• Obama NSA Speech: Pretty Words, No Real Change

    January 18, 2014

    Tags: , , ,
    Posted in: Democracy

    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.

    But let’s get specific.

    Announced Changes

    Obama announced that the U.S. will no longer electronically surveil allied, friendly, heads of state. So, Americans, the only documented way to protect yourself from NSA spying is to be chosen as leader of another country. Note that Obama did not specify what he means by allied and friendly (Turkey? Iraq? Brazil?), and he clearly did not outlaw spying on a head of state’s closest advisors, cabinet members, secretaries, code clerks and the like. This is simply a gesture; it is unlikely that any of German head of state Andrea Merkel’s cell phone conversations revealed much terrorist information anyway. Worldwide reaction, the audience to which this was aimed, has been tepid and unconvinced.

    The secret Foreign Intelligence and Surveillance Court (FISA) will need to grant the NSA permission to search the phone records metadata database. Most significant here is that the NSA will continue to compile the database itself. Use of the FISA court remains just the illusion of a check and balance, because either the government is very good at making its case, or the court has become a rubber stamp: that secret FISA court approved all 1,789 requests submitted to it in 2012. Of key importance is the question of what constitutes a “search” and a “record.” FISA decisions and Department of Justice internal legal briefs dramatically broadened the definitions of those words such that a “record” may now consist of every piece of data collected by say, Verizon. It is very, very unclear that this change announced by Obama will have any real-world positive impact on protecting Americans’ privacy.

    Obama also announced that the NSA will face new limits on how far from a target it can search into the metadata. Currently the NSA traces “three hops” from a target: A knows B, C, and D. But once C morphs into a target, C’s three hops mean the NSA can poke into E, F, and G, and so forth. Obama wishes to limit this to two hops, A knows B and C. This is again a false palliative; if a “target” has fifty friends, the two hops rule authorizes access to a total of 8,170 additional people. And there is nothing to stop the NSA from redesignating any of them as a new target and thus allowing the math to expand the two hops rule indefinitely.

    Changes Thrown into Congress

    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.

    The last change Obama threw to Congress concerned some form of privacy protections for foreigners. Again, this is just a sop to our “allies and friends” abroad. A Congress that apparently cares little about the privacy of Americans will never pass privacy protections for foreigners.

    Changes Not Mentioned at All

    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.

    And there Mr. President is the real change needed. A massive, frighteningly expensive program that does much harm and no good does not need tweaking. It needs to be ended.

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  • Recent Comments

    • Michael Murry said...


      The gist of the noises that passed between President Obama’s moving lips:

      “It ain’t broke, but we will fix it anyway, chiefly by making sure that no one can report that it’s broke.”

      01/18/14 9:40 PM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...


      Hey, I’ve seen this movie before: Truth is the Enemy of State whether it is Iraq WMDs, Syrian Sarin gas or the NSA spying program against US:

      Obama caved to the overwhelming American public condemnation of his plan to get US involved in the Syrian civil war, which recent reports indicate was based on (shocking) lies about the source of the Sarin rockets.


      The truth is America is plagued by a corrupt government that lies without shame. Tell your representative you are sick of the government’s lies and demand Obama shutdown the NSA domestic spy program.

      01/19/14 4:15 PM | Comment Link

    • pitchfork said...


      Peter, this whole debacle has been going on since 1947. When Congress enacted the Central Intelligence Act of 1947, it opened the NSA Pandora’s box..NEVER to be put back in..EVER. I pointed out just in the last few days, Jim Garrison’s succinct analysis that our government IS run by the insidious CIA and it’s Sigint arm, NSA. Living proof is the Church Committee, the Iran-Contra, Edward Snowdens revelations, and now..Obama’s absurd acquiescence to them, the FBI notwithstanding. What we are really witnessing here is a showdown of biblical proportions. In essence, the People vs Tyranny. PERIOD. You know it’s coming, and so does the Government. However, there is something here that everyone SHOULD become aware of. The NSL debacle.

      This is the 800lb gorilla that the entire MSM establishment is keeping out of the limelight. In fact, I’ve been researching the whole background of NSL’s in the last week, and while I won’t waste your comment section on the history of the whole story, here is what I’ve discovered.

      Since 9/11, due to the immense authority granted to the Government to issue NSLs, historically, there have been few challenges by recipients of NSLs, as the nature of the “gag order” portion or the statue, required a recipient to challenge in such way as to remain anonymous in order to challenge. However, sometime in 2011, an unknown recipient(most likely an IP), decided to fight back, and ultimately ended up in the 2nd Circuit court of one Judge Susan Illston in Northern California. In response, the DOJ filed it’s own suit against the Plaintiff, declaring the mere challenge of the Statute, was ITSELF “illegal”. Can you imagine THAT?????? Well, I’ll return to that later. However, in the meantime, on March 14th, 2013, Judge Illston ruled the entire NSL authorizing Statute, UNCONSTITUTIONAL!!

      Now, while her ruling is astronomically important, unfortunately she also STAYED the ruling 90 days pending appeal by the government.

      From the EFF website:
      quote”On March 14th, 2013, Judge Susan Illston of the Northern District of California granted EFF’s petition, declaring that 18 U.S.C. § 2709 and parts of 18 U.S.C. § 3511 were unconstitutional. Judge Illston held that the statute’s gag provision failed to incorporate necessary First Amendment procedural requirements designed to prevent the imposition of illegal prior restraints. Judge Illston also ruled that the statute was unseverable and that the entire statute, also including the underlying power to obtain customer records, was unenforceable. The judge’s order was stayed for 90 days to give the government the opportunity to appeal.”unquote

      And this is where things start to get weird. In learning of this “appeal” yesterday, I started searching for any information to the status of that appeal today. Now, given the ruling was way back in March 2013, you would think there would something on the net later than that date. Ha!!

      The latest date of any info at all, was March 16, 2013, which was an article posted on Johnathon Turley’s blog, on March 16, 2013. That was #1 on my google search on 9th Circuit Docket Appeals National Security Letters DOJ.



      After reading Mr. Turley’s entire post, and every comment therein, and finding no update or anything, I just registered and posted a request for any information regarding the appeal. I’m waiting as I type for any reply.

      However, prior to doing that search, I found one more note of interest regarding the DOJ filing it’s own suit against the Plaintiff in the first suit, as I noted above. Turns out, in another court, the Judge ruled AGAINST the government, and STAYED any ruling until such time the APPEAL to the first case was resolved.


      And that is where things stand at the moment..whereever THAT is???? Like I said..ZILCH, ZERO, NADA…NOTHING that I can find, even a Docket number, or EVEN IF, the DOJ has indeed, filed an appeal. Which given what little Obama said in his speech regarding NSLs

      quote:”Fourth, in investigating threats, the FBI also relies on National Security Letters, which can require companies to provide specific and limited information to the government without disclosing the orders to the subject of the investigation. These are cases in which it is important that the subject of the investigation, such as a possible terrorist or spy, isn’t tipped off. But we can – and should – be more transparent in how government uses this authority. I have therefore directed the Attorney General to amend how we use National Security Letters so this secrecy will not be indefinite, and will terminate within a fixed time unless the government demonstrates a real need for further secrecy. We will also enable communications providers to make public more information than ever before about the orders they have received to provide data to the government.” unquote

      So, he’s “directing” the AG to “amend” how they “use” NSL’s. Marvelous. No Congressional Statute overhaul, no mention of them being already deemed UNCONSTITUTIONAL, no mention of appeal.

      This tells me something. I don’t know what’s going on here, but SOMETHING is. I’ve posted on 4 different forums and not one single reply to my request for information. W T F?

      01/19/14 4:44 PM | Comment Link

    • pitchfork said...


      Rich said..
      quote:”The truth is America is plagued by a corrupt government that lies without shame. Tell your representative you are sick of the government’s lies and demand Obama shutdown the NSA domestic spy program.”unquote

      Hahahahahahahahahahaha! With all due respect Rich..I HAVE..three letters to Wyden, who was my Senator before I moved. Even with his power in the Intelligence “oversight” committee, they don’t stand a chance. The Church committee proved that beyond a shadow of doubt. What I got back from Wyden was typical, staff written “boilerplate” letters, that all said the same thing. While the Senator “appreciates my concerns”, NATIONAL SECURITY is something he takes very seriously …bla bla bla. In otherwords..fuck you, we’re not doing a damn thing.

      01/19/14 4:58 PM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...


      01/19/14 7:00 PM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...


      With a majority of Americans now in favor marijuana legalization, President Barack Obama is now saying weed is no more dangerous to individuals’ health than alcohol.

      01/19/14 7:02 PM | Comment Link

    • Helen Marshall said...


      A retired FS ambassador claimed that we needed to listen to Merkel because Germany often disagreed with us on economic issues so it was quite legitimate intelligence gathering. Same guy considers Snowden to be a traitor. But has nothing to say about Senators who are owned and operated by AIPAC.

      Meantime, as for marijuana, it is clear that it is LESS dangerous than alcohol…and as a cancer survivor who knows many fellow patients who were able to use medical marijuana to alleviate pain, I’d just note that I’m not aware of any medical recommendations to use alcohol to reduce pain….we are so deep into our racist and hysterical drug prohibition policy (from which law enforcement, prisons, and the cartels benefit enormously) that we really cannot get it straight about marijuana even as majority opinion shifts to decriminalization or legalization. Is Obama willing to tell the DOJ to allow banks to open accounts for marijuana dealers rather than forcing them to operate with cash?

      01/19/14 7:48 PM | Comment Link

    • Helen Marshall said...


      One rather has to hope for the total bankruptcy of the USG, no? Until then, do not expect any change, whatever you may have believed.

      01/19/14 7:49 PM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...


      01/20/14 5:20 PM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...


      01/20/14 5:25 PM | Comment Link

    • pitchfork said...


      OMG Rich. That picture of Mr. Humongous reminds me of the epitome of a pompous, fat, Mob corrupted, loud mouth, threatening politician from the 30’s.
      EXACTLY like this….


      01/20/14 10:55 PM | Comment Link

    • pitchfork said...


      And then..you got the Highway patrols too…


      01/20/14 11:20 PM | Comment Link

    • pitchfork said...


      Rich Bauer said…

      “With a majority of Americans now in favor marijuana legalization, President Barack Obama is now saying weed is no more dangerous to individuals’ health than alcohol.”

      As Carney whispers in Obama’s ear…”ummm..Mr. President, Mothers Against Drunk Driving on line one…”

      01/21/14 10:41 AM | Comment Link

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