Obama’s Presidential Policy Directive: Pixie Dust 2.0

Back when John Yoo was finding ways to authorize President Bush’s illegal wiretap program — especially spying on Americans who were not agents of a foreign power — he changed the meaning of certain limits in EO 12333 without rewriting EO 12333. The President didn’t have to change EO 12333 to reflect actual practice, Yoo determined (relying on an Iran-Contra precedent), because ignoring EO 12333 amounted to modifying it.

An executive order cannot limit a President. There is no constitutional requirement for a President to issue a new executive order whenever he wishes to depart from the terms of a previous executive order. Rather than violate an executive order, the President has instead modified or waived it.

I call this pixie-dusting, where the Executive makes his own orders and directives disappear in secret.


The use of pixie-dust — so recently used to justify spying on people while pretending not to spy on them — ought to give you pause when you read this passage from President Obama’s Presidential Policy Directive limiting US spying overseas (or, frankly, everything he said today, which all consists of the Executive exercising its prerogative to change and oversee Executive actions, but in no way includes any teeth to sustain such changes).

Nothing in this directive shall be construed to prevent me from exercising my constitutional authority, including as Commander in Chief, Chief Executive, and in the conduct of foreign affairs, as well as my statutory authority. Consistent with this principle, a recipient of this directive may at any time recommend to me, through the APNSA, a change to the policies and procedures contained in this directive.

Effectively Obama is laying out his prerogative to pixie dust this PPD.

And while the President admittedly would always have such prerogative, he didn’t include such a paragraph in his cyberwar PPD (which, of course, wasn’t meant to be public).

This PPD was designed to be ignored.

And I suspect our friends and adversaries know that.

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.

18 replies
  1. Frank33 says:

    The President is between a rock and a hard place. The Rock is the Secret Government, which is the enforcement agency of the Banksters, Wall Street Fraudsters, and the CEO’s of the Military Industrial Complex.

    These very important people are heavily invested in wars, political repression, and economic exploitation around the world. Universal Dragnet spying is necessary to maintain the New World Order.

    So I have some sympathy for Mr. Obama, some but not much. The Hard Place is termination with extreme prejudice. The Secret Government had to terminate John Kennedy, and Bobby Kennedy, and Martin Luther King Jr. They were all threats to the highly profitable business of neverending wars, and weapon sales.

    And to win the Vietnam War, they had to use violence at Kent State and Jackson State to scare the hippie protesters. We can only guess which other inspirational world leaders were terminated by the Intelligence Community. Salvador Allende? Hugo Chavez? Yasser Arafat?

    These days they can terminate anyone with extreme microwave beams to the brain. That causes fast acting, aggresive brain cancers. The President was probably warned by Michael Hayden. Obey or die.

  2. Heliopause says:


    Getting up that massive annotated post so quickly was awfully suspicious. That, and tweeting every fifteen seconds? I think she is Colossus, the NSA quantum computer gone rogue.

  3. What Constitution? says:

    @Heliopause: Nah, lots of people get quick reactions done all the time. Take a look, for example, at Clapper’s published comment on Obama’s speech — oh wait, he wrote that first and then tasked Obama with the job of giving a speech that didn’t deviate from what Clapper was willing to allow….. You’re right, assuming Marcy had to actually wait for Obama to give this speech, her rapid commentary is a marvel.

  4. orionATL says:

    @P J Evans:

    and senator and vice-president john c. calhoun.

    miss wiki writes:

    “… Calhoun built his reputation as a political theorist by his redefinition of republicanism to include approval of slavery and minority rights, with the Southern States the minority in question. To protect minority rights against majority rule, he called for a “concurrent majority” whereby the minority could sometimes block offensive proposals that a State felt infringed on their sovereign power. Always distrustful of democracy, he minimized the role of the Second Party System in South Carolina. Calhoun’s defense of slavery became defunct, but his concept of concurrent majority, whereby a minority has the right to object to or even veto hostile legislation directed against it, has been cited by other advocates of the rights of minorities.[1] Calhoun asserted that Southern whites, outnumbered in the United States by voters of the more densely populated Northern states, were one such minority deserving special protection in the legislature…”

  5. P J Evans says:

    ‘concurrent majority’ – the policy of the current Republican party. If they can’t get an honest majority, they’ll cheat to win.

  6. TarheelDem says:

    It’s impressive that the boilerplate for executive orders now includes its own packet of pixie dust just in case. No need for a pesky OLC having to review it.

    Edging ever closer to the Emperor’s decrees.

  7. klynn says:


    Well, Pixie Dust is one of my favorite EW trademarks. That and timelines!
    Have to say. Just went “way back” to read some of the Pixie Dust posts.

    You could write a book on PPD.

  8. bloodypitchfork says:

    @klynn: holy mother of parallel universes.
    ew..please what do you mean by…
    “@klynn: You’re dating yourself in these parts, klynn! ”

    Can some one give me a vector..I seem to have lost my placemark..

  9. klynn says:


    I’ve been following EW since her beginning and use to be quite active in the comments — especially all of EW’s previous Presidential Pixie Dust posts.

    If you go to EW search box above and search Pixie Dust, you will get to see some, not all, the EW posts on PD.

    bloodypitchfork, when you found EW, I was facing some life concerns which caused me to have to reduce my posting. EW is teasing me about being an “old” EW fan!

    Here is one worth reading linked below. However, a guide to all EW Pixie Dust posts would be awesome!


  10. bloodypitchfork says:

    @klynn: Oh. I understand now. Thanks. Having only been here a while, long term “insider” jokes/needling are difficult to decipher sometimes. I hope your life’s concerns were solved ok. I have them every DAY..or so it seems. Ha! That’s probably why my civility has been somewhat compromised here. As you probably saw in my remark.

  11. klynn says:


    No problem. Wish I had been active on your first post. I could have properly welcomed you to EW. Here’s to a belated welcome!

    Keep the wheelhouse active with your visits!

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