Following up on his comments that he was told not even to acknowledge the existence of a drone program, former White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs explained the “unsustainable” tension between transparency and classified intelligence information.

“Why were you told that you can’t talk about it? Why were you told you can’t acknowledge the existence of the program?” MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow asked Gibbs on Monday night.

“Well, part of this program is highly classified, highly top secret and quite frankly, this program has existed for many years and very few, if any have ever publicly acknowledged that,” Gibbs said. “That started — that changed a bit last year late April of 2012 when John Brennan, who understood probably better than anybody, the inherent tension that I spoke about, which is it’s not sustainable to have somebody sitting in the front row of the White House briefing room, or any journalist reading in the newspaper about a terrorist that’s been killed by a program that when you ask me about it, I don’t even talk about the fact that the program is there.”

Gibbs credited Brennan with shedding some light on the program despite layers of “bureaucracy.”

“He understood there was that inherent unsustainable tension, and that some transparency absolutely had to take place,” he said . “It took a long time to get that speech through the bureaucracy and through the government so that somebody could finally, on camera, begin to speak about what this program entails.”

Despite the need to protect classified information, the president is always accountable even for secret operations, Gibbs said.

“And again, I think that’s the important aspect of what the president said during the State of the Union was to say, look, we are a democracy, we are a country that is bigger than any one person, regardless of who that president is,” he said. “That president always has to be accountable to the people. That’s the type of change that John was pushing for in that April speech.”