We Misunderstood Barack: He only wanted the Domestic Surveillance to be Made Legal, not to End It

We misunderstood Barack Obama years ago when he slammed the Bush administration for arbitrary intrusion in the privacy of citizens, in the name of the war on terrorism. No more illegal wiretapping of American citizens, he promised. But note that he didn’t say ‘no more wiretapping.’

Apparently Obama only meant that he would pass laws and issue presidential decrees that allowed the government to violate civil liberties, so that the vast domestic surveillance was legal, in contrast to its illicit character under Bush. It isn’t the surveillance that he was promising to curtail.

That’s what I take away from his defense of the surveillance on Friday. He also was being dishonest in saying that no one is listening to our phone calls. He wasn’t accused of listening to our phone calls. He was accused of monitoring who we call, without a warrant, which is private information as he well knows. When you deny the charge that hasn’t been made and ignore the one that was, you are in Donald Rumsfeld territory. It is a sad thing to see this happen to Barry.

29 Responses

  1. That is the problem with war! All sorts of tortured rationalizations begin to make sense, at least to some people. You don’t like what we are doing? We have to do it because of “terrorism”! “Terrorism” the universal rationalization.

    We will never defeat that logic. The fact that these are phony wars does not matter. Such rationalizations were used during a real and necessary war; WWII. The internment of the Japanese Americans for example. At least WWII was over after a few years and things could go back to normal. The GWOT is eternal, as they explain, things will never be normal again! That is the logic that we must fight. That logic will only collapse when the wars end.

    • Since the Chinese hacked into NSA and almost everyone else and took whatever they wanted isn’t it just as likely they leaked this stuff to the Guardian? Also, $80 billion a year is lot of money… It kind of makes the sequester look puny.

      Also, that back pack terrorist threat for NYC was actually uncovered by Scotland Yard, not PRISM.

  2. A curious thing to note with these pervasive surveillance schemes is that they don’t work. The spying has been going on for 7 years. Did it prevent the Boston bombing? The London stabbing?

    The people planning these attacks can easily cover their tracks; throw array phones, talking in dialect, the internet, etc. Also, they are dedicated to their cause and they do not particularly care about being caught. They draw from a pool of over a billion Muslims, many of whom are enraged at Western foreign policy in their region. No amount of surveillance, even if effective, can stop successful attacks.

    • I’m sympathetic to your reactions, but you have to acknowledge “their” thinking that the answer is more and better technology, not throwing up your hands and saying its all hopeless.

      In fact, by instituting and constantly refining the mechanisms of monitoring every last person, people of interest can be watched with increasing closeness as their actions become more suspicious and more of a potential threat. You can argue such systems aren’t that good, but they’ll be better next week than they were the last (“better” being a word to consider critically).

      Barry etal are accepting that case, and saying that as long as its well-managed all will be hunky-dory. Oblivious, as it were, to human nature and its track record, and those who will generate/run this closed-system engineering solution. Remember Hal and his lip reading of those smug tech-savvy guys in their secure pod? “I’m sorry Dave……”

    • “….throw away their phones”. No, that is one thing that supposedly can be overcome, see: link to motherjones.com

      I wouldn’t get too carried away without getting more information about these surveillance programs. You have to be specific. Do you want “all” wiretapping to be illegal?

      “…internment of the Japanese Americans…” When Obama does something of this nature, get back to me. Bush created Gitmo and sent people there. Obama has tried to close Gitmo and does not send people there. There is a difference.

      Using “Barry” like the right-winger do shows that you are really angry. I’m waiting for specific instances of abuse.

      I’m a big fan of Juan Cole, but this is a post I don’t entirely agree with. Not yet anyway.

  3. “Nobody is listening to your telephone calls” says Obama.

    Well of course not! There are way too many calls for some BODY to listen to all of them. That is why our government builds a massive secret data center in Utah (and that is just the one we know about). Now no BODY has to bother listening, as every electronic communication (phone, text, email, forum) we participate in is being archived! The government will decide what to listen to later! Using metadata!

    Awesome. Thanks, Obama.

  4. He’s a lawyer and a politician. You have to read every word carefully, in context, not be shy about doing some fact-checking and other research, and with awareness that dissembling is a good thing in the applicable professional ethics — the functional ones, not the ever-weaker written ones. And remember the nature and structure of the system for whom he is the current figurehead, as much of it as can be seen, at least…

    “The truth? You can’t HANDLE the truth!”

  5. I’m pretty much cynical and disillusioned by all politicians at this point in my advanced age. I voted for President Obama in the last election.
    Why? Purely out of self-interest. He and his secretary of veteran affairs, retired army general Eric Sinseki, got the VA officially to approve my heart condition as a legitimate claim for disability compensation. Bush #43 just sat on the clinical evidence in the last year or so if his tenure that my heart condition was caused in part due to my exposure to Agent Orange when I served as a naive and gullible young man in Vietnam as a medical corpsman.
    Yes, President Obama is lying through his teeth. But please tell me what else is new when it comes to a skilled and savvy politician? A politician lies to his dog when he takes it out for an evening stroll around the block.
    And why would anyone believe that a liberal politician is somehow immune from abusing his powers and eroding our civil rights? Especially a liberal politician in the midst of a terrible dilemma, namely, the Long War on Terror. He’s lashing out at the Fourth Estate and now his own fellow citizens in his growing frustration how two bad wars have become foreign policy debacles.
    But LBJ, another liberal president, acted out too, siccing the FBI and the CIA on the anti-war activists.
    But this political blowback always happens when wars go bad. It did in Vietnam: and it’s happening once again in the age of the Internet.
    As Gore Vidal entitled one of his last pamphlets before he passed away: Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace. But the promise of peace never comes. All military empires are this way. And ours is no different.

    • ‘And why would anyone believe that a liberal politician is somehow immune from abusing his powers and eroding our civil rights?’

      Because Obama specifically said so. A bit like Tony Blair – he promised so much, he looked so genuine and exciting and inspirational and different, and in the end turned out to set a new low.

  6. So it’s a choice between 100% safety vs privacy and civil liberty’s, according to Obama. Of course that’s been shown not to work as recently as the Boston marathon where the CIA and the FBI continue their turf war and putting that before country. Also how many plots have really been thwarted with the 10’s of millions of phone numbers, phone location and call length. Other than improving Obama and Feinstein’s portfolio and wasting billions, better spent on education and infrastructure, we inexorable continue toward a strong police state, all in the name of safety.

  7. I feel that, for once, we in the UK are ahead of the USA. Obama seems to be another Tony Blair – promising a fresh start but delivering little. And getting embroiled in war (not a war, just “war” generally). War makes even the best of leaders do terrible, stupid things – like Churchill’s interning of Italian immigrants and German refugees from Hitler under his infamous “collar the lot” policy, and FDR following suit with the internment of Japanese-Americans after Pearl Harbor.

  8. Things are happening now that I never imagined I’d witness. This us a momentary scandal; it will pass unfortunately, as dissent has become a lost art. This generation will only stand for gonadal rights and to ensure their feeding tubes remain in place. Only a collapse could save us now.

  9. Saw this elsewhere, too good not to share:

    Obama promised us the greatest transparency in history, and he delivered. Only he didn’t tell us he’d be using one-way glass.

  10. I hear ya, sisters and brothers.

    While yer up, could you reinsert my feeding tube ?

  11. As a ‘foreigner’ I do not find it comforting to read that the surveillance didn’t target US citizens. From this distant shore I see a parallel with extra-judicial murder by drone – it only matters in the US when a US citizen is the target.

  12. In my view the basic question is what does Obama mean by keeping Americans “safe”? I presume he means the absence of injury and death due to (Muslim)terrorist incidents. Aurora, Virginia Tech, Newtown etc don’t count. Nor do the roughly 3000 reported violent crimes that occur on the average day – 200 rapes, 35 murders, 830 robberies, 1800 aggravated assaults. And don’t forget to leave out the roughly 25,000 property crimes a day.

    So this huge expensive surveillance that touches every phone and net user helps make us safe from what? It was not a factor in the Boston incident, the Shoe and Underwear Bombers’ attempts, the Ft Hood shooting, and the feeble Times Square SUV bombing. Seems like most of the prevented incidents were FBI sting operations – no FBI, no incident.

    We tend to make heroes out of terror victims thus exaggerating the impact of the incident as a whole. This in turn provides a rationale for more security and more funding. Nothing similar occurred in the wake of the April Texas fertilizer plant fire that kill more people and caused far more property damage. And more vigorous government inspections and safety enforcement might have prevented the Texas disaster.

    Depends on what you mean by the word “safe”.

    • Late breaking epiphany. This is not about keeping us safe. That’s just cover for implementing grandiose strategies for sustaining our position of power and wealth in the world.

      As evidenced since 9/11, terrorist forces arrayed against us are tiny in every dimension. Even 9/11 required miniscule resources (and some faulty structural engineering) to accomplish what it did. As careless and open the Boston Marathon brothers were, they did not attract enough attention from the national security infrastructure to get noticed. (One did temporarily get on the terrorist database, link to nctc.gov, a list of over 800,000 names). It’s not conceivable to me that a million square feet facility is being built in Utah to keep us “safe” from this sort of threat.

      What does make sense is that all this surveillance power is being developed to implement Obama’s classified memo on the use of cyberspace for national security purposes – link to guardian.co.uk.

      “The United States has an abiding interest in developing and
      maintaining use of cyberspace as an integral part of U.S.
      national capabilities to collect intelligence and to deter,
      deny, or defeat any adversary that seeks to harm U.S. national interests in peace, crisis, or war.”

      “U.S. National Interests: Matters of vital interest to the
      United States to include national security, public safety,
      national economic security, the safe and reliable functioning of “critical infrastructure,” and the availability of “key resources.” ”

      All this NSA stuff is just an additional weapon system for our quest to sustain world domination. We’ll never give up all the other weapon systems we already have.

  13. Apparently, the laws passed under fear of “the nine one one” have opened the box for government surveillance “to protect” the American people. The President appears to be taking them to their logical conclusion.

    He noted that there needs to be a conversation and people need to start thinking about the balance between SECURITY and privacy/civil rights. And he is forcing that conversation. For over a decade, provisions of the U. S. A. P. A. T. R. I. O. T. Act (an orwellian acronym, since there’s nothing “patriotic” about it) have been expiring year by year – and the Congress unquestioningly REAUTHORIZES them every time. Regardless of who holds the majority.

    Like I said – the President appears to be trying to force a conversation of whether U. S. A. P. A. T. R. I. O. T. law is really what this country wants. How much privacy will citizens give up, for the warm fuzzy feeling of “security”?

    Tragically, the news media and punditocracy have framed this as The Eeee-vil President Obama and His Grab For Power. Associated Press and Fox, who are the sources of nearly all news, have it in for Obama, because their reporters exposed intelligence sources and as a result have been pursued by Justice. These same media were, of course, fine with Valerie Plame and her nuclear intelligence network being exposed by Bush admin officials. Those officials were Republicans and the news media was not targeted. Totally different situation, right?

    Even reliably “librul” media have initiated a war against the President personally, rather than THE ISSUE. This really disappoints me. Instead of pushing for changing the enabling legislation, or lobbying our congresscritters, or even changing our congresscritters, it’s a personal pushback against The Perfidy of the President.

    How futile. How pointless. How irrelevant!

  14. In this Josh Marshall post below, there’s a link to a David Simon (The Wire, et al) post that beautifully and clearly frames the current massive phone/internet data debate-within-the-debate. I tend to side with Simon over Greenwald here, but both fellas and their perspectives are invaluable as well as are intrinsically inseparable.

    link to editors.talkingpointsmemo.com

    • Simon’s post, as you note, eloquently gets more to the heart of the matter, but then he minimizes the immediate issue because of the superficiality with which it has been reported.

      The REAL issue, to be clear, and he agrees with in an offhanded way, is the inevitable abuse of such power that will occur. Here’s where he misses the boat: with this Total Information Awareness, the power at the fingertips of the system is infinitely more than in the past……it becomes, in fact, TOTAL, aside from those whispers you make lip-to-ear in a noisy subway station with your hand cupped (be aware that lip-reading technology is being developed and refined at this moment).

      These technologies stand only to grow stronger and more pervasive, and they are mindless and indiscriminate: In this application there does not even exist the thin economic impediment to their proliferation.

      EXAMPLE: The line item stock codes on a grocery receipt, linked with your credit card (and we already know National Security Letters have gone to the big card companies) could easily be stored in a computer to build a general profile of a store’s patronage, or to target your particular habits. To my knowledge this hasn’t been done, but it will be done once it makes economic sense. That SAME information, along with everything else you do digitally, could under the current regime of technology be mined to build a profile of YOU on an ad hoc basis, and the government is operating under no such economic constraint. Simon would say it’d take a court order at this point, but the real point is that its all done in secrecy, in the bowels of a machine, with a very limited group of (always potential) human abusers at the helm. Who’s REALLY watching the watchers in any sort of effective way?

      What Simon also fails to mention is how the FISA court has been a rubber-stamp for governmental requests to the extent they have been made, and there is plenty of well-founder suspicion about how they have frequently NOT been involved, even on the sheerly nominal basis.

      Here’s a fact for you that rather speaks for itself: From 1978 through 2012, the FISA court has rejected a grand total of 11 government applications, while approving more than 20,000.

      I could go on. Simon is correct that we need to look at the real issue here, which is the potential, and I’d argue, inevitability of abuse. Its as simple as human nature. But I’d also say the stakes now are far higher than a set of pay phones in Baltimore…… Don’t buy into Simon’s point mindlessly: do your reading and thinking very, very critically. The stakes are way too high not to.

  15. The National Security State has been running the country since Nov. 1963. Sure a fellow named Jimmy Carter slipped through a crack in 1976 and became president but his administration was soon sabotaged and he lost re-election, but basically the presidency and all other elected offices are mere window dressing. The Pentagon-CIA-NSA make all the essential decisions and the elected officials rubber stamp them if they have to for demonstration purposes only.

    • “…his administration was soon sabotaged and he (Carter) lost re-election.”

      Yes, you mean when Jimmy Cater “cleaned house” and appointed Stansfield Turner as CIA director in the late 1970s.

      Ted Shackley, the CIA Associate Deputy Director of Operations, who was forced to retire after an internal investigation found improprieties, later helped George H. W. Bush climb to becoming a plausible presidential candidate and had weely meetings with him during the 1980 campaign. Everything was done to humiliate Carter during his re-election run and Shackley’s man became vice-president.

      Shackley would eventually, as a private citizen, become deeply involved in running the Nicaraguan Contra war in the mid-1980s along with fellow former CIA official Felix Rodriguez.

  16. They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither safety nor liberty. – Ben Franklin #nsa

  17. We misunderstood Barack Obama period, the more book this man wrote the less we learned about him. He has been a gift of disappointment that keeps giving, at least he has been for me.
    Perhaps after the ineptitude of George W. we expected more, we made Obama to something he wasn’t, we expected things that he could not deliver, he was not about the “Change” as he claimed to be, he was certainly not about “hope” either.
    As the great philosopher and serial killer of English language George W. once said; “fool me once, shame on (ummmm!) shame on you. Fool me (ummm!) you can’t get fooled again”, well Americans were fooled twice in voting for W. and twice in voting for Mr. Obama.

  18. You mean “I”, not “we”. Some people saw exactly who Obama was, but they were ignored or shouted down by people like you.

    Take responsibility. Obama fooled you because you wanted to be fooled.

    • I have to agree .

      I’ve had to assume that the adoration ( and excuses) for Obama have come about because he appears so good compared to his predecessor ….but that was an extraordinarily low base line.

      Is there any way to annul the Nobel Peace Prize ??

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