jets and slamming them into the Pentagon and the World Trade Center likely could have been foiled had the surveillance plan already been in place.

Cheney’s strongest criticism was directed at Obama.

“I’m obviously not a fan,” he told Fox.

Cheney said the president has not been “standup” and “forthright” about the Sept. 11, 2012, terror attacks on a U.S. outpost in Benghazi, Libya, in which U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans were killed.

The sharpest criticism has been about whether the administration had adequate security before the attacks, made every attempt to rescue the Americans and about why officials in the aftermath of the attacks scrubbed intelligence information suggesting they were terror related and instead said they were sparked by an anti-Islamic video.

Cheney acknowledge the two-year Syrian war in which rebels are trying to overthrow the regime of President Bashar al Assad is a complex situation but said it has not been “well handled” by the administration and that Obama “lacks credibility.”

In the 30-minute interview that focused largely on Washington politics and foreign affairs, Cheney also talked about his long struggle with heart disease and how a heart transplant in 2012 changed his life.

Cheney said he was "near death" before receiving a battery-operated heart pump in 2011. The pump kept him alive for 20 months until he received the transplant.

He said the change in health now is "nothing short of a miracle" and that he now wakes up "with a smile on my face, thankful for the gift of another day I never expected to see."

Cheney signed a deal last year to write a book about his history with heart disease, which contributed to five heart attacks -- the first came at 37 and the most recent in 2010.

He said the IRS targeting Tea Party groups and other politically-conservative organizations was a "gross abuse of power." He also said flagging the groups for additional scrutiny when they were applying for tax-exempt status was "politically motivated."