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Obama on FISA Process: “It is Transparent”

President Barack Obama participates in an interview with Charlie Rose in the White House Library, Sunday, June 16, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

President Barack Obama participates in an interview with Charlie Rose in the White House Library, Sunday, June 16, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

THE FULL video of the interview is online. It’s really tough to listen to President Obama’s defense of the FISA Court rubber stamp process as saying it is transparent. In fact, it’s unconscionably disrespectful of the many Americans following this that know better and find his statement wholly unbelievable.

Buzzfeed has posted a partial transcript, including President Obama repeating the defense that the Zazi bomb plot was disrupted through the NSA and the use of PRISM, which the Administration still hasn’t proven conclusively.

Barack Obama: Well, in the end, and what I’ve said, and I continue to believe, is that we don’t have to sacrifice our freedom in order to achieve security. That’s a false choice. That doesn’t mean that there are not tradeoffs involved in any given program, in any given action that we take. So all of us make a decision that we go through a whole bunch of security at airports, which when we were growing up that wasn’t the case…. And so that’s a tradeoff we make, the same way we make a tradeoff about drunk driving. We say, “Occasionally there are going to be checkpoints. They may be intrusive.” To say there’s a tradeoff doesn’t mean somehow that we’ve abandoned freedom. I don’t think anybody says we’re no longer free because we have checkpoints at airports.

Charlie Rose: But there is a balance here.

Barack Obama: But there is a balance, so I’m going to get to your — get to your question. The way I view it, my job is both to protect the American people and to protect the American way of life, which includes our privacy. And so every program that we engage in, what I’ve said is “Let’s examine and make sure that we’re making the right tradeoffs.” Now, with respect to the NSA, a government agency that has been in the intelligence gathering business for a very long time —
Charlie Rose: Bigger and better than everybody else.

Barack Obama: Bigger and better than everybody else, and we should take pride in that because they’re extraordinary professionals; they are dedicated to keeping the American people safe. What I can say unequivocally is that if you are a U.S. person, the NSA cannot listen to your telephone calls, and the NSA cannot target your emails … and have not. They cannot and have not, by law and by rule, and unless they — and usually it wouldn’t be “they,” it’d be the FBI — go to a court, and obtain a warrant, and seek probable cause, the same way it’s always been, the same way when we were growing up and we were watching movies, you want to go set up a wiretap, you got to go to a judge, show probable cause….

So point number one, if you’re a U.S. person, then NSA is not listening to your phone calls and it’s not targeting your emails unless it’s getting an individualized court order. That’s the existing rule. There are two programs that were revealed by Mr. Snowden, allegedly, since there’s a criminal investigation taking place, and they caused all the ruckus. Program number one, called the 2015 Program, what that does is it gets data from the service providers like a Verizon in bulk, and basically you have call pairs. You have my telephone number connecting with your telephone number. There are no names. There is no content in that database. All it is, is the number pairs, when those calls took place, how long they took place. So that database is sitting there. Now, if the NSA through some other sources, maybe through the FBI, maybe through a tip that went to the CIA, maybe through the NYPD. Get a number that where there’s a reasonable, articulable suspicion that this might involve foreign terrorist activity related to Al-Qaeda and some other international terrorist actors. Then, what the NSA can do is it can query that database to see did any of the — did this number pop up? Did they make any other calls? And if they did, those calls will be spit out. A report will be produced. It will be turned over to the FBI. At no point is any content revealed because there’s no content that —
Charlie Rose: So I hear you saying, I have no problem with what NSA has been doing.

[...] Charlie Rose: But has FISA court turned down any request?

Barack Obama: The — because — the — first of all, Charlie, the number of requests are surprisingly small… number one. Number two, folks don’t go with a query unless they’ve got a pretty good suspicion.

Charlie Rose: Should this be transparent in some way?

Barack Obama: It is transparent. That’s why we set up the FISA court…. The whole point of my concern, before I was president — because some people say, “Well, you know, Obama was this raving liberal before. Now he’s, you know, Dick Cheney.” Dick Cheney sometimes says, “Yeah, you know? He took it all lock, stock, and barrel.” My concern has always been not that we shouldn’t do intelligence gathering to prevent terrorism, but rather are we setting up a system of checks and balances? So, on this telephone program, you’ve got a federal court with independent federal judges overseeing the entire program. And you’ve got Congress overseeing the program, not just the intelligence committee and not just the judiciary committee — but all of Congress had available to it before the last reauthorization exactly how this program works.

There were indeed people who bought into the notion that Barack Obama was the progressive in his bid for the presidency, but these people were caught up in the great promise of the Obama’s progressive sounding messaging, but now even his greatest supporters have given up that ghost, which came about the time he hoisted the grand bargain on entitlements.

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8 Responses to Obama on FISA Process: “It is Transparent”

  1. PeggySue June 18, 2013 at 1:28 am #

    I prefer Alan Grayson’s take on the matter:

    Frankly listening to the President defend the indefensible makes me cringe. And the requests are surprisingly small? Google reported 9-10,000 data requests in latter half of last year; Microsoft 31,000 and Apple between 4-5000 requests. Granted some of these were for police investigations but the lion’s share came from the NSA. This isn’t small and doesn’t include all the accumulated telephone data. This isn’t transparent when the public is kept in the dark and the program, the law and court decisions are classified, secret.

    Sorry, domestic surveillance without probable cause is domestic surveillance without reason or accountability. That in itself is unAmerican [which seems to be very popular--or politely explained away--these days].

    Checks and balances? Who is checking the checkers, the private contractors who determine who and what is a risk? And this is done on what a hunch, a gut feeling? Or the infallibility of the numbers game–data is God.

    Oh yeah, I feel totally safe! We’ve really gone round the bend.

    • mjsmith June 18, 2013 at 6:05 am #

      Warrants involve people involved with suspected criminal activity. In this case suspected terrorist activity. If we wanted a good strong effective Justice Department, someone other that Eric Holder would be in charge.

  2. ladywalker68 June 18, 2013 at 3:14 am #

    “Eat your peas, children. The government is doing this for your own good so STFU and stop whining.” I am Barack Obama and I approve this message….

  3. Cujo359 June 18, 2013 at 4:00 am #

    “In fact, it’s unconscionably disrespectful of the many Americans following this that know better and find his statement wholly unbelievable.”

    Couldn’t have said it better. But then, we’ve had a lot of time to think about this, haven’t we? The US AG called the drone target selection process “due process”, or words to that effect. It’s like they don’t understand the idea of skeptical and impartial review of things that are important and contain potential conflict of interest.

    What’s sad is how much of the press and the “liberal” establishment are still willing to ignore the obvious fact that these people are doing things that are in no way either liberal or justifiable.

  4. Cujo359 June 18, 2013 at 4:10 am #

    Oh, and at the risk of repeating myself – love the softball questions from Charlie Rose. If the President wanted to engender trust, there are well-known and yet skeptical journalists who could have done this interview. When you ask people to trust you without proving what you say, putting up with some skeptical questioning seems like the least one could do.

    • mjsmith June 18, 2013 at 6:02 am #

      Why do you think Charlie Rose was picked to do the interview?

  5. fangio June 18, 2013 at 12:08 pm #

    Secret programs that are transparent? Isn’t that an oxymoron?

  6. jinbaltimore June 18, 2013 at 7:51 pm #

    “Well, you know, Obama was this raving liberal before. Now he’s, you know, Dick Cheney.”

    EVEN if we take him at his word here, and that’s a might big if, he still putting us at the mercy of whomever the next “Cheney” is to come along…which says to me, he really isn’t that different from Cheney after all.

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