Critics speaking out on Obama’s NSA ‘reform’

"We really did need a decision on Friday, and what we got was lots of uncertainty," says Rep. Mike Rogers.

James Comey, CIA Director John Brennan, and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper sit together in the front row before President Barack Obama spoke about National Security Agency (NSA) surveillance, Friday, Jan. 17, 2014, at the Justice Department in Washington. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

James Comey, CIA Director John Brennan, and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper sit together in the front row before President Barack Obama spoke about National Security Agency (NSA) surveillance, Friday, Jan. 17, 2014, at the Justice Department in Washington. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Leaders of the congressional intelligence committees are pushing back against a key part of President Barack Obama’s attempt to overhaul U.S. surveillance, saying it is unworkable for the government to let someone else control how Americans’ phone records are stored.

Obama, under pressure over the controversy over government spying, said last week he wants bulk phone data stored outside the government to reduce the risk that the records will be abused.

Rep. Mike Rogers, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said Sunday that Obama had intensified a sense of uncertainty about the country’s ability to root out terrorist threats. Obama didn’t say who should have control of Americans’ data; he directed the attorney general and director of national intelligence to find a solution within 60 days.

“We really did need a decision on Friday, and what we got was lots of uncertainty,” Rogers, R-Mich., said. “And just in my conversations over the weekend with intelligence officials, this new level of uncertainty is already having a bit of an impact on our ability to protect Americans by finding terrorists who are trying to reach into the United States.”

The president also said he will require a special judge’s advance approval before intelligence agencies can examine someone’s data and will force analysts to keep their searches closer to suspected terrorists or organizations.

“And I think that’s a very difficult thing,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee. “Because the whole purpose of this program is to provide instantaneous information to be able to disrupt any plot that may be taking place.”

Under the surveillance program, the NSA gathers phone numbers called and the length of conversations, but not the content of calls. Obama said the NSA sometimes needs to tap those records to find people linked to suspected terrorists. But he said eventually the bulk data should be stored somewhere out of the government’s hands. That could mean finding a way for phone companies to store the records, though some companies have balked at the idea, or it could mean creating a third-party entity to hold the records.

Feinstein, D-Calif., said many Americans don’t understand that threats persist a dozen years after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

“New bombs are being devised. New terrorists are emerging, new groups. Actually, a new level of viciousness. And I think we need to be prepared,” Feinstein said.

The lawmakers did praise the president for his defense of the National Security Agency’s surveillance programs.

“First, I thought it was very important that the president laid out no abuses, this was not an illegal program, it wasn’t a rogue agency,” Rogers said.

The surveillance programs have been under fire since former NSA analyst Edward Snowden absconded with an estimated 1.7 million documents related to surveillance and other NSA operations, giving the documents to journalists around the world. Revelations in the documents sparked a furor over whether Americans have been giving up privacy protections in exchange for intelligence-gathering on terrorism.

Congress will have a lot of say in how and whether Obama’s ideas are carried out.

Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt. and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has proposed to end the NSA’s bulk data collection program, putting him at odds with Feinstein. Leahy said senators would have many questions for Attorney General Eric Holder when he comes before the Judiciary Committee next week.

Yet Leahy suggested Sunday he might not challenge the president on allowing the NSA’s surveillance programs to continue.

“No, I think we have a way that we could do this, but it’s not a question of fighting the president,” Leahy said on Fox. “The question is, what is Congress going to do on this? … I just think that there should be an oversight.

“I mean, I was a prosecutor for eight years; I believe in going after the bad guys,” Leahy said. “And I realize this is an entirely different level of the bad guys that I went after, but you still have to have some checks and balances, or you have a government that can run amok.”

The chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, Rep. Michael McCaul, said that Obama was moving in the right direction.

“I think what gave most Americans heartburn was that this data was being stored under the NSA and warehoused under the government,” said McCaul, R-Texas.

But McCaul allowed, “I think it’s very difficult to decide who has the capability to store and use this data.”

Sen. Mark Udall, another critic of the NSA surveillance program, praised the president’s ideas and said the limitations Obama proposed mean that “we won’t collect every Americans’ phone records almost every day.”

Udall, D-Colo. and a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said Congress has a real motivation to make meaningful changes to the program because authority to conduct the spying under post-9/11 laws expires next year. “So we have real motivation to get it right and to work together,” Udall said.

Feinstein and Rogers appeared on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” Rogers also appeared on CNN’s “State of the Union” and CBS’ “Face the Nation.” McCaul appeared on ABC. Leahy appeared on “Fox News Sunday.” Udall appeared on CBS.
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One Response to "Critics speaking out on Obama’s NSA ‘reform’"

  1. woody188  January 20, 2014 at 11:28 am

    One, the government is lying about storing call content. They don’t need the massive Utah facility for metadata. That data center would be able to store the metadata of a thousand years worth of calls for the entire world. It’s capabilities far outpace the need to store metadata.

    Two, astute observers might notice that no one is following their oath of office by defending the NSA instead of the Constitution. The data should be targeted upon warrant on specific numbers and people, not some all encompassing dragnet. This is what Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act states. This is not what the government has interpreted Section 215 to mean. This dragnet of everyone on the planets data is why the program is unconstitutional and why people are angry, not where the dragnet data is stored.

    Three, the all encompassing dragnet has also been cited as an impediment to finding actual terrorist activities due to the time and resources wasted on completely innocent conversations between grandmothers and their families. Finding the needle in the haystack is easier without all the extra hay.

    Four, the government claims terrorist plots have been thwarted due to the dragnet, but fail to provide any actual evidence of their claims.

    Five, the government has used the dragnet data to prosecute lesser crimes, and trained their agents to lie in court about how they obtained their case leads.

    Six, most if not all recent “terrorist” plots have turned out to be orchestrated by FBI informants and FBI agents providing the lion’s share of material and data support. They create the terrorist plot, then encourage someone else to act upon it, then arrest the unsuspecting stooge.

    Seven, why can’t the major corporate media find anyone to counter and refute government claims?

    We citizens need to think and find out things for ourselves. Demand proof, not assurances. Restore the Constitution, or be declared illegitimate!

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