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Friday, January 17, 2014

President Obama's NSA Speech Was Intelligent and Unsatisfying

Posted by on Fri, Jan 17, 2014 at 10:48 AM

You know the pressure is on when a speech begins "At the dawn of our Republic..." Below is the full video of Obama's NSA speech, and here's the full transcript.

President Obama tried to put some nuance into the conversation, saying that secret intelligence has always been a part of America's history, but that intelligence agencies also have "an inevitable collect more information about the world." That bias, he said, demands checks and balances. The speech is full of flips between Obama the man and Obama the president, which causes passages like this to happen:

Now, to say that our intelligence community follows the law and is staffed by patriots is not to suggest that I or others in my administration felt complacent about the potential impact of these programs.

Or passages like this one:

Given the unique power of the state, it is not enough for leaders to say: Trust us. We won’t abuse the data we collect. For history has too many examples when that trust has been breached. Our system of government is built on the premise that our liberty cannot depend on the good intentions of those in power. It depends on the law to constrain those in power.

The conclusions that President Obama reached aren't sexy, and they're not going to make anyone completely happy. They require agencies to go through an additional step of gaining clearance from a secret court before getting access to the phone metadata. Nobody's going to be thrilled to hear the words "secret court" in a solution. But he also calls for the end of the metadata plan as it currently exists and creation of "a mechanism that preserves the capabilities we need without the government holding this bulk metadata." There's also a sop to foreign leaders who have been offended by our international spying program:

...people around the world, regardless of their nationality, should know that the United States is not spying on ordinary people who don’t threaten our national security and that we take their privacy concerns into account in our policies and procedures.

This applies to foreign leaders as well.

It's a complicated issue, and the speech was far-reaching and intelligent, addressing criticisms and offering solutions. But the debate isn't over, and nobody is going to go to sleep tonight more satisfied on this issue than they were when they woke up this morning.


Comments (14) RSS

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Will in Seattle 1
He did not say he won't have the NSA collect US citizens data. He did not say he won't collect communications of allied foreign leaders.

He just said he will have a lawyer draw up a Bush/Yoo excuse memo and have the security court rubber stamp it and rename the programs.

Someone has to spend the $1,000,000,000,000 in "cyberterrorism" funding in the just signed budgets.
Posted by Will in Seattle on January 17, 2014 at 10:53 AM · Report this
BostonFontSnob 3
Can't watch the vid. Will this secret court include an advocate for the individual to be monitored? The current FISA court lacks any kind of public advocate.
Posted by BostonFontSnob on January 17, 2014 at 11:14 AM · Report this
I didn't listen to the speech, but looking at the excerpts you printed, I don't see how that differs from, "Trust us." He acknowledges that everyone is pissed off at the programs. He acknowledges that he's not happy with them and tells us he's going to do something about it. There's nothing transparent or verifiable there, though.

When you need to do secret spy-type stuff, or think you do, then by its very nature, nobody can see what you're doing. Well, except the "other side," which invests heavily in monitoring their adversary. Can we maybe get the Kremlin to monitor the NSA for us or something?
Posted by Brooklyn Reader on January 17, 2014 at 11:20 AM · Report this
@4, you really don't think the Kremlin isn't already doing everything they can to spy on the NSA, US citizens, and its own?
Posted by GermanSausage on January 17, 2014 at 11:29 AM · Report this
Cato the Younger Younger 6
Tyranny and dictatorial rule needs covert secrecy to exist. And it's an enigma to anything close to representative democracy of the masses.
Posted by Cato the Younger Younger on January 17, 2014 at 11:31 AM · Report this
CC-Rob 7
Notice the words "Fourth Amendment" were absent from his speech.

Posted by CC-Rob on January 17, 2014 at 11:34 AM · Report this
@6 The word you're looking for is "anathema." Not enigma. Anathema.
Posted by tkc on January 17, 2014 at 12:02 PM · Report this
dwightmoodyforgetsthings 9
This is NOT a complicated issue. The government is supposed to be for, of, and by the people. If the government keeps secrets from the people, then democracy is in danger.

Any court proceeding should be on public record. Any information gathered by the government should be public record. It's our government, it's information belongs to us.
Posted by dwightmoodyforgetsthings on January 17, 2014 at 1:13 PM · Report this
"President Obama's NSA Speech Was Intelligent and Unsatisfying"

Come on Paul. This isn't Fox News. You don't need to tell us how we're supposed to feel about the speech in the title. I'd like to think people here are smart enough to make up their own minds.
Posted by MarkusTaylor on January 17, 2014 at 1:16 PM · Report this
Fnarf 11
@9, the government -- every government ever in the history of the world, but very much including ours -- has kept a ton of secrets from its people since the very first day of the Republic. To expect otherwise is folly, unless you want every aspect of our government and society to be controlled by foreign interests, who have also attempted to make inroads since the beginning of time. Do you want every private conversation in the Oval Office, even with the military, to be broadcast over a a loudspeaker mounted to the outside wall of the White House?

There's nothing remotely new about any of this except the ease with which data can be gathered. If you think no one could ever listen in to your phone calls before, you're dreaming. They just had to run up a pole to do it. Now they can just prowl the database.
Posted by Fnarf on January 17, 2014 at 1:33 PM · Report this
Will in Seattle 12
Well, Fnarf is right that we did listen to all your phone calls - at least we did in the 1980s and we expanded that later
Posted by Will in Seattle on January 17, 2014 at 1:48 PM · Report this
Cascadian Bacon 13

I am sure His Royal Highness Barack Hussein Obama will put the brakes on the NSA, after all "If you like your healthplan, you can keep your healthplan."

Seems like if this was a white republican Fnarf would be making his usual unhinged death threats. But when Obama does it is ok because "Governments always spy."

I guess we should just bend over and take it.
Posted by Cascadian Bacon on January 17, 2014 at 2:52 PM · Report this
dwightmoodyforgetsthings 14
@11- Well if it's always been that way then we should try to change that, should we?

And yes, I am envisioning a radical solution. Yes, I want a government without secrets, where if the president wants to invade a random country we know exactly why, where if a foreign government wants to invade our allies they won't doubt we'll honor our obligations. I believe this will work better than the current system.
Posted by dwightmoodyforgetsthings on January 17, 2014 at 3:18 PM · Report this
Cascadian Bacon 15
And in other news Washington Lawmakers put forward Anti-NSA legislation.…
Posted by Cascadian Bacon on January 17, 2014 at 8:28 PM · Report this

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