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Obama faces spying critics

By JOSH LEDERMAN
August 2, 2013

NSA leaker Edward Snowden, center, attends a news conference at Moscow's Sheremetyevo Airport with Sarah Harrison of WikiLeaks, left, Friday. The whole time Snowden has been seeking asylum,  (AP Photo/Human Rights Watch, Tanya Lokshina, File)

NSA leaker Edward Snowden, at news conference at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport with Sarah Harrison of WikiLeaks.
(Human Rights Watch, Tanya Lokshina, File)

Struggling to salvage a massive surveillance program, President Barack Obama faced congressional critics of the National Security Agency’s collection of Americans’ telephone records Thursday as snowballing concerns made new limitations on the intelligence effort appear increasingly likely.

Obama and Vice President Joe Biden joined lawmakers on both sides of the issue for an Oval Office meeting designed to stem the bleeding of public support and show Obama was serious about engaging. Among the participants were the NSA’s most vigorous congressional supporters — the top Democrats and Republicans in the House and Senate intelligence panels — alongside its most stern critics, including Democratic Sens. Ron Wyden of Oregon and Mark Udall of Colorado.

The lawmakers departed the rainy White House grounds without speaking to reporters. But in interviews later, they said there was a consensus that the surveillance efforts are suffering from perception problems that have undercut trust among the American people.

“There is openness to making changes,” said Rep. C.A. “Dutch” Ruppersberger of Maryland, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee.

Sen. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, top Republican on the Senate’s intelligence panel and a strong NSA defender, said Obama and the lawmakers didn’t agree to take specific steps but brought up a number of proposals that will be fleshed out over the August congressional recess.

“A lot of ideas were thrown out,” Chambliss told The Associated Press. “Nothing was concluded.”

Wyden, in an interview, said he and Udall had sought to convince Obama of the urgency of addressing rising concerns. He said he proposed strengthening the government’s ability to get emergency authorization to collect an individual’s phone records, so that pre-emptive collection of everyone’s records would no longer be necessary.

“I felt that the president was open to ideas — and we’re going to make sure he has some,” Wyden said after returning to Capitol Hill.

Wyden and two Senate colleagues also unveiled legislation Thursday to overhaul the secret federal court that oversees the programs, which critics decry as largely a rubber stamp. The senators aim to make the court created under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA, more adversarial by creating a special advocate who could argue for privacy during closed-door proceedings and appeal decisions. A companion bill would diversify the court’s bench by ending the chief justice’s sole authority to pick its judges.

“These bills do not compromise national security, but they put a necessary opposing view in the FISA court and assure ideological diversity of judges,” said Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M. Another of the bill’s sponsors, Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said the Obama administration was receptive to the ideas, although White House officials declined to comment.

Debate over the line between counterterrorism and invasion of privacy has been heating up since former government contract systems analyst Edward Snowden leaked classified documents exposing the NSA’s monumental capability to sweep up data about phone and Internet use, including programs that store years of phone records on virtually every American. Snowden’s revelations have prompted a national rethinking over government surveillance powers that have grown since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Russia decided on Thursday to grant temporary asylum to Snowden, who has been in a Moscow airport hotel for more than a month, despite America’s insistence that the fugitive be sent home to face prosecution on espionage charges.

In Washington, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., said he stressed to Obama the role Congress must play in ensuring that U.S. spying isn’t infringing on Congress’ intent or on civil liberties. He said his committee would further probe the issue, including in a classified hearing he’s hoping to hold in September.

Extending its efforts to defend the programs to the public, the White House pledged to help Americans understand as much as possible about how they work, even as it staunchly defended their efficacy in keeping a post-9/11 America safe.

“That process will continue,” said White House spokesman Jay Carney. “But I don’t think that we can sensibly say that programs designed to protect us from terrorist attack are not necessary in this day and age.”

The more information about the programs the government has released, the more it has fed even greater concerns about the scope of the surveillance and whether Obama’s national security team has been truthful in describing it publicly in the past.

After the administration on Wednesday declassified more documents about an email mining program, Wyden said they showed the government had “repeatedly made inaccurate statements to Congress” about the effectiveness in countering terrorism. And new details released about the phone records program created new fodder for critics by confirming for the first time that, when investigating one suspected terrorist, the government can also examine records of people who called people who called the targeted individual — netting millions of people’s records in a single request.

Meanwhile, the head of the NSA openly clashed with lawmakers including Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., over the agency’s statements that telephone and email data collection helped foil 54 terror plots.

Rising tensions have stoked concern at the White House that surveillance programs Obama considers crucial will soon be undermined or even dismantled — despite the fact that many Democrats and Republicans in Congress have come to the NSA’s defense.

Leahy, the Judiciary Committee chairman, has threatened to seek to end the phone records program if it’s not proven effective. And Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., signaled Thursday that unless an agreement is reached on releasing more of the secret court’s opinions, he would push Congress to use its “power of the purse” to compel their disclosure by withholding funding for certain programs.

Even some staunch advocates for a tough national security stance have become outspoken critics, including Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., who helped write the USA Patriot Act but now says the phone records collection goes far beyond what he envisioned and may not be renewed. Sensenbrenner was among the lawmakers who shared concerns in the session Thursday with Obama and top officials, including Biden, National Security Advisory Susan Rice and White House counsel Kathryn Ruemmler.

The White House also was spooked by a House vote last week to dismantle the program, which failed by a narrow 217-205 margin.

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Associated Press writer Richard Lardner contributed to this report.

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Follow Josh Lederman on Twitter at http://twitter.com/joshledermanAP
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Copyright  © 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Copyright  © 2013 Capitol Hill Blue

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9 Responses to Obama faces spying critics

  1. Bill Cravener

    August 2, 2013 at 8:12 am

    Russia decided on Thursday to grant temporary asylum to Snowden, who has been in a Moscow airport hotel for more than a month,

    We really do live in a time of selfish motivation where scumbags like Snowden do whatever they want and the consequences to anyone else be-damned. Snowden was a contractor who looked at documents he wasn’t authorized to see then unlawfully took those documents and fled to other countries. He then gave that information to our enemies and is now claiming he did so because he was trying to bring an injustice to light. That’s an act of a sick evil mind and now it is reported that Russia of all places has granted him asylum.

    Our system of laws offers many legal options to disgruntled government employees and contractors that can be used to let the public know of wrong doing without running like a coward to our enemies. But Snowden did none of this. Instead in an act that speaks more to this pathetic worms ego than his conscience he gave away NSA secrets to other countries that value human rights far less then America does.

    In his stealing of NSA secret documents and taking them out of the country by carrying them first to China and then to Russia Snowden has aided and abetted the PLA and the FSB in their espionage efforts against the United States. That doesn’t make Snowden a hero it makes him a coward and a traitor. Only the naive would think otherwise.

    • Jon

      August 2, 2013 at 12:49 pm

      Our system of laws also takes a dim view of soldiers in helicopters machine-gunning innocent civilians.

      Oh wait – It doesn’t. They get away with it until someone like Snowden exposes it.

      Hmm.

      Jon

    • CJ

      August 2, 2013 at 4:28 pm

      You can call Snowden a lot of things and have a case, but “selfish,” isn’t one of them. He left a $200,000 a year job in Hawaii, stripper girlfriend, and his family and friends for the opportunity to be hunted to the ends of the Earth by the U.S. Government.

    • Carl Nemo **==

      August 2, 2013 at 11:49 pm

      “In his stealing of NSA secret documents and taking them out of the country by carrying them first to China and then to Russia Snowden [has aided and abetted the PLA and the FSB] in their espionage efforts against the United States.” …extract from commentary my brackets.

      Mr. Snowden has not “aided and abetted” our enemies. Neither entity has debriefed him or seemingly care to do so. Snowden leaked this information for altruisitc reasons, similar to Private Bradley Manning with his Wikileaks connection, Mr. Snowden through the British based “The Guardian” via Glen Greenwald’s reporting of this massive surveillance effort on the part of the NSA that goes beyond the pale of reasonble SIGINT efforts at interdicing international criminal malcontents known as ‘terrorists’.

      The PLA along with the FSB already know most of the details concerning the NSA’s massive data mining efforts. Snowden’s release of such was mainly to alert John and Mary Q. Public worldwide of this massive surveillance scheme. Seemingly the average citizen doesn’t care otherwise there would be mass protests in D.C., and elsewhere concerning this activity.

      Neither Snowden or Manning engaged in their ‘leaking’ activities for money or baubles such as the true traitor and spy, Jonathan Pollard, a USN dept. civilian traffic analyst who compromised the NSA’s ‘holy bible’ of SIGINT; I.E, the “RASIN”, the ten volume set of Radio Signal Notations to Israel and no doubt further sold off to “Red China” and the Soviet Union during the “Cold War” era all for a few shekels more. Pollard did so for money and baubles (jewelry for his girlfriend). He’s doing life in a federal slammer with the State of Israel relentlessly seeking his release considering him a hero. Pollard’s compromise cost this nation billions in mid 1980’s dollars, inflation adjusted hundreds of billions in 2013 dollars. Neither Snowden or Manning have made a cent off of their highly publicized activities. There’s no money in altruism; I.E., self sacrifice for the benefit of mostly an ungrateful, doltish citizenry concerning the compromise of one of their core freedoms (not privileges), specifically their protection against unwarranted search and seizure on their person or papers under the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution.

      The entities they’ve hurt the most and discredited are our now out of control, rabid MIC that unless ‘euthanized’ via the cessation of funding is soon to destroy the USA. So too their Congressional enablers have been brought into the spotlight of public scrutiny.

      Carl Nemo **==

  2. Keith

    August 2, 2013 at 8:25 am

    We really do live in a time of selfish motivation where scumbags like Snowden do whatever they want and the consequences to anyone else be-damned.

    Substitute the words “In the US Government” and/or “Members of the US Congress” in your frank comment above and I think you’ll have painted a FAR more accurate picture of the REAL problem facing our once proud (and free) nation.

  3. Wayne K Dolik

    August 2, 2013 at 2:06 pm

    Want to talk about scumbags? Let’s talk about the revolving door between Booz-Allen and military in the Pentagon. Anyone want an honest conversation about “conflict of interest”?

  4. woody188

    August 2, 2013 at 3:50 pm

    Just wanted to add, if the spying on Americans by the Unitary Executive is illegal, what’s the status of Obama’s assassination list?

    I’m sure they’ll assure us there are checks and balances in place within the Executive. And of course the Unitary Executive is infallible. Except when it isn’t. But that never happens. Except maybe 10% of the time or more. But we shouldn’t worry if we have nothing to hide!

    How many lies has the Administration been caught in over this spying flap?

    Does anyone still believe anything coming out of this government, clear down to the employment numbers?

    …he gave away NSA secrets to other countries that value human rights far less then America does.

    The USA tortures, assassinates and obliterates political opposition across the globe. The USA starves people and denies them medicine via economic sanctions. Use of DU weapons cause deformities and death for generations, possibly hundreds of years. The US President has declared himself judge, jury and executioner of the world. The USA spreads capitalism via military force. Consume or die. Where are these human rights supposedly held in high regard by the USA?

  5. woody188

    August 2, 2013 at 4:20 pm

    Needed to also share this:

    yes, they are collecting everything, contents word for word, everything of every domestic communication in this country.

    PBS Newshour

    The difference between these guys and Snowden, Snowden took the proof to back up his claims. The government ruined these others careers and claimed they were liars when they became whistle-blowers. The Unitary Executive has made it clear it will prosecute whistle-blowers in violation of the whistle-blower law. That is why Snowden ran, to not end up out of work and blacklisted, or worse, behind bars, tortured and possibly executed for exposing the criminal and anti-Constitutional activities of our Unitary Executive.

  6. Bill Cravener

    August 3, 2013 at 7:01 am

    For many years Snowden sought to keep his online activities hidden, posting anonymously even as a teenager hanging out on various websites, chatting with other anonymous posters about how to be on the web without being traced even proclaiming himself a spook. “I’ve been a spy almost all of my adult life,” he told the Washington Post.

    He was so paranoid about being watched that he would put a hood over his head and laptop when surfing the web in public places. Snowden is the perfect example of those too paranoid to stand behind their convictions when anonymously posting bold statements against the US and its politics and yet naively believe it could ever lead to change.

    To some people it just doesn’t matter that Snowden committed federal crimes while working at Booz Allen. It doesn’t matter that he has now given top secret classified information to America’s adversaries. This coward this traitor would do far better for his future safety if he were to just return to the US rather than run away to countries with histories of oppression, dictatorship and murder.

    What is most damaging to the integrity of Snowden is his own decision to hole up in Moscow and issue encomiums about China and Russia, that they are beacons of human rights. China? Russia? How absurd!