The Corruption Of Power: President Obama Trusts Himself Not To Abuse NSA Info

from the it's-always-the-other-guy dept

We’ve pointed out in the past that President Obama’s views on the surveillance state shifted completely from when he was Senator to when he was President. As Senator, he supported a bunch of reforms that are very much like the ones his panel have suggested — and which he’s about to ignore. The NY Times has a long article talking about President Obama’s path from an NSA critic to a supporter, and this is the key line, delivered by a nameless “former aide:”

…he trusts himself to use these powers more than he did the Bush administration.

This is not the first time we’ve seen this attitude of “I’m trustworthy, so it’s okay” from President Obama. Remember, back during the last election, President Obama instructed his staff to come up with explicit rules concerning the use of killer drones — rules that the military under Obama did not have — because he was worried how a President like Romney might use the program. Of course, once it became clear that Obama would win re-election, those plans to create rules were put on the shelf.

This is the corruption of power. It’s a belief that we don’t need explicit rules and protections because “I’m trustworthy and I won’t abuse this stuff.” But just about everyone thinks of themselves as trustworthy — and then an extreme situation comes up… and they abuse that trust just a little bit, because they can, and, hey, they’re trustworthy. And then they abuse it some more. And some more. Or, the next guy abuses it. And the next guy abuses it some more, because there’s a precedent set. If you’re really trustworthy on issues like this, then you would have an even stronger support for the rules, because you know you’ll never abuse them. It’s actually only if you’re in power and you’re not trustworthy that you fear such rules.

The Times coverage also suggests, as President Obama himself has, that the other big difference is that once he was in power, he “better understood the threats,” as well as how these programs protected us. But that position is undermined by much of the rest of the article, which suggests that the reality is that, once in power, President Obama just didn’t care any more:

Feeling little pressure to curb the security agencies, Mr. Obama largely left them alone until Mr. Snowden began disclosing secret programs last year. Mr. Obama was angry at the revelations, privately excoriating Mr. Snowden as a self-important narcissist who had not thought through the consequences of his actions.

He was surprised at the uproar that ensued, advisers said, particularly that so many Americans did not trust him, much less trust the oversight provided by the intelligence court and Congress. As more secrets spilled out, though, aides said even Mr. Obama was chagrined. They said he was exercised to learn that the mobile phone of Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany was being tapped.

This fits with earlier claims we’ve heard about how President Obama keeps finding out about what the NSA is doing from the Snowden leaks, and then having to go ask the NSA what’s really going on. The idea that the President didn’t know that the NSA was tracking the phone of the leader of one of our largest allies suggests a complete disinterest and hands off approach to the surveillance state — which is another recipe for allowing widespread abuses.

Similarly, as we were among the first to point out, the FISC ruling that noted the NSA had abused section 215 of the PATRIOT Act for years, came just weeks after President Obama took power. He claims that as he studied the programs, he found that they were important and vital and weren’t being abused. Yet, just weeks after he became President the court in charge of oversight found exactly the opposite. You’d think that if he were actually concerned about the surveillance state, he would have taken an interest. But he didn’t:

But when Mr. Obama was briefed, the case did not stir consternation. The president’s team instructed the Justice Department to fix the problem, but “this was not a central concern and he was very quick in knowing how to deal with it,” said a former administration official.

Because even if the program wasn’t in line, it’s okay, because, hey, the Preisdent is a “trustworthy guy.” And that’s exactly how you end up with an abused and overreaching surveillance state. I’m sure that the President believes he is a trustworthy guy. And there’s plenty of truth to that old line that “we judge ourselves by our intentions, and others by their actions.” He may have the best of intentions, but when you’re in charge of the most powerful government in the world, being a “trustworthy guy” doesn’t cut it. The corruption of power is too clear and too easy. There needs to be real and significant controls, and not just because you think you won’t abuse the system — or because the guys before or after you might. There need to be real and serious controls because the natural direction of a surveillance state is to abuse civil liberties, whether intended or not.

The president’s statements when he was a Senator may have just been political posturing. But now he’s President and all he’s done has shown that he doesn’t understand how a true leader handles such situations. Instead, he’s succumbed to the corruption of power.

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Comments on “The Corruption Of Power: President Obama Trusts Himself Not To Abuse NSA Info”

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38 Comments
silverscarcat (profile) says:

Re: Re: THis is probably why...

No, see, you don’t NEED to abuse any of the powers, just use them to the logical extreme.

“Oh, hey, I have the NDAA at my disposal, I think I’ll round up all the bankers of the 2008 crash, several members of Fox News, MSNBC, Karl Rove, the Koch Brothers, maybe a few members of Congress and ship them all away.”

That rule alone… Along with the NSA spying, just start using it. The only reason it’s not repealed is because it’s not being used.

Use Drones to spy on people, then have them arrested under the NDAA.

And this is why, if I was President, I would be seen as the worst President ever…

Sometimes, the only way to change the world is to be an anti-hero.

Pragmatic says:

Re: Re: Re: THis is probably why...

“Oh, hey, I have the NDAA at my disposal, I think I’ll round up all the bankers of the 2008 crash, several members of Fox News, MSNBC, Karl Rove, the Koch Brothers, maybe a few members of Congress and ship them all away.”

You say that like it’s a bad thing. However, flip that around to get rid of Zoe Lofgren, Ron Wyden, and Rand Paul…

You can see the problem. The road to Hell is paved with good intentions. Checks and balances are vital to a healthy, functioning democracy.

silverscarcat (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 THis is probably why...

But, you see? If I just go after random people (or not so random people), I’ll be the worst President of all time, simply because I use my authority as far as I can throw it and that’ll get SO many laws repealed because no one will want another one of me in there…

Yes, to get the most done, you need to be the worst ever.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: THis is probably why...

Ironically I think that might leave you better off. If you don’t trust yourself to enough to use it. You have enough morality to be uncertain about it. What you need to be careful about are the fanatics who are certain that whatever they are doing is always right. It is a moral Dunning?Kruger effect.

out_of_the_blue says:

Hey, Mike: all users here trust YOU to not abuse the info you get!

IP address and email addresses are sensitive in my view because can pretty nearly directly identify someone. And IF you were malicious, then you could cause annoyance or worse. So every one who visits here must just trust you to not, say, pay for an email storm, make up and send fake emails alleging romantic involvement, or pay to bombard IP address by a bot net…

Civilization works on trust.

Only real difference with Obama is scale. You’re small and could be sued.

However, major objection here is obviousness and that this isn’t — according to your About page — a political blog.

Oddly, I’ve been psychic yet again for tagline:


Running an item after it’s come out in NYTimes isn’t on the leading edge of The Resistance, it’s on the trailing edge of The Establishment.

10:55:20[l-026-2]

Anonymous Coward says:

Obama has already shown me he can’t be trusted to keep his word. He made a ton of words during his election campaigns. Problem with that is some of those words were promises he would do after he got elected.

GITMO is still open.
Afghanistan is finally winding down, while into his second term.
I am amazed he could udder the word transparency. He doesn’t know the meaning.

There are a ton of these, which have not been done or accomplished. They were just words for him to use to get in office.

I trust his judgement on matters even less. His actions speak far louder than his words.

Koby says:

If Obama, upon entering office, learned from security briefings that he would immediately break his campaign promises, then the honorable thing to do would be for him to resign. But of course Obama is just a career politician. Anyone who believes that Obama has been shocked or outraged over any NSA wrongdoing is deceiving themselves: the only person to suffer any punishment, firing, or prosecution is Edward Snowden.

David says:

Re: You all assume that he had some room to change things

He ran for president. One possible consequence of that is to have to act as a president. If he does not have what it takes to do so, he should not have run.

Yes, JFK might have lived longer if he had not turned against Hoover. But your oath of office and allegiance is not just empty words: it is a solemn and important duty that may come with drawbacks. If it didn’t, there would be no point in demanding the oath.

Snowden kept his oath, at great personal cost. Obama is too much of a coward and opportunist to keep his. And as opposed to his predecessor, I?think he does have the mental capacity to know quite well what he is doing. And most importantly, what he is not doing.

Beech says:

Next time

So now the question is, how do we keep the cycle from repeating? Another candidate who wins based on a platform of stopping all these terrible abuses, then remembers how incredibly trustworthy he is in comparison to Obama. “Of course I won’t abuse all these powers, I’m a great guy! There’s a minimum of 4 years before I have to worry about curbing them! Think of all the terrorisms i could stop! Good thing such a great guy got elected, and not that other jerk who thinks exactly the same way about himself!”

Capt ICE Enforcer says:

Vote for

Hey everyone. You should vote for me to be your next President. I retire from the Air Force in two years. I hate politics, I will be corrupt but I am different because I am honest about it. Hire me for US President. I seen how current politics work. I hate it, and as an enlisted man I don’t play politics well. If your an idiot I will call you out on it. And I am smart enough to know that I am stupid and need all of your help.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Not voting means that you are automatically giving the next person who will vote that much more influence over who gets elected. The less people who vote, the more their individual vote counts.

Find someone to vote for who at least sounds like they might reform things, even if that person has no chance to be elected. At least then there is that extra bit of support for someone other than the main characters, and a slightly better chance that it will be noticed that people are unhappy with the status quo. Better to be heard than to be silent.

FM Hilton (profile) says:

Corruption and power

It’s a means to the ends-just because he looks and talks like he can be trusted, don’t be so damned naive about the capacity for corruption in any man/woman.

If he weren’t at least a little corrupt to begin with in the first place, he would not have become a politician, and those people are the very first to become corrupt, surrounded by yes-people, soft money and the lure of ‘more and more’ power and money.

Remember, it takes a special kind of moral corruption and power hunger to want to be a politician-especially as President.Who wouldn’t want that kind of power?

Who wouldn’t be seduced by it?

After all, the President of the US is pretty powerful, and when you’re the one who holds the key to the black suitcase, you can do damned well whatever you want within some very extreme limits-but as long as you can seem to be incorruptible.

Talk is cheap; actions speak louder than words, and he’s been lying to us for a very long time by his actions on his campaign promises.

In other words, the same old shit in a different suit.

We were just swayed by the idea that a black man could be better than any white one in the office-as if the difference in pigmentation makes them exempt from corruption, or less likely to become corrupt/power hungry.

It doesn’t. Same old human problems under the skin.

Pragmatic says:

Re: Corruption and power

Politics is a dirty job but someone has to do it. This is the problem with hating the government instead of taking control of it; you end up creating a political vacuum in which only the people willing to become politicians make it, and the most successful ones are the ones who kowtow to the establishment.

And the establishment wants you to hate government and distrust politicians so you stop voting, leaving only those people who are willing to advance the establishment’s – or their favorite firebrand’s – agenda to actually vote. Ergo, the same people keep getting back in.

Only by creating a political environment in which the most successful politicians are the ones who serve the people best can we ever hope to effect a change.

If you don’t like the current crop of politicians, run for election. And be willing to hold the ones who are in power to account.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Corruption and power

People stop voting because they swallow the propaganda that voting for a 3rd party candidate will be “throwing away their vote” – but on the contrary, proven public support of a minor party often leads to the major parties adopting some of its ideas in an attempt to re-capture those voters.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Shortsighted thinking

Say, for the sake of argument, that he honestly and truly believes that he would never abuse the power he’s been granted and is wanting more of… can he say the same for the guy after him? What about the person after him, and the one after them?

It’s not like the power he’s so sure he’d ‘never abuse’ just goes away with a new president, come the next election those same powers are now in the hands of someone completely different, someone who may not be as ‘honest’ and ‘trustworthy’, yet at that point it’s completely out of his control, he can’t do a thing about it, and what’s more, even trying will (rightly) have people asking him, ‘If it’s such a problem, why didn’t you fix it when you were in office? Why is it that when you were the one with the power, powers you helped increase, it wasn’t an issue, but now it is?’

As the article points out, if he was so sure that he, or those in his administration would never abuse the powers he has and is asking for, he’d have no problems whatsoever putting clear, strict rules and punishments in place to prohibit such abuse, refusing to do so just makes it abundantly clear that despite such ‘honestly’, they do plan to abuse the powers.

Ninja (profile) says:

Re: Shortsighted thinking

I for one would not trust myself to yield unlimited power in a fair manner (we all have our bias and distortion that will make us bad at handling such powers). He’s no different.

In my case fans of One Direction and Justin Bieber would be crying since I”d have given them death penalty for offensively bad singing. /randomanduneededbashing

Anonymous Coward says:

“but when you’re in charge of the most powerful government in the world, being a “trustworthy guy” doesn’t cut it.”

possibly not, that’s why there is a congress, and judicial system, and Constitution, FISC, Voters, and Opposition party, and a few thousand other checks and balances.

he might be powerful, (by popular vote), but his power is far from absolute, as you well know.
Anyone in power has the potential for corruption, but having power does not assume corruption, the two are not tied you can be one without the other.

But its a pointless argument saying if your in a position of power you would abuse it, and what does Obama have to achieve ? Don’t you think he’s done will ladder climbing ??

Do you think the president needs your pizza order over the phone for him to gain more power? or wealth or whatever it is you think he would gain. (what is that anyway?)

Anonymous Coward says:

Saw it coming...

If you didn’t see Obama and his BS coming then you were and maybe still are defacto sheep! Same goes for anyone who still likes Bush! Bush perpetrated (with the complicit consent of congress and the American sheeple) the greatest crime in the war on terror by forming DHS. They have committed far more crimes against the citizenry than any attack in history by a foreign power/group on American soil.

Where did “Give me Liberty or Give me Death!” go?

Motherland/Fatherland/Homeland! This is the crockery of the type of “patriotism” that George Washington WARNED about in his farewell address!

We need patriots like Snowden, not patriotic people that follow their government into oblivion!

Pragmatic says:

The idea that the President didn’t know that the NSA was tracking the phone of the leader of one of our largest allies suggests a complete disinterest and hands off approach to the surveillance state — which is another recipe for allowing widespread abuses.

He’s probably being blackmailed over something. Surely nobody is that naive? Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice…

And he freaks out when this stuff is revealed instead of reining it in? Someone’s got some ‘splaining to do!

Anonymous Coward says:

I felt the writing was on the wall a long time ago. Obama always seemed more of an opportunist than an ideologue. For instance, he made his opposition to the Iraq war the centerpiece of his campaign. Yet he didn’t start criticising the war until long after the invasion, when the public had already turned against the war.

That’s a fine example of strategic silence. By withholding comment until later, Obama skillfully hedged his bets: had the war gone well, I’m sure he would have claimed to support the Iraq invasion instead of becoming the fierce critic.

And despite positioning himself as the great “antiwar” candidate, as president Obama oversaw the controversial assassination-by-dronestrike program, waged war on Libya (against the wishes of Congress) and tried to instigate war against both Syria and Iran.

So the huge disconnect between Obama’s promises and his actions regarding the NSA spy “scandal” just follows the same course as everything else he promised. Why are people even surprised at Obama for getting caught lying yet again?

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