Completely Inadequate and Unsatisfactory

Obama Lectures Those Outraged by NSA Surveillance Programs in Speech Announcing Reforms

By: Kevin Gosztola, Firedog Lake

Friday January 17, 2014 2:40 pm

The president delivered a speech on changes his administration would support to National Security Agency programs and policies, but what most stood out was not the announced reforms. It was how the speech focused on him and what he had done and how it seemed like he was lecturing Americans who have been outraged by what they have learned about massive government surveillance in the past six months.

President Barack Obama seemed deeply offended that anyone would think he had done an inadequate job or had enabled surveillance state policies.

Like Alexander and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, Obama took shots at journalists who had reported on documents released by Snowden, suggesting what had emerged over the past months consisted of “crude characterizations.” And, adding, “Fortunately, by focusing on facts and specifics rather than speculation and hypotheticals, this review process has given me – and hopefully the American people – some clear direction for change.”

Twenty minutes later, when Obama finally arrived at the part where he outlined the reforms he supports-what he was willing to support to placate civil liberties advocates while at the same time avoiding a “backlash from national security agencies,” Americans would have been forgiven for feeling their president had just scolded them for being concerned about government surveillance run amok. It was abundantly clear that Obama wished he did not have to be there at the Justice Department giving this speech.

This reform was couched in extremely disingenuous statements about how the administration has declassified information. All documents declassified by the government since Snowden’s disclosures were not released because Obama voluntarily wanted to give the public access but because the Electronic Frontier Foundation won a lawsuit and a court was going to order the information to be released.

Obama NSA Speech: Pretty Words, No Real Change

By: Peter Van Buren, Firedog Lake

Saturday January 18, 2014 11:06 am

Bottom Line Up Front: The details of Obama’s most recent speech about “changes” to the NSA’s surveillance practices reveal that sadly little of substance will change. A few cosmetic touchups, some nice words, issues tossed into the pit of Congress to fade away in partisan rancor, and high hopes that the issue will slip away from the public eye as “fixed.” Not word one about how absent Edward Snowden’s historic disclosures the president would not even be offering this lip service, happy to allow the tumor of spying to continue to grow in secret as he had done for the last six years of his presidency.

These are for all intents and purposes just throwaways. Obama knows as well as anyone that a hyper-partisan Congress, already divided on what if anything should be done with the NSA, heading into elections, will never act on these issues. Obama can take the high road and deflect any criticism from his progressive base by pointing a finger at Congress. Democrats can blame Republicans and vice-versa, so everyone wins in the calculus of Washington.

For the record, even Obama’s Congressional changes are limp. Having private companies instead of the NSA hold data for the NSA to search? What kind of practical change would result from that? A public advocate in the FISA court? A possible, but how many, what staff and resources, what actual role would they play, under what rules of disclosure by the government would they function? The adversarial judicial process that otherwise fuels our legal system, prosecutors and defense attorneys, rules to compel disclosure, cross examination and so forth would not exist as new FISA-only “advocate” rules are created in a pseudo-parallel system. And since the whole process would remain highly-classified, no one outside the government would ever know if such advocates indeed played any role in protecting our privacy.

What was not even mentioned by Obama is sadly the largest category of all. The list could fill dozens of pages, but the use of National Security Letters without judicial oversight is one of the most significant omissions. In 2012 the FBI used 15,229 National Security Letters to gather information on Americans. In addition, not a word was mentioned about pulling back the NSA’s breaking into the Internet backbone, accessing the key Google, Yahoo, Microsoft servers, the NSA use of malware to spy on computers, the NSA’s exploitation of software bugs, the NSA’s efforts to weaken encryption that puts our data at risk to ease the burden on the Agency of decoding things, the use of offensive cyberattacks, indiscriminate gathering of data in general contrary to the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition against General Warrants and on and on and on and on, at least until the next revelations from Edward Snowden reveal even more NSA tricks being played on innocent Americans.

But the mother of all omissions from the Obama speech is this one: there is no proof that all of the spying and surveillance, at the sake of our basic Constitutional rights, has resulted in the purported aim of keeping us safe. The White House’s own review panel on NSA surveillance said they discovered no evidence that the bulk collection of telephone call records thwarted any terrorist attacks.


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    • polm on January 28, 2014 at 3:03 pm

    In fact, I knew that it would come out to be one of the same old-same old speeches that Obama gives from time to time.

    I’ll also add this:  I have absolutely no plans to watch the State of the Union Address on TV tonight, as I feel exactly the same about Barack Obama that I felt about George W. Bush;  I cannot stand watching him on TV, let alone hearing his voice and what he has to say.  

    Thanks for letting me rant a bit.

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