Barack Obama Will Reform NSA With Platitudes, American Flags

We tuned in to the president's "I fixed the NSA you're welcome" speech just as he was wrapping up the part where he recapped the entire motherlovin history of US surveillance and explicated his very intellectual and nuanced deliberations on freedom and security -- where shall the twain meet? For how long? Who pays for the room?

The point is that Obama is like King Solomon, the Bible guy who was like "Yeah slice up that baby, I don't even care," and also Hamlet, who was such a goddamn whiner. Oh, is it hard to be president? Sorry bud. How many American flags did Obama have arrayed behind him? Six? You can trust him, guys, there were six American flags.

OK here we go, "concrete and substantive reforms," this should be good. 

  • A presidential directive to "strengthen executive oversight" that takes into account security as well as our "commitment to privacy and personal liberties." Shorter version: "I got this."
  • Greater transparency in FISC (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court). Hold on, we have to take the batteries out of our bullshit detector. Did you know that "over 40" FISC decisions have been declassified? (There were 6,509 FISC applications from 2009 through 2012.)
  • "Additional restrictions" on the use of information about US citizens "incidentally" collected by overseas monitoring. What restrictions? Additional restrictions! "I got this."
  • This one sounds a little more real: The "national security letters" that the feds send to companies telling them to turn over data and "don't tell nobody" will be reformed so that the letters will only be secret for a short period of time. Then we guess you'll get a text message saying "Congratulations! You were mistaken for a terrorist!" Naturally the secrecy can be extended indefinitely if someone makes up a good reason.
  • Obama cleverly asserts that the metadata collection aspect of NSA surveillance -- how the government maintains a database of who you're calling and when -- was the most controversial element of our intelligence gathering capabilities. Do you think it's scarier that the government CAN search the contents of your email with little oversight? No, you do not, you're most worried that Edward Snowden knows you don't call your mom very often.
  • But this is very important, because prior to 9/11, the NSA could tell that one of the hijackers was calling Yemen, but they couldn't tell that the call was coming from inside the house (America).
  • On metadata collection, Obama is doing two things. One, data can only be searched if you are "two steps away" from a terrorist, not "three." And certainly not six, so Kevin Bacon can relax.
  • The other thing is, Obama has directed his people to figure out some way to make metadata collection work pretty much as it does now, except the government won't hold the records. "I have no idea how we're going to do this," Obama basically said.
  • "Concerns" of our allies: Snowden revealed that we spy on China (which duh) but also that we listened to our allies at various conferences. Obama promises that we don't do that anymore. "I got this."
  • Here's the one that's going to get the wingers all spitty and shouty: Obama is taking the "unprecedented" step of applying "certain protections that we have for the American people to people overseas." No law compels this, but Obama's a nice guy. "Obummer is US American rights to the terrerriss," is what we are going to hear from the usual idiots, or rather continue hearing, but with different words tacked onto the end.
  • And finally, something about hiring some new people to coordinate stuff. Big government liberal &c.

Now, we did not seriously expect Obama to definitively end any of the NSA's scary surveillance programs. Nor do we seriously expect any future president, even a president Rand Paul gosh help us, to do so either, regardless of whatever noises they make in furtherance of their personal goals (Obama has taught us well). These programs are now permanent features of the deep state. At the same time, the fixes outlined in this speech are pretty weak sauce even in light of our reduced expectations. So what do we do? One, make sure we don't elect another Nixon. And that's pretty much it unless you want to go live in the woods forever, which sounds nice until you realize there is no Wonkette there, and also that you are weak.

Last thing -- we did enjoy Obama's little dig at China and Russia:

No one expects China to have an open debate about their surveillance programs or Russia to take privacy concerns of citizens in other places into account.

Land of the Freer Than the Commies At Least.

Follow Alex on Twitter.

[ / WaPo]


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