During his press conference on Friday, President Barack Obama admitted, without giving him credit, that the reason the conversation on the NSA is now taking place is thanks to Edward Snowden.
“The leaks triggered a much more rapid and passionate response than would have been the case if I had simply appointed this review board,” Obama said, while adding, “I actually think we would have gotten to the same place-and we would have done so without putting at risk our national security.”
With public opinion rapidly eroding over the surveillance, the president still refused to concede that the program was abused:
“America is not interested in spying on ordinary people,” Obama said. The surveillance programs, he said, were valuable and “should be preserved.” The flaw, if there was one, he said, lay in his assumption that the public would trust that the “checks and balances” in place between the administration, Congress, and the courts was enough to secure personal freedom. Instead, he said, after Snowden’s revelations, “I think people have questions about this program.”
While Obama promised a to create an an independent advisory group made up of “outside experts” who will review controversial surveillance programs, it’s pretty clear that [the group won’t exactly be completely independent of the NSA, as Marcy Wheeler reports:
In the memo Obama just released (pdf) ordering James Clapper to form such a committee, those words “outside” and “independent” disappear entirely.
I believe it is important to take stock of how these technological advances alter the environment in which we conduct our intelligence mission. To this end, by the authority vested in me as President by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America, I am directing you to establish a Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies (Review Group).
The Review Group will assess whether, in light of advancements in communications technologies, the United States employs its technical collection capabilities in a manner that optimally protects our national security and advances our foreign policy while appropriately accounting for other policy considerations, such as the risk of unauthorized disclosure and our need to maintain the public trust. Within 60 days of its establishment, the Review Group will brief their interim findings to me through the Director of National Intelligence (DNI), and the Review Group will provide a final report and recommendations to me through the DNI no later than December 15, 2013. [my emphasis]
And neither Obama nor the Intelligence Committees get to hear from this Group themselves. It all goes through James Clapper.
President Obama and Director Clapper may solicit advice from notable figures in the technology industry; the president reportedly met with several leaders last Thursday, including Apple CEO Tim Cook and Google VP Vint Cerf. But with both Apple and Google implicated in some level of cooperation with the government under PRISM, the government may need to solicit input from a broader coalition of stakeholders.
So, Obama is putting the liar in charge, asking advice from those who willingly aided and abetted the spying and isn’t going to make the report public but expects this will win over public opinion. Yeah, right. If the public falls for this malarkey, I have a bridge to sell, too.