President Obama Says He Learns What NSA Is Doing From The Press, Then Goes To NSA For Details

from the uh,-that's-not-how-it's-supposed-to-work dept

Ewan MacAskill calls out a rather astounding statement by President Obama during his most recent press conference in St. Petersburg at the G20 summit. The very last question, which I believe is asked by AFP reporter Tangi Quemener, asks President Obama to respond to some of the recent NSA leaks, in particular the spying on Brazilian and Mexican officials. The President gives the usual long and winding answer about doing what intelligence agencies do, and various costs and benefits, but then there's this:
Now, just more specifically, then, on Brazil and Mexico. I said that I would look into the allegations. I mean, part of the problem here is we get these through the press and then I've got to go back and find out what’s going on with respect to these particular allegations -- I don’t subscribe to all these newspapers, although I think the NSA does -- now at least. (Laughter.)
Leaving aside the "joke" at the end, the admission is rather startling. Here is the President of the US admitting two astounding things. First, it appears that he and the NSA really have no clue at all what information Ed Snowden walked away with, and second (and worse), it appears that the President is admitting that he doesn't know what the NSA is doing and is similarly learning these facts from the press. This comes from the same President who has repeatedly insisted that there is plenty of oversight over these programs. If that's true, then he shouldn't be taken by surprise when the press reveals what the NSA is doing, and shouldn't have to "go back and find out what's going on." He's more or less admitting that there's no oversight and the NSA is a rogue agency making its own rules, only checked on when the press reveals something.


Reader Comments (rss)

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  1.  
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    Glen, Sep 6th, 2013 @ 1:08pm

    Part of my head is insisting that this should have been expected, that our public officials are absolutely clueless. The other part just completely blew out and it is rather messy.

     

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    Transmitte (profile), Sep 6th, 2013 @ 1:11pm

    Oh FFS. I'm seriously hoping he's just chain yanking, otherwise, he just proved to the rest of the world we're dumb as dogshit. And doing it from Russia no less.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 6th, 2013 @ 1:14pm

    In all fairness, it looks to me like a fairly expected statement that he's not aware of all the nitty gritty details and would need to ask the NSA for a detailed briefing to ascertain the validity of the accusations.

    I can certainly imagine that, for example, Obama would only be interested in hearing what the president of Brazil was planning on doing, with minimal interest as to the details how they're getting that information in that particular case.

     

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    out_of_the_blue, Sep 6th, 2013 @ 1:15pm

    Classic "I'm a fool" statement, as only other choice is KNAVE.

    I'm ready for next item. -- But you are visibly burning out your fanboys on NSA, Mike. That's part of the purpose of a limited hangout: make everyone sick of the topic so bored replaces anger, get accustomed so that next revelation isn't even looked at. You play along with that so well.

     

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  5.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 6th, 2013 @ 1:25pm

    i wonder how it feels being the best paid stooge in the world? i also wonder how it feels to be the most important leader in the world, but have to get permission before doing anything?a bit humiliating, dont ya think?

     

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    Wally (profile), Sep 6th, 2013 @ 1:27pm

    Re: Classic "I'm a fool" statement, as only other choice is KNAVE.

    Obama was stupid enough to get into a "he said/she said" argument...that's what I got from it.

    Mind you blue, this is actually pretty bad since Obama kept parroting the NSA's defensive words to the public....that was before he admitted seeing it in the press. That means when accusations flew at the administration about the NSA, he didn't ask a source conducive to the general opinion of the people about the NSA spying...which happens to be what the press is reporting..that we do not like being spied like that.

    Two things are revealed about Obama.

    1. As nice as he is, he is extremely manipulative. The first evidence of this was when he was a senator...he would always protest against a bill being passed through only to vote for its passing when it came time to vote.

    2. He has no empathy...otherwise he would have counseled with the press rather than ordering all their phone records.

     

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  7.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 6th, 2013 @ 1:31pm

    This just illustrates the impossibility of one man keeping up with what all of government is up to. Indeed the rate government is growing no congress or parliament cannot keep up to date or control the monsters they have created.

     

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  8.  
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    SpaceLifeForm, Sep 6th, 2013 @ 1:34pm

    Who is the Stooge?

    Are you referring to ootb or Obama?

     

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  9.  
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    HappyBlogFriend (profile), Sep 6th, 2013 @ 1:35pm

    Obama also refers to the leaks as "allegations" in that quote.

    First time I've ever seen that.

     

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  10.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 6th, 2013 @ 1:39pm

    Is insubordination grounds for impeachment?

     

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  11.  
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    Chris ODonnell (profile), Sep 6th, 2013 @ 1:40pm

    I think the term you are looking for is "plausible deniability." If he knows what the NSA is doing he can be held accountable for it.

     

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  12.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 6th, 2013 @ 1:48pm

    Re:

    That too. Really, the NSA, and CIA are probably spying on as many national leaders as they can. Keeping up with exactly how they are spying on a particular leader itself would be a full time job.

     

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  13.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 6th, 2013 @ 1:49pm

    Re:

    Actually he has been saying earlier that he doesn't believe the leaks tell the truth. In this case I would interpret what he says as him finding the leaks so biased that he has to hear the other side of the story or even as plain old dismissal of the leaks and finding the truth that gave birth to the rumours.

    Having national security as a religion politicians follow doesn't seem fair. Nor is it balanced... Preferably politicians would educate themself more on this particular subject instead of relying on pure head under arm political religion since it is guaranteed to be 100 % one-sided lobbying for more funding given the secrecy and thereby lack of civil concerns getting heard. If they somehow got the monopoly lobbying out of Washington, it would remove the city completely from the map...

     

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    Wally (profile), Sep 6th, 2013 @ 1:53pm

    Re:

    His source for he initial denial that the NSA was doing no harm was the NSA itself....which means he understood full well what they were up to. They told him that they were complying with FISC orders and rulings which he is privy to seeing...if it were plausible deniability, the NSA would not have spoken to him.

     

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    silverscarcat (profile), Sep 6th, 2013 @ 1:53pm

    And this is why...

    We don't let children wear big boy pants until they grow up and learn a few things first.

     

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    Zakida Paul (profile), Sep 6th, 2013 @ 2:14pm

    Typical politician, shifting blame. I would be willing to bet that there is nothing happening in these agencies that does not go through the executive branch.

     

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  17.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 6th, 2013 @ 2:19pm

    No meaningful oversight

    No meaningful congressional oversight, no meaningful judicial oversight, and no meaningful executive oversight. The NSA operates largely independent from its host government, much like the ISI.

     

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  18.  
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    PRMan, Sep 6th, 2013 @ 2:25pm

    Re:

    And this is the reason why Snowden should be given a presidential pardon on everything relating to the NSA leaks, because even Obama admits that he would know nothing about the NSA without them.

     

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  19.  
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    John Fenderson (profile), Sep 6th, 2013 @ 2:52pm

    Re:

    I'm holding him accountable anyway. We all should.

     

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  20.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 6th, 2013 @ 3:10pm

    You mean he is finally realizing that claiming the NSA has good oversight and his backing of this agency could have serious ramifications to him personally and has to say something to cya?

    Look he's been carrying water for the NSA ever since this Snowden crap happened. He's been pushing for espionage charges for whistle blowers while not paying a bit of attention to the exposures they brought forth and punishing the real criminals. I'm afraid this doesn't cover his ass but makes it all the more vulnerable. Evidently, when it comes to the NSA everyone in charge of oversight is asleep at the wheel at best or is complicit in the cover up on purpose. Take your pick, neither speaks well of what the government is doing.

     

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  21.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 6th, 2013 @ 3:27pm

    I don't buy it, he is the president, he knows full well absolutely everything that happens. This is how he got Bin Laden killed, he had the intelligence he needed. He is saying this to not get in any trouble when the NSA starts getting investigated.

     

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  22.  
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    Aaron Wolf (profile), Sep 6th, 2013 @ 3:46pm

    Re: "allegations"

    Is this good or bad? Do you think this is more like denial or more like admission that the accusations are of serious wrong-doing?

     

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  23.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 6th, 2013 @ 3:53pm

    Plausible deniability

    Plausible deniability (above) is a good thought... that special bureaucratic form of lying where the person being lied to knows they are likely being lied to, and tacitly approves of that lie.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plausible_deniability

     

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  24.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 6th, 2013 @ 4:18pm

    yea right!

     

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  25.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 6th, 2013 @ 4:40pm

    No surprise there, at least for me.
    I have known for a looooooooooooooooong time that no pencil pusher knows exactly what happens at the whole of the system, they know very narrow things about it all and this includes the president not only of the US but all other countries as well.

    With that said, it is surprising to get the president of the US that is supposed to have dozens of people to look into those things say after the fact that he get more information from the press than he is able to get from the NSA.

    Ok, I believe him, he is incompetent and can't keep a rogue agency in check.

    Now the important part, can we do something?
    Not really, unless people start getting serious about politics and start mapping the relationships that agencies have with each other and who is put in place, nothing will change,changing the president or even congress is not enough anymore, they don't get their facts from thin air it comes from somewhere and that place is where the real power is right now.

     

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  26.  
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    slinkySlim, Sep 6th, 2013 @ 4:54pm

    And this is why I am quite comfortable in my belief that the country is not run the way that we are led to believe it is run. Politicians, seemingly, are more the arbiters of fiction, facts and money. The country is *run* by law enforcement and the world is manipulated by defense and it is precisely here that the root of the problems lie - the Departments of X, Y and Z. The rest is simply a money trail.

     

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  27.  
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    Jerrymiah, Sep 6th, 2013 @ 4:57pm

    Obama is learning what the NSA is doing from the press

    Just another one of his now famous lies. The guy just can't tell the truth.

     

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  28.  
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    Dan, Sep 6th, 2013 @ 8:18pm

    So, when will you Yanks gonna impeach your incompetent (or malicious) leader?

     

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  29.  
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    Gwiz (profile), Sep 6th, 2013 @ 8:34pm

    Re:

    I think the term you are looking for is "plausible deniability." If he knows what the NSA is doing he can be held accountable for it.


    I guess that's possible, but if that's true, wouldn't a Constitutional law scholar's most natural reaction to news of the NSA spying on Americans be: "They're doing fucking what??" not something like "I dunno what's up with that, I'll look into it"?

     

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  30.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 7th, 2013 @ 1:30am

    Re:

    Sadly the ship of dunces known as the republican party is focusing on the stupidest possible non-reasons for impeachment and only serving to discredit that option when they have real actual scandals bombarding them. Guess they're too onboard with the spooks, "National Security", and the various Industrial-Complexes to touch thelegitimate reasons.

     

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  31.  
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    Horrified, Sep 7th, 2013 @ 1:43am

    Im... Horrified by this. I was having a discussion about this with my brother the other day, in relation to the fact that given Obama's last few statements about the NSA that it was teally looking more and more like there only 3 possibilites. A) That he was just bullshitting his way through and had no idea what was going on (incompetence?), that the NSA was actively lying to him (conspiracy much?), or that he was deliberately lying to us (thus untrustworthy?). To have one of those actually confirmed by his own mouth ... Thats terrifying to think that our own elected leader has no idea what his branch of the goverent is doing.

     

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  32.  
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    Further Horrified, Sep 7th, 2013 @ 2:03am

    I just followed that link to the press conference transcript. Is it just me, or did Obama basically say obliquely that he believs he's in the right and that even if 90% of the public voted no for something, he'll do it anyway?

     

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  33.  
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    ahow628 (profile), Sep 7th, 2013 @ 10:13am

    Re:

    Insubordination to whom? I think maybe you are confused as to who Obama actually works for. The American people? No. The NSA? Ding ding ding!

     

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  34.  
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    Uth, Sep 7th, 2013 @ 11:30am

    sry Maike i love you but you are jumping the gun here . Ofc he does not know every minor detail . It is not even about which president was spied on but that NSA spys in detail on every gov. in the world , friend or foe ...

     

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  35.  
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    b, Sep 7th, 2013 @ 7:29pm

    Doesnt this mean that edward snowden is qualified as a whistle blower by prez obamas own definition that `whistle blowing is when unknown info and abuses are made aware as opposed to leaking already known and overseen info'?

     

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  36.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 7th, 2013 @ 8:59pm

    Re:

    He's said multiple times that his administration has gone through these programs, "scrubbed them down" and set appropriate levels of checks and balances.. now he doesn't know a thing about them?

     

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  37.  
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    anon, Sep 8th, 2013 @ 2:51am

    Oh so that explains why any time Obama is asked about anything his answer is "I don't know".

     

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  38.  
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    That One Guy (profile), Sep 8th, 2013 @ 3:35am

    Re: Re:

    The problem is that much like the FISA courts and the 'oversight' commitee that are supposed to oversee things, he also seems to be getting his information on the NSA from the NSA, so the 'scrubbing down' was probably them just shuffling some papers around and telling him that the problems were fixed.

     

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  39.  
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    fjpoblam, Sep 9th, 2013 @ 9:33am

    That's rich...

    Best PR spin I've heard in awhile. "I didn't KNOW we were doing that." "Yeah, but we didn't MEAN it." (CIC wants us to trust that he doesn't know his hole from an a$$ in the ground. ==Executive<== or symbol?)

     

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