Obama stands completely behind the NSA dragnet spying program, and in a speech Friday, announced only slight modifications that continue to allow trampling on the Constitution. Presenting himself as the judge, jury and prosecutor, and always talking about the abuses in antiseptic language, such as “databases,” Obama didn’t talk about destroying any of the data that have already been collected and warehoused, or ending bulk collection. Instead, he outlined measures that put the program under the oversight of his national security team and future appointees.
Concretely (but not complete), (1) he announced that he approved a new, non-public “presidential directive for our signals intelligence activities” which will “strengthen executive branch oversight of our intelligence activities” by having “our actions are regularly scrutinized by my senior national security team.” (2) he directed the Director of National Intelligence, with the Attorney General to review major decisions that effect privacy of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) and maybe declassify them; (3) called on Congress to authorize the creation of a “panel of experts from outside government” to provide an “independent voice in significant cases” before FISC; (4) have the DNI and AG “institute reforms” about the use of communications collected under Section 702 (the measure called the “backdoor” loophole for spying on Americans “if a significant purpose of the surveillance is to acquire foreign intelligence information,” according to an New York University Law School publication); (5) limit the time that FBI National Security Letters can be used to gather information about Americans from private companies; (6) change the terms of bulk collection under “Section 215” with measures such as, “we will only pursue phone calls that are two steps removed from a number associated with a terrorist organization instead of three [steps].” (7) he said he will telephone leaders of allied countries to get information from them instead of using surveillance “unless there is a compelling national security purpose.”
To make some or all of these changes, there will be a “transition period” where the Attorney General — you know, Mr. Holder, who is in contempt of Congress — will work with FISC to oversee how the existing database can be used.
Again, he insisted that Edward Snowden is a criminal, and that “nothing that I have learned” since becoming President or since the exposés “indicated that our intelligence community has sought to violate the law.”
The first responses from Sen. Patrick Leahy, Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, who wants to revise the Patriot Act’s Section 215, and from The Constitution Project, a bipartisan watchdog group, are negative. In an interview with NPR right after Obama’s speech on Jan. 17, Leahy again said that the U.S. government already had all the information it needed before 9/11 to prevent 9/11 — and the simple truth is that the FBI, CIA, and other agencies did not talk to each other. Furthermore, he would not trust the NSA with any security since they still do not even know what Snowden removed from their files.
The Constitution Project said they are “disappointed” that Obama didn’t “end the NSA’s bulk collection of Americans’ phone call records,” nor “provide any specifics” on how he would alter it. Obama’s speech was a “wasted opportunity,” the TCP said.
Meanwhile, on Jan. 16, Britain’s Guardian, in collaboration with Britain’s Channel 4 reported that “the National Security Agency has collected almost 200 million text messages a day from across the globe, using them to extract data including location, contact networks and credit card details, according to top-secret documents.” The two media worked off of material provided by “whistleblower” Snowden.