Remember When Obama Thought the FISA Amendments Act Was Imperfect?

Four years ago, when Obama caved and supported the FISA Amendments Act, he said in part,

I want to take this opportunity to speak directly to those of you who opposemy decision to support the FISA compromise.

This was not an easy call for me. I know that the FISA bill that passed the House is far from perfect. I wouldn’t have drafted the legislation like this, and it does not resolve all of the concerns that we have about President Bush’s abuse of executive power. It grants retroactive immunity to telecommunications companies that may have violated the law by cooperating with the Bush Administration’s program of warrantless wiretapping. This potentially weakens the deterrent effect of the law and removes an important tool for the American people to demand accountability for past abuses.

[snip]

Given the choice between voting for an improved yet imperfect bill, and losing important surveillance tools, I’ve chosen to support the current compromise. I do so with the firm intention — once I’m sworn in as President — to have my Attorney General conduct a comprehensive review of all our surveillance programs, and to make further recommendations on any steps needed to preserve civil liberties and to prevent executive branch abuse in the future.

[snip]

I do promise to listen to your concerns, take them seriously, and seek to earn your ongoing support to change the country. That is why we have built the largest grassroots campaign in the history of presidential politics, and that is the kind of White House that I intend to run as President of the United States — a White House that takes the Constitution seriously,conducts the peoples’ business out in the open, welcomes and listens to dissenting views, and asks you to play your part in shaping our country’s destiny.

Since that time, Obama’s DOJ has litigated the FISA Amendments Act so aggressively that it has, in fact, completely gutted the deterrent effect of the law. It has refused to share with all of Congress what activities the government actually conducts under the law, much less with American citizens. It has refused to tell Congress–even the Intelligence Committees–how many Americans have been spied on under the program. And it has been caught violating the Fourth Amendment.

And yet here’s what Obama’s Administration said today about the extension for the FISA Amendments Act, which essentially will extend the bill Candidate Obama once admitted still had problems for five years, all the way through his second term.

The Administration strongly supports H.R. 5949. The bill would reauthorize Title VII of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which expires at the end of this year. Title VII of FISA allows the Intelligence Community to collect vital foreign intelligence information about international terrorists and other important targets overseas, while providing protection for the civil liberties and privacy of Americans. Intelligence collection under Title VII has produced and continues to produce significant information that is vital to defend the Nation against international terrorism and other threats. The Administration looks forward to working with the Congress to ensure the continued availability of this critical intelligence capability.

Change we can believe in.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

15 replies
  1. MadDog says:

    Funny how promoting change in the status quo as a theme for election morphs into maintaining the status quo as a theme for re-election.

    And we the voting public aren’t supposed to notice.

  2. bmaz says:

    Shit, I am so old, I remember a young aggressive and opportunistic Senator named Obama threatening to filibuster the FAA.

    Must have been a different chap.

  3. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Hopey Changey? Wasn’t he one of the seven dwarves? Or was he Wimpy’s friend, who also perennially promised to pay on Tuesday for the hamburgers he “borrowed” and got fat on today? Guess not.

  4. OrionATL says:

    the image that came to mind immediately was of an oily, slick serpent.

    but that image is unfair to snakes; their scales are dry, clean, and smooth.

  5. earlofhuntingdon says:

    @bmaz: That’s probably unfair to Dopey, Sneezy and the gang. Despite his marketing pizaz, I’d guess Mr. Obama worked for the castle, not in the mines with the dwarves.

  6. What Constitution says:

    Nah, that was just “Then Obama”. And you can only get to “Then Obama” by Looking Backward — which was ruled out by “Just Now Obama” in order to posit “Soon Obama”, who is running for President. When? Just now — for the Future.

    Mel Brooks captured it in Spaceballs, of course.

  7. Bob In Portland says:

    For all the talk about Obama being a socialist Kenyan Communist out to destroy America has anyone considered how the Senate Republicans handled that same FISA vote? Knowing that there was a really good chance that this Kenyan was going to win the White House they nevertheless voted (either unanimously or nearly unanimously) to pass FISA.

    How come? Because the power of FISA doesn’t reside with the President, it resides in the intelligence community. The President doesn’t have the pay grade to use that power. Presidents over the last half-century who crossed the intelligence community haven’t done so well.

    As I recall, in the week before Obama changed his position his campaign plane had engine problems and had to have an emergency landing, and then the Secret Service turned off the metal detectors at a big campaign rally in DALLAS.

  8. rg says:

    Not at all sure that “caving” is the correct verb. Getting the narrative right is important for figuring out what to do about things. To cave is to suggest taking a principled stand only to abandon it for some reason, even a reason like that proposed by Bob @ 10. My sense of O is that he writes a great speech, having the knack of knowing exactly how to phrase things to get support, only to abandon that “position”, and taking contrary action. This narrative eliminates the pose of a principled stand, replacing it with a more cynical, exploitive model.

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