Obama's will-this-do NSA reform plan left critics with plenty to say, even if it did manage to exceed expectations which were set at world-record-attempt-in-limbo height. The NSA's supporters, on the other hand, had plenty to say about it, mainly because it seemingly justified their pro-surveillance state position.
Rep. Peter King, who has called Ed Snowden a "terrorist appeaser," declared Rand Paul unfit to hold office and insinuated many Congress members may be talking to terrorists (and that's just this month!) took to the airwaves to voice his opinion on Obama's speech. As far as King can see, this whole lot of nothing was just what the nation needed.
"It was better than I expected it to be," said Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), a member of the House Intelligence Committee who attended the White House announcement and a staunch defender of the NSA. "Basically the system stays intact, even on the metadata."
The only caveat King offered was that some of the specifics seemed a little arbitrary.
"I wouldn't have put any of these reforms in place, but having said that, I think they are the minimum of what he had to do, especially considering his base and where he's coming from," King said, pointing to the limits on tracing secondary and tertiary phone numbers. "I don't know what the constitutional or statutory reason for that is, why two is safer than three, but again, I think that was a way to calm down the ACLU types. That just seemed to me like a cosmetic compromise."
Those pesky "ACLU types" and their obsession with civil liberties and privacy. Just imagine the robust surveillance state we could have if we'd just rid ourselves of the few entities working day in and day out to preserve our Constitutional rights!
But he's right. The "hop" limitation isn't built on laws or statutes. It's an arbitrary number that projects a certain amount of visible restraint on the NSA's behalf. It could hop all it wanted to and likely get away with it, give or take a Snowden. In fact, the ODNI's latest batch
of court orders shows that the NSA had already voluntarily dropped from four (or more) hops down to three as of 2010
In addition, the Court understands from the Declaration of Lieutenant General Keith B. Alexander, Director of NSA (Ex. A to the Report of the United States filed in docket number BR on August 17,2009) that NSA has made a number of technical modifications that will prohibit a) from inadvertently accessing the BR metadata in [xxxxxxx]; b) from querying the BR metadata in [xxxxxxx] with non-RAS-approved identifiers; and c) from going beyond three "hops" from an identifier used to query the BR metadata in [xxxxxxx].
There was no "constitutional or statutory reason" for this reduction either. It was most likely a good faith effort to get back on Judge Walton's good side after he halted the 215 collections for "systemic abuse" that had occurred since the inception of the program. Likewise, Obama's choice to dial it back another hop is simply there to show that the program is indeed being "altered," however slightly. But we're back to trusting that the NSA is actually doing what it says it does and following instructions from the FISA court and the executive branch and limiting its contact chaining to the stated number of hops.
Mike Rogers, on the other hand, wasn't quite as gracious about Obama's NSA Reform Lite. After speculating wildly that Snowden is a Russian spy
and simply incapable of right-clicking classified documents and saving them to USB drives without outside help, Rogers went on to do two things, both seemingly diametrically opposed. First off, he released this statement with Dianne Feinstein in support
of the president's speech.
“Today President Obama gave a strong speech in defense of the need to collect and use intelligence in order to protect the nation and to prevent terrorist attacks around the world. We strongly agree with his comments in support and praise of the professionals in our intelligence community who do this work while upholding the civil liberties and privacy rights of all Americans."
Then he went on TV and furrowed his brow
On CNN's "State of the Union," House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (Mich.) expressed concern that the president's plan to weigh privacy issues and the government's role in collecting telephone metadata has "interjected a level of uncertainty and is having a whole bunch of us scratch our heads."
Hmm. When the only good reform is no
reform, even minor reforms become majorly confusing. I'm sure Rogers is perplexed as to why
, often nonsensical
defense of the NSA has failed to end the "debate." I'm sure the president is also perplexed, having received a public statement from Rogers that literally said "great speech, Chief!" only to have every sentiment in it stripped away by the Congressman on live TV. (Or not. Politics and such.)
The furrow in Rogers' brow must have been deep enough to cut off oxygen to his brain, because he followed up his "concern" with this melange of surveillance tropes and baseless claims.
Rogers said the president's proposals represent big changes that could jeopardize efforts to keep the nation safe from attack.
He said that parts of the president's proposal are "unworkable" and questioned the president's call to look at whether the government or private sector should handle the bulk of the intelligence gathering.
The program has stopped hundreds of thousands of wasted FBI man hours chasing leads down rabbit holes, he said.
He argued that the program fills the gap "that we know we missed on the 9-11 attacks" and allows intelligence officials to dig more deeply into the details of communications.
"I just think we don't want to go to pre-9-11 because we haven't had an attack," he said.
There you have it. Not much changed for the NSA, program-wise, and yet we're now terrorist fodder. Rogers says Obama handed down "big changes," something absolutely no one
(outside the NSA) agrees is true. It's mostly cosmetic changes and empty gestures that leave nearly every NSA program completely unscathed and it was all prefaced by a multi-paragraph love note to the intelligence community.
Since the leaks began, Rogers has devolved into a caricature -- a broadly-drawn surveillance statist that spouts talking points and sees terrorists lurking behind every civil liberty. Rogers maintains his hardline on protecting the NSA's status quo even when other intelligence cheerleaders are having a hard time finding much to complain about in Obama's "comprehensive" NSA "reform" "effort." He is no longer relevant to the debate. The only problem is his position at the head of the House Intelligence Committee, a platform that guarantees he will always be asked his opinion -- and from which he can undermine further reform efforts and stymie his fellow representatives'
attempts at oversight.