Obama Plans Cosmetic Changes To NSA: Embraces 'The Spirit Of Reform' But Not The Substance

from the as-expected dept

The expectation all along was that the President’s intelligence task force was likely to recommend cosmetic changes while leaving the worst abuses in place. And, in fact, many of us were quite surprised to see the panel’s actual recommendations had more teeth than expected (though, certainly did not go nearly far enough). It was pretty quickly suggested that President Obama wouldn’t support the most significant changes, and now that he’s set to announce his plan on Friday, it’s already leaked out that he’s going to support very minimal reforms that leave the problematic spying programs of the NSA effectively in place as is.

Mr. Obama plans to increase limits on access to bulk telephone data, call for privacy safeguards for foreigners and propose the creation of a public advocate to represent privacy concerns at a secret intelligence court. But he will not endorse leaving bulk data in the custody of telecommunications firms, nor will he require court permission for all so-called national security letters seeking business records.

As the NY Times says, he’s taking the political way out, making sure not to upset the surveillance hawks:

The emerging approach, described by current and former government officials who insisted on anonymity in advance of Mr. Obama’s widely anticipated speech, suggested a president trying to straddle a difficult line in hopes of placating foreign leaders and advocates of civil liberties without a backlash from national security agencies. The result seems to be a speech that leaves in place many current programs, but embraces the spirit of reform and keeps the door open to changes later.

Yeah, but embracing “the spirit of reform” is not actually doing any reform. It’s a bullshit approach guaranteed not to win anyone’s approval, which seems to be the way the president often operates. Say you’re going to do something, then offer a weakly compromised version of the plan and pretend you’ve actually done something big. It’s not leadership, it’s “let’s talk big, and do little.”

As the NY Times says, this “largely codifies existing practices.”

Basically, this whole charade simply dumps the whole thing back into Congress’s hands to try to push through real reform — meaning that rather than letting President Obama decide what to do, we need to get things like the USA Freedom Act passed as a starting point, followed by more significant surveillance freforms.

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Comments on “Obama Plans Cosmetic Changes To NSA: Embraces 'The Spirit Of Reform' But Not The Substance”

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out_of_the_blue says:

"many of us were quite surprised" ... "panel's actual recommendations" ... "minimal reforms"

You could have written this item three months ago. Can’t you even pretend to catch on the SAME patern EVERY time?

Alex Jones of Infowars agrees that the people who run the world are psychopaths! — But he doesn’t want to tax the hell out of them! — It’s the key silly self-contradiction of our times.


DannyB (profile) says:

Re: Business as usual

Business as usual for the NSA perhaps.

Not business as usual for the rest of us.

Now that the NSA’s activities have been unmasked, and shown to be far worse than the most paranoid believed, everyone is doing something about it.

Internet companies will be encrypting internal communications between data centers — perhaps even within data centers. Equipment, routers, switches and other gear that was not scrutinized before now will be.

Private individuals will use more encryption and be more aware of when they should.

It doesn’t happen overnight but Ed Snowden has probably done more to give internet security a kick in the pants than it has ever had.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Business as usual

and shown to be far worse than the most paranoid believed

You underestimate the paranoid!

Actually, for those of us that have been following this for years, what Snowden revealed was not worse that what everyone already knew to be true. That’s the real benefit to what Snowden did: now when we tell people about it, we’re not dismissed as conspiracy theorists.

I’m not sure why “conspiracy theorist” is a pejorative anyway. Conspiracies exist. Theorizing about them isn’t a bad thing.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Business as usual

I agree with you here except that many of those who theorize conspiracies have no concept of how a theory actually works. Theories cease to be theories once they are proven false by facts, yet many of these people refuse to accept that and hang on to them as if they were true anyway which gives conspiracy theorists a bad name. Adding fuel to this is the fact that many of these same people have no concept of Occum’s Razor as accepting the most likely explanation does not fit with their own personal agenda which of course is why many of them theorize the conspiracy to begin with.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Business as usual

Don’t underestimate the truly paranoid. I was just reading an article about “Ice Quakes” in that last really cold snap we had a week ago, and someone posted this gem:

If they really are happening everywhere during non-freezing weather, then it’s an electronic attack. VLF (very low frequency) radio waves will transduce directly into sound when they hit an object. Meteors do this – it’s called geophysical electrophonics. People have made electronic weapons that do the same thing, and they can cause objects to move, buzz, click, or ‘slip’ against another object. If they do that to the soil, they can trigger earthquakes and these sudden booming sounds. I don’t know if the attacks are coming from satellites, or what, because I’ve had to postpone all my research into this topic so that I can get other things settled in my life. I’ve been a victim of electronic harassment for many years, and they do this stuff to me all the time.

Ricnard Lyon (profile) says:

King Soloman

When I read the NYT article earlier today I got an image of a cartoon of Obama as King Soloman sawing a baby named 4th Amendment in half. This is exactly the approach he would be expected to take. When he appointed his review panel it was already clear that they were not people who would recommend radical change. Now Obama is ditching most of even their token suggestions.

sorrykb says:

suggested a president trying to straddle a difficult line in hopes of placating foreign leaders and advocates of civil liberties without a backlash from national security agencies.

He’s their boss, isn’t he? Or at least I thought the president was supposed to have some authority over national security agencies.

A president supporting and promoting mass surveillance is bad enough. But a president (and, for that matter, a Congress) too afraid of backlash from the NSA to make a meaningful effort to rein in their abuses is far worse.

What do you call a government in which elected officials are subservient to the secret police?

Pragmatic says:

Re: Re:

He’s hamstrung by a damned if you do, damned if you don’t situation. If he tries to act unilaterally he’s being uppity, or “acting like a king,” as his detractors like to put it.

If he does nothing, he’s perceived as being weak. The man can’t win. I know he could do more, and that he should, but the words “rock” and “hard place” apply. He’s a lame duck.

Since Congress is the problem, he’s dumping this hot potato into their hands and demanding that they fix it. They won’t – in this session. We have the opportunity to get rid of the hawks on both sides in the mid term elections, in which case we will hopefully have a Congress that will actually deal with this. Until then, we’re stuck with partisan squabbling in public and cozy collusion behind closed doors.

Anonymous Coward says:

There are no surprises here. The day Obama called for an investigation he named Clapper, a self confessed liar who has yet to suffer for the breaking of the law of lying to congress, to head it up. The handwriting was on the wall right then as to the action that would be taken would not be a serious consideration of reform but rather a feel good.

The idea that the feel good had to be leaked ahead of time before his speech merely clarifies this.

President Harry S. Truman had a sign on his desk that read, “The Buck Stops Here”. Obama apparently feels that the buck is good business if it makes it into the political coffers. He sure hasn’t lived up to his campaign promises. We have the best government transparency that the security apparatus can finagle, which is to say, none.

Any time it is more important to stop whistle blowers from revealing illegal acts rather than to curb those illegal acts it tells you corruption is alive and well.

Anonymous Coward says:

If the Supreme Court rules that bulk spying is constitutional, then we’ll truly be living in a ‘cosmetic democracy’. Meaning the US Gov wants everyone to think they’re still living in a democracy, but it’s just a lie.

I’m going to wait to hear what Pres. Obama has to say. If what the NYT says is true, then I honestly can’t believe all the bullshit this President fed the American people while he campaigned for President. Then he turned around and did the complete opposite of everything he promised he’d do, when he became president.

Votre (profile) says:

from the 'We are so pwned' dept.

Why can’t they all just stop trying to put a candy coating on the real problem and tell it like it is?

Truth is: they are all scared to death of this monster they’ve created – and just like with J. Edgar Hoover back in the 60s and 70s – there isn’t an elected official anywhere in the US government that has a sufficient enough political (or physical) death wish to dare try to put a leash on this puppy.

Like Dr. Dippel von Frankenstein, they’re now wringing their hands and asking: “What have we done?”

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