Obama’s Speech, Annotated Version

Obama’s speech as written is below, with my comments (no indent) included.

At the dawn of our Republic, a small, secret surveillance committee borne out of the “The Sons of Liberty” was established in Boston. The group’s members included Paul Revere, and at night they would patrol the streets, reporting back any signs that the British were preparing raids against America’s early Patriots.

As I noted, raising Paul Revere is a really problematic analogy, because had the Brits done metadata analysis on Revere the way the government does on people who might also be called dissidents, we would still be eating kidney pie and hailing Queen Elizabeth.

Throughout American history, intelligence has helped secure our country and our freedoms. In the Civil War, Union balloon reconnaissance tracked the size of Confederate armies by counting the number of camp fires. In World War II, code-breaking gave us insight into Japanese war plans, and when Patton marched across Europe, intercepted communications helped save the lives of his troops. After the war, the rise of the Iron Curtain and nuclear weapons only increased the need for sustained intelligence-gathering. And so, in the early days of the Cold War, President Truman created the National Security Agency to give us insight into the Soviet bloc, and provide our leaders with information they needed to confront aggression and avert catastrophe.

Note that Obama presumes a war footing, even while 2 of the 3 primary foreign intelligence objectives he discussed (and others, as I’ll note) have nothing to do with war.

Note that this history lesson does not explain what higher purpose the wars — and therefore the intelligence — served. That’s important, because at the end of his speech he says it served to defend the Constitution, when in fact it was defending what we now call “the Homeland.”

Throughout this evolution, we benefited from both our Constitution and traditions of limited government. U.S. intelligence agencies were anchored in our system of checks and balances – with oversight from elected leaders, and protections for ordinary citizens.

So here the Constitution becomes not what we defend, but a limit we use when fighting wars.

Meanwhile, totalitarian states like East Germany offered a cautionary tale of what could happen when vast, unchecked surveillance turned citizens into informers, and persecuted people for what they said in the privacy of their own homes.

A nod to Angela Merkel. Also, I’d be curious how many Muslims the Obama Administration has not just persecuted, but prosecuted, for what they said in the privacy of their own homes?

In fact even the United States proved not to be immune to the abuse of surveillance. In the 1960s, government spied on civil rights leaders and critics of the Vietnam War. Partly in response to these revelations, additional laws were established in the 1970s to ensure that our intelligence capabilities could not be misused against our citizens. In the long, twilight struggle against Communism, we had been reminded that the very liberties that we sought to preserve could not be sacrificed at the altar of national security.

As I note relentlessly, according to the NSA itself, it had 3 different “present examples” of such abuses in 2009. This is not the distant past. It’s just the as-yet undisclosed immediate past.

If the fall of the Soviet Union left America without a competing superpower, emerging threats from terrorist groups, and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction placed new – and, in some ways more complicated – demands on our intelligence agencies.

Note that throughout this passage, Obama only mentions 2 of the 3 main targets we use Section 702 for: terrorism and counterproliferation, making not mention of cybersecurity. That allows him to rationalize what he gets very close to admitting is domestic spying using the prior example of terrorism, even while cybersecurity was already an issue in 2011.

Globalization and the Internet made these threats more acute, as technology erased borders and empowered individuals to project great violence, as well as great good. Moreover, these new threats raised new legal and policy questions. For while few doubted the legitimacy of spying on hostile states, our framework of laws was not fully adapted to prevent terrorist attacks by individuals acting on their own, or acting in small, ideologically driven groups rather than on behalf of a foreign power.
The horror of September 11th brought these issues to the fore. Across the political spectrum, Americans recognized that we had to adapt to a world in which a bomb could be built in a basement, and our electric grid could be shut down by operators an ocean away.

See how quickly he inserts cybersecurity into the terrorism framework?

We were shaken by the signs we had missed leading up to the attacks – how the hijackers had made phone calls to known extremists, and travelled to suspicious places.

No mention of the information sharing of data collected that didn’t occur.

So we demanded that our intelligence community improve its capabilities, and that law enforcement change practices to focus more on preventing attacks before they happen than prosecuting terrorists after an attack.

It is hard to overstate the transformation America’s intelligence community had to go through after 9/11. Our agencies suddenly needed to do far more than the traditional mission of monitoring hostile powers and gathering information for policymakers – instead, they were asked to identify and target plotters in some of the most remote parts of the world, and to anticipate the actions of networks that, by their very nature, cannot be easily penetrated with spies or informants.

And it is a testimony to the hard work and dedication of the men and women in our intelligence community that over the past decade, we made enormous strides in fulfilling this mission. Today, new capabilities allow intelligence agencies to track who a terrorist is in contact with, and follow the trail of his travel or funding.

And again, Obama focuses on terrorism, when precisely the same tactics (and then some) are used against cybertargets.

New laws allow information to be collected and shared more quickly between federal agencies, and state and local law enforcement.

Does Obama’s mention of “state and local law enforcement agencies” in conjunction with nods to the PATRIOT Act make you more comfortable about all this data sharing of bulk data?

Relationships with foreign intelligence services have expanded, and our capacity to repel cyber-attacks has been strengthened. Taken together, these efforts have prevented multiple attacks and saved innocent lives – not just here in the United States, but around the globe as well.
And yet, in our rush to respond to very real and novel threats, the risks of government overreach – the possibility that we lose some of our core liberties in pursuit of security – became more pronounced. We saw, in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, our government engaged in enhanced interrogation techniques that contradicted our values.

Obama’s use of this euphemism, EIT, is truly cowardly.

As a Senator, I was critical of several practices, such as warrantless wiretaps. And all too often new authorities were instituted without adequate public debate.

He was also critical of bulk collection and NSLs. But somehow he doesn’t mention them here.

Through a combination of action by the courts, increased congressional oversight, and adjustments by the previous Administration, some of the worst excesses that emerged after 9/11 were curbed by the time I took office.

This is ridiculous. All that happened under Bush is that abuses got swept under the rug and continued until 2009, when it became clear that had happened.

But a variety of factors have continued to complicate America’s efforts to both defend our nation and uphold our civil liberties.

First, the same technological advances that allow U.S. intelligence agencies to pin-point an al Qaeda cell in Yemen or an email between two terrorists in the Sahel, also mean that many routine communications around the world are within our reach. At a time when more and more of our lives are digital, that prospect is disquieting for all of us.

This is odd, in that he doesn’t mention that these communications are not only within reach, but his Administration (and Bush’s) chose to reach them. That’s the disquieting part.

Second, the combination of increased digital information and powerful supercomputers offers intelligence agencies the possibility of sifting through massive amounts of bulk data to identify patterns or pursue leads that may thwart impending threats. But the government collection and storage of such bulk data also creates a potential for abuse.

The Executive has been telling us they don’t do pattern analysis of the dragnet, just contact-chaining. But here he mentions pattern analysis.

Third, the legal safeguards that restrict surveillance against U.S. persons without a warrant do not apply to foreign persons overseas.

This is disingenuous. Because in addition to foreigners getting no protection, US persons get inadequate protection given the Third Party doctrine and Administration insistence it can search any legally collected data.

This is not unique to America; few, if any, spy agencies around the world constrain their activities beyond their own borders. And the whole point of intelligence is to obtain information that is not publicly available. But America’s capabilities are unique. And the power of new technologies means that there are fewer and fewer technical constraints on what we can do. That places a special obligation on us to ask tough questions about what we should do.

These last three sentences are crucially important — and a welcome admission that almost no defenders of the NSA programs make. What makes what we do different is in part our capabilities and technical advantages, which have far greater consequences domestically and internationally.

Finally, intelligence agencies cannot function without secrecy, which makes their work less subject to public debate. Yet there is an inevitable bias not only within the intelligence community, but among all who are responsible for national security, to collect more information about the world, not less. So in the absence of institutional requirements for regular debate – and oversight that is public, as well as private – the danger of government overreach becomes more acute. This is particularly true when surveillance technology and our reliance on digital information is evolving much faster than our laws.

Another passage I applaud. Note, especially, the tacit admission that the technology has outstripped the law.

For all these reasons, I maintained a healthy skepticism toward our surveillance programs after I became President. I ordered that our programs be reviewed by my national security team and our lawyers, and in some cases I ordered changes in how we did business. We increased oversight and auditing, including new structures aimed at compliance. Improved rules were proposed by the government and approved by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. And we sought to keep Congress continually updated on these activities.

This is disingenuous. He did not do this review or makes these changes willingly. They came in response to abuses he is trying to pretend weren’t abuses.

Also, while he may think they tried to keep Congress continually updated, they did not do so, and in at least one case, even failed to meet the legal requirements for notice.

What I did not do is stop these programs wholesale – not only because I felt that they made us more secure; but also because nothing in that initial review, and nothing that I have learned since, indicated that our intelligence community has sought to violate the law or is cavalier about the civil liberties of their fellow citizens.

Note the formulation, “sought to violate the law.” Which is different from “did violate the law,” which they did do.

To the contrary, in an extraordinarily difficult job, one in which actions are second-guessed, success is unreported, and failure can be catastrophic, the men and women of the intelligence community, including the NSA, consistently follow protocols designed to protect the privacy of ordinary people.

No, in fact, 9% of their violations involve failure to follow protocols they know.

They are not abusing authorities in order to listen to your private phone calls, or read your emails.

“Not abusing authorities to listen to your phone calls” is different than “not listening to your phone calls.”

When mistakes are made – which is inevitable in any large and complicated human enterprise – they correct those mistakes. Laboring in obscurity, often unable to discuss their work even with family and friends, they know that if another 9/11 or massive cyber-attack occurs, they will be asked, by Congress and the media, why they failed to connect the dots.

According to NSA Director Keith Alexander, the cyber attacks under his watch have been worse than colonialism or slavery. And yet neither he nor John Brennan or anyone else ever got held accountable for those purportedly massive cyber-attacks.

What sustains those who work at NSA through all these pressures is the knowledge that their professionalism and dedication play a central role in the defense of our nation.
To say that our intelligence community follows the law, and is staffed by patriots, is not to suggest that I, or others in my Administration, felt complacent about the potential impact of these programs. Those of us who hold office in America have a responsibility to our Constitution, and while I was confident in the integrity of those in our intelligence community, it was clear to me in observing our intelligence operations on a regular basis that changes in our technological capabilities were raising new questions about the privacy safeguards currently in place.

Here’s where Obama makes a bid to claim Snowden’s leaks weren’t necessary because he was just about to fix all this (even though he had been expanding it at the same time).

Moreover, after an extended review of our use of drones in the fight against terrorist networks, I believed a fresh examination of our surveillance programs was a necessary next step in our effort to get off the open ended war-footing that we have maintained since 9/11.

The invocation of the drone review is particularly troubling given that the review has resulted in no real changes.

For these reasons, I indicated in a speech at the National Defense University last May that we needed a more robust public discussion about the balance between security and liberty. What I did not know at the time is that within weeks of my speech, an avalanche of unauthorized disclosures would spark controversies at home and abroad that have continued to this day.

Given the fact of an open investigation, I’m not going to dwell on Mr. Snowden’s actions or motivations. I will say that our nation’s defense depends in part on the fidelity of those entrusted with our nation’s secrets. If any individual who objects to government policy can take it in their own hands to publicly disclose classified information, then we will never be able to keep our people safe, or conduct foreign policy. Moreover, the sensational way in which these disclosures have come out has often shed more heat than light, while revealing methods to our adversaries that could impact our operations in ways that we may not fully understand for years to come.

President Obama, now playing press critic to excuse himself from not making changes he claims he recognized needed to be made.

Regardless of how we got here, though, the task before us now is greater than simply repairing the damage done to our operations; or preventing more disclosures from taking place in the future. Instead, we have to make some important decisions about how to protect ourselves and sustain our leadership in the world,

Note the “sustain our leadership” here…

while upholding the civil liberties and privacy protections that our ideals – and our Constitution – require. We need to do so not only because it is right, but because the challenges posed by threats like terrorism, proliferation, and cyber-attacks are not going away any time soon, and for our intelligence community to be effective over the long haul, we must maintain the trust of the American people, and people around the world.

This goes to — but doesn’t address — the point made by Henry Farrell and Martha Finnemore. Ultimately, our overreach is one thing that is contributing to the weakening of our credibility and therefore our hegemonic position.

This effort will not be completed overnight, and given the pace of technological change, we shouldn’t expect this to be the last time America has this debate. But I want the American people to know that the work has begun. Over the last six months, I created an outside Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies to make recommendations for reform. I’ve consulted with the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board.

Note, he has also preempted whatever will be in their report, due in a few weeks.

I’ve listened to foreign partners, privacy advocates, and industry leaders. My Administration has spent countless hours considering how to approach intelligence in this era of diffuse threats and technological revolution. And before outlining specific changes that I have ordered, let me make a few broad observations that have emerged from this process.

First, everyone who has looked at these problems, including skeptics of existing programs, recognizes that we have real enemies and threats, and that intelligence serves a vital role in confronting them. We cannot prevent terrorist attacks or cyber-threats without some capability to penetrate digital communications – whether it’s to unravel a terrorist plot; to intercept malware that targets a stock exchange; to make sure air traffic control systems are not compromised; or to ensure that hackers do not empty your bank accounts.

Again, Obama chose truly terrible examples here. The Transnational Crime Organization, JP Morgan Chase, is a far greater threat to the stock exchange and our bank accounts than any existing terrorist group or even hackers. Yet we don’t use these powerful intelligence tools to combat that TCO (indeed, our hunt for terrorists is one of many reasons we let TCO JPMC continue wreaking havoc with impunity).

Moreover, we cannot unilaterally disarm our intelligence agencies. There is a reason why blackberries and I-Phones are not allowed in the White House Situation Room. We know that the intelligence services of other countries – including some who feign surprise over the Snowden disclosures – are constantly probing our government and private sector networks, and accelerating programs to listen to our conversations, intercept our emails, or compromise our systems.

Meanwhile, a number of countries, including some who have loudly criticized the NSA, privately acknowledge that America has special responsibilities as the world’s only superpower; that our intelligence capabilities are critical to meeting these responsibilities; and that they themselves have relied on the information we obtain to protect their own people.

China might object to the claim that we’re the only superpower. More importantly, it is a very dangerous position to use our superpower status — ultimately, exceptionalism — to excuse what we do.

Second, just as ardent civil libertarians recognize the need for robust intelligence capabilities, those with responsibilities for our national security readily acknowledge the potential for abuse as intelligence capabilities advance, and more and more private information is digitized. After all, the folks at NSA and other intelligence agencies are our neighbors and our friends. They have electronic bank and medical records like everyone else. They have kids on Facebook and Instagram, and they know, more than most of us, the vulnerabilities to privacy that exist in a world where transactions are recorded; emails and text messages are stored; and even our movements can be tracked through the GPS on our phones.

Note Obama pitches this admission of spying on private entities. Of course, with the Third Party Doctrine, that also means the NSA.

Third, there was a recognition by all who participated in these reviews that the challenges to our privacy do not come from government alone. Corporations of all shapes and sizes track what you buy, store and analyze our data, and use it for commercial purposes; that’s how those targeted ads pop up on your computer or smartphone. But all of us understand that the standards for government surveillance must be higher.

If this were really acknowledged, then eliminating the Third Party doctrine would be central to Obama’s reforms. But it isn’t.

Given the unique power of the state, it is not enough for leaders to say: trust us, we won’t abuse the data we collect. For history has too many examples when that trust has been breached. Our system of government is built on the premise that our liberty cannot depend on the good intentions of those in power; it depends upon the law to constrain those in power.

I make these observations to underscore that the basic values of most Americans when it comes to questions of surveillance and privacy converge far more than the crude characterizations that have emerged over the last several months. Those who are troubled by our existing programs are not interested in a repeat of 9/11, and those who defend these programs are not dismissive of civil liberties. The challenge is getting the details right, and that’s not simple. Indeed, during the course of our review, I have often reminded myself that I would not be where I am today were it not for the courage of dissidents, like Dr. King, who were spied on by their own government; as a President who looks at intelligence every morning, I also can’t help but be reminded that America must be vigilant in the face of threats.

Fortunately, by focusing on facts and specifics rather than speculation and hypotheticals, this review process has given me – and hopefully the American people – some clear direction for change. And today, I can announce a series of concrete and substantial reforms that my Administration intends to adopt administratively or will seek to codify with Congress.

First, I have approved a new presidential directive for our signals intelligence activities, at home and abroad. This guidance will strengthen executive branch oversight of our intelligence activities.

Note how centrally Executive prerogative plays in this reform. It is reform with no enforcement mechanism.

It will ensure that we take into account our security requirements, but also our alliances; our trade and investment relationships, including the concerns of America’s companies; and our commitment to privacy and basic liberties. And we will review decisions about intelligence priorities and sensitive targets on an annual basis, so that our actions are regularly scrutinized by my senior national security team.

Angela Merkel is saved!

Second, we will reform programs and procedures in place to provide greater transparency to our surveillance activities, and fortify the safeguards that protect the privacy of U.S. persons. Since we began this review, including information being released today, we have declassified over 40 opinions and orders of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which provides judicial review of some of our most sensitive intelligence activities – including the Section 702 program targeting foreign individuals overseas and the Section 215 telephone metadata program.

Correction: they have declassified parts of 40 opinions and orders, conspicuously leaving those parts that pertain to CIA and FBI redacted, among other things.

Going forward, I am directing the Director of National Intelligence, in consultation with the Attorney General, to annually review – for the purpose of declassification – any future opinions of the Court with broad privacy implications, and to report to me and Congress on these efforts.

The Administration called on DNI and AG to do precisely this back in 2010.

And nothing happened.

To ensure that the Court hears a broader range of privacy perspectives, I am calling on Congress to authorize the establishment of a panel of advocates from outside government to provide an independent voice in significant cases before the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.

Consider this punt-and-stall number 1. Obama could invite the FISC to bring in amicus briefers right away but did not.

Third, we will provide additional protections for activities conducted under Section 702, which allows the government to intercept the communications of foreign targets overseas who have information that’s important for our national security. Specifically, I am asking the Attorney General and DNI to institute reforms that place additional restrictions on government’s ability to retain, search, and use in criminal cases, communications between Americans and foreign citizens incidentally collected under Section 702.

This is welcome, but far too narrow. He’s not saying he’ll require warrants. And he’s leaving open the searching of this material for threats to property, algorithm development, foreign intelligence purposes (including reading content without a warrant), and more.

Fourth, in investigating threats, the FBI also relies on National Security Letters, which can require companies to provide specific and limited information to the government without disclosing the orders to the subject of the investigation. These are cases in which it is important that the subject of the investigation, such as a possible terrorist or spy, isn’t tipped off. But we can – and should – be more transparent in how government uses this authority. I have therefore directed the Attorney General to amend how we use National Security Letters so this secrecy will not be indefinite, and will terminate within a fixed time unless the government demonstrates a real need for further secrecy. We will also enable communications providers to make public more information than ever before about the orders they have received to provide data to the government.

Note Obama claims this is “specific and limited,” but both his Review Group and Leahy-Sensenbrenner suggest is is not.

The elimination of the gag is welcome, but this is an area where change implemented by Executive prerogative is especially meaningless, given that it still allows them to use gags when they want to.

This brings me to program that has generated the most controversy these past few months – the bulk collection of telephone records under Section 215. Let me repeat what I said when this story first broke – this program does not involve the content of phone calls, or the names of people making calls. Instead, it provides a record of phone numbers and the times and lengths of calls – meta-data that can be queried if and when we have a reasonable suspicion that a particular number is linked to a terrorist organization.

NSA has made it clear that it does tell NSA which content to read. And even Obama’s limits on back door searches for law enforcement reasons would not impose any limits on using the dragnet to immediately go read the content it corresponds with.

So while the actual dragnet does not collect content, it leads directly to content.

Why is this necessary? The program grew out of a desire to address a gap identified after 9/11. One of the 9/11 hijackers – Khalid al-Mihdhar – made a phone call from San Diego to a known al Qaeda safe-house in Yemen. NSA saw that call, but could not see that it was coming from an individual already in the United States.

But it could have…

The telephone metadata program under Section 215 was designed to map the communications of terrorists, so we can see who they may be in contact with as quickly as possible. This capability could also prove valuable in a crisis. For example, if a bomb goes off in one of our cities and law enforcement is racing to determine whether a network is poised to conduct additional attacks, time is of the essence. Being able to quickly review telephone connections to assess whether a network exists is critical to that effort.

Except that as implemented, it’s not clear it even serves that purpose. And it also will still expose tens of thousands of Americans to scrutiny.

In sum, the program does not involve the NSA examining the phone records of ordinary Americans.

The President suggests lawyers, journalists, and Muslims and Iranians who are within 2 hops of someone who might have ties to terrorism are not “ordinary Americans.”

Rather, it consolidates these records into a database that the government can query if it has a specific lead – phone records that the companies already retain for business purposes. The Review Group turned up no indication that this database has been intentionally abused. And I believe it is important that the capability that this program is designed to meet is preserved.

But FISC did turn up indication it had been reviewed.

Having said that, I believe critics are right to point out that without proper safeguards, this type of program could be used to yield more information about our private lives, and open the door to more intrusive, bulk collection programs. They also rightly point out that although the telephone bulk collection program was subject to oversight by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court and has been reauthorized repeatedly by Congress, it has never been subject to vigorous public debate.

That’s a welcome admission. I look forward to seeing whether NSA and DOJ continue to claim it has been subject to debate.

For all these reasons, I believe we need a new approach. I am therefore ordering a transition that will end the Section 215 bulk metadata program as it currently exists, and establish a mechanism that preserves the capabilities we need without the government holding this bulk meta-data.

This will not be simple. The Review Group recommended that our current approach be replaced by one in which the providers or a third party retain the bulk records, with the government accessing information as needed.

Both of these options pose difficult problems. Relying solely on the records of multiple providers, for example, could require companies to alter their procedures in ways that raise new privacy concerns.

This is an admission these aren’t, in fact, business records. Also that the “data integrity analysts” pose real threats to privacy.

On the other hand, any third party maintaining a single, consolidated data-base would be carrying out what is essentially a government function with more expense, more legal ambiguity, and a doubtful impact on public confidence that their privacy is being protected.

During the review process, some suggested that we may also be able to preserve the capabilities we need through a combination of existing authorities, better information sharing, and recent technological advances. But more work needs to be done to determine exactly how this system might work.

Because of the challenges involved, I’ve ordered that the transition away from the existing program will proceed in two steps. Effective immediately, we will only pursue phone calls that are two steps removed from a number associated with a terrorist organization instead of three.

Note, NSA already defaults on 2 hops, requiring approval for a 3rd. So this is not really a change, not least because it is no more a legal requirement than NSA’s internal rules.

And I have directed the Attorney General to work with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court so that during this transition period, the database can be queried only after a judicial finding, or in a true emergency.

“After a judicial finding.” Uh, is it going to be a judicial finding that is different from the ones that already occur?

Next, I have instructed the intelligence community and Attorney General to use this transition period to develop options for a new approach that can match the capabilities and fill the gaps that the Section 215 program was designed to address without the government holding this meta-data.

In short, Obama intends to retain the dragnet.

They will report back to me with options for alternative approaches before the program comes up for reauthorization on March 28. During this period, I will consult with the relevant committees in Congress to seek their views, and then seek congressional authorization for the new program as needed.

I wonder whether “relevant committees” includes the Judiciary committees, or just the Intel committees?

Also note, this is punt-and-delay two, as this would all take place in advance of the PATRIOT Reauthorization next year at the latest.

The reforms I’m proposing today should give the American people greater confidence that their rights are being protected, even as our intelligence and law enforcement agencies maintain the tools they need to keep us safe. I recognize that there are additional issues that require further debate. For example, some who participated in our review, as well as some in Congress, would like to see more sweeping reforms to the use of National Security Letters, so that we have to go to a judge before issuing these requests. Here, I have concerns that we should not set a standard for terrorism investigations that is higher than those involved in investigating an ordinary crime. But I agree that greater oversight on the use of these letters may be appropriate, and am prepared to work with Congress on this issue.

Again, no mention of bulk NSLs. Also note, NSLs are used for more than just terrorism investigations.

There are also those who would like to see different changes to the FISA court than the ones I have proposed.

He has already punted on the issue of an advocate. Now he’s punting on making it less of John Roberts’ own purview.

On all of these issues, I am open to working with Congress to ensure that we build a broad consensus for how to move forward, and am confident that we can shape an approach that meets our security needs while upholding the civil liberties of every American.

Again, by “Congress,” does he mean the Intel committees? Or Congress?

Let me now turn to the separate set of concerns that have been raised overseas, and focus on America’s approach to intelligence collection abroad. As I’ve indicated, the United States has unique responsibilities when it comes to intelligence collection.

Again, exceptionalism.

Our capabilities help protect not only our own nation, but our friends and allies as well. Our efforts will only be effective if ordinary citizens in other countries have confidence that the United States respects their privacy too. And the leaders of our close friends and allies deserve to know that if I want to learn what they think about an issue, I will pick up the phone and call them, rather than turning to surveillance. In other words, just as we balance security and privacy at home, our global leadership demands that we balance our security requirements against our need to maintain trust and cooperation among people and leaders around the world.

For that reason, the new presidential directive that I have issued today will clearly prescribe what we do, and do not do, when it comes to our overseas surveillance. To begin with, the directive makes clear that the United States only uses signals intelligence for legitimate national security purposes, and not for the purpose of indiscriminately reviewing the emails or phone calls of ordinary people. I have also made it clear that the United States does not collect intelligence to suppress criticism or dissent, nor do we collect intelligence to disadvantage people on the basis of their ethnicity, race, gender, sexual orientation, or religious beliefs. And we do not collect intelligence to provide a competitive advantage to U.S. companies, or U.S. commercial sectors.

The US has a very funny idea of capitalism, because in fact we do collect intelligence to do things that provide a competitive advantage to US companies. Hell, our focus on IP alone is all about benefitting US companies.

In terms of our bulk collection of signals intelligence, U.S. intelligence agencies will only use such data to meet specific security requirements: counter-intelligence; counter-terrorism; counter-proliferation; cyber-security; force protection for our troops and allies; and combating transnational crime, including sanctions evasion.

“Combating transnational crime, including sanctions evasion.” First, “sanctions evasion” is not crime. It is violating US big-footing. That said, we knew the US was using its dragnets to both combat Transnational Crime Organizations and enforce sanctions. But the underlying implications of this claim, as stated, are actually quite remarkable. It says that the NSA is the world’s policeman, but to usually enforce crime through arbitrary exercise of intelligence, not law.

It also hides the admission that this is, in significant part, about the War on Drugs, which is organized in such a way to screw the sources countries while doing little here.

Finally, it by itself provides competitive advantage to our (and British) TCOs. Because we’re not using this to pursue JPMorgan Chase, which is as dangerous a TCO as the Yakuza (for example).

Moreover, I have directed that we take the unprecedented step of extending certain protections that we have for the American people to people overseas. I have directed the DNI, in consultation with the Attorney General, to develop these safeguards, which will limit the duration that we can hold personal information, while also restricting the use of this information.

Note, by the way, that Obama has not addressed the permanent retention of NSL data in the US?

The bottom line is that people around the world – regardless of their nationality – should know that the United States is not spying on ordinary people who don’t threaten our national security, and that we take their privacy concerns into account. This applies to foreign leaders as well. Given the understandable attention that this issue has received, I have made clear to the intelligence community that – unless there is a compelling national security purpose – we will not monitor the communications of heads of state and government of our close friends and allies. And I’ve instructed my national security team, as well as the intelligence community, to work with foreign counterparts to deepen our coordination and cooperation in ways that rebuild trust going forward.

Now let me be clear: our intelligence agencies will continue to gather information about the intentions of governments – as opposed to ordinary citizens – around the world, in the same way that the intelligence services of every other nation does. We will not apologize simply because our services may be more effective. But heads of state and government with whom we work closely, and on whose cooperation we depend, should feel confident that we are treating them as real partners. The changes I’ve ordered do just that.

Finally, to make sure that we follow through on these reforms, I am making some important changes to how our government is organized. The State Department will designate a senior officer to coordinate our diplomacy on issues related to technology and signals intelligence.

This is one of the recommendations from the Review Group. I wonder — given Obama’s utter silence about this point — whether they will have a role in limiting US use of hacking?

We will appoint a senior official at the White House to implement the new privacy safeguards that I have announced today. I will devote the resources to centralize and improve the process we use to handle foreign requests for legal assistance, keeping our high standards for privacy while helping foreign partners fight crime and terrorism.

I think, though am not sure, this implies the government will continue to collect everything but at least share that with the countries in which we’re collecting in, if they ask nicely. This increases the interest of the Merkels of the world, because they get new data.

I have also asked my Counselor, John Podesta, to lead a comprehensive review of big data and privacy. This group will consist of government officials who—along with the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology—will reach out to privacy experts, technologists and business leaders, and look at how the challenges inherent in big data are being confronted by both the public and private sectors; whether we can forge international norms on how to manage this data; and how we can continue to promote the free flow of information in ways that are consistent with both privacy and security.

First, this would be the first time Obama set out to consult technologists (though the Review Group did consult some). Let’s hope it really happens.

But it is, ultimately, the response to a review by calling for another review.

For ultimately, what’s at stake in this debate goes far beyond a few months of headlines, or passing tensions in our foreign policy. When you cut through the noise, what’s really at stake is how we remain true to who we are in a world that is remaking itself at dizzying speed. Whether it’s the ability of individuals to communicate ideas; to access information that would have once filled every great library in every country in the world; or to forge bonds with people on other sides of the globe, technology is remaking what is possible for individuals, for institutions, and for the international order. So while the reforms that I have announced will point us in a new direction, I am mindful that more work will be needed in the future.

One thing I’m certain of: this debate will make us stronger.

Huh. I guess we have Edward Snowden to thank for that?

And I also know that in this time of change, the United States of America will have to lead.

Exceptionalism, exceptionalism, exceptionalism.

It may seem sometimes that America is being held to a different standard, and the readiness of some to assume the worst motives by our government can be frustrating. No one expects China to have an open debate about their surveillance programs, or Russia to take the privacy concerns of citizens into account. But let us remember that we are held to a different standard precisely because we have been at the forefront in defending personal privacy and human dignity.

We have said we have been. But acting in a different way, which is the issue.

As the nation that developed the Internet, the world expects us to ensure that the digital revolution works as a tool for individual empowerment rather than government control. Having faced down the totalitarian dangers of fascism and communism, the world expects us to stand up for the principle that every person has the right to think and write and form relationships freely – because individual freedom is the wellspring of human progress.

They do? Did we hold a referendum? Or did we just check what they were saying in their emails? Because I’m not sure the world does want us to do this, and I think the world may rightly believe we’ve abused our claims to exceptionalism.

Those values make us who we are. And because of the strength of our own democracy, we should not shy away from high expectations. For more than two centuries, our Constitution has weathered every type of change because we have been willing to defend it, and because we have been willing to question the actions that have been taken in its defense.

No, President Obama. We created the dragnet not to defend the Constitution, but to defend what we now call “the Homeland.” We largely forgot about defending the Constitution in the process.

Today is no different. Together, let us chart a way forward that secures the life of our nation, while preserving the liberties that make our nation worth fighting for. Thank you.

30 replies
  1. Peterr says:

    Meanwhile, totalitarian states like East Germany offered a cautionary tale of what could happen when vast, unchecked surveillance turned citizens into informers, and persecuted people for what they said in the privacy of their own homes.

    In fact even the United States proved not to be immune to the abuse of surveillance. In the 1960s, government spied on civil rights leaders and critics of the Vietnam War. Partly in response to these revelations, additional laws were established in the 1970s to ensure that our intelligence capabilities could not be misused against our citizens. In the long, twilight struggle against Communism, we had been reminded that the very liberties that we sought to preserve could not be sacrificed at the altar of national security.

    I think there’s a more recent example that Obama passed over. Let me think . . .

    Oh, yes — John Ashcroft and Operation TIPS. Per wiki:

    The program’s website implied that US workers who had access to private citizens’ homes, such as cable installers and telephone repair workers, would be reporting on what was in people’s homes if it were deemed “suspicious.” The initial start of the program was to be August 2002 and would have included one million workers in ten US cities and then to be expanded.

    Operation TIPS was accused of doing an “end run” around the United States Constitution, and the original wording of the website was subsequently changed. President Bush’s then-Attorney General, John Ashcroft denied that private residences would be surveilled by private citizens operating as government spies. Mr. Ashcroft nonetheless defended the program, equivocating on whether the reports by citizens on fellow citizens would be maintained in government databases. While saying that the information would not be in a central database as part of Operation TIPS, he maintained that the information would still be kept in databases by various law enforcement agencies.

    The databases were an explicit concern of various civil liberties groups (on both the left and the right) who felt that such databases could include false information about citizens with no way for those citizens to know that such information was compiled about them, nor any way for them to correct the information, nor any way for them to confront their accusers.

    The United States Postal Service, after at first seeming supportive of the program, later resisted its personnel being included in this program, reasoning that if mail carriers became perceived as law enforcement personnel that they would be placed in danger at a level for which they could not reasonably be expected to be prepared, and that the downside of the program hence vastly outweighed any good that it could accomplish. The National Association of Letter Carriers, a postal labor union, was especially outspoken in its opposition.

  2. bloodypitchfork says:

    ps..about those NSL’s. I did some research on U.S. District Judge Susan Illston ruling NSL’s were unconstitutional and ordered the government to stop issuing so-called NSLs across the board. It appears she also STAYED her order for 90 days for the government to appeal. I can’t find one single thing that tells what is happening in that regard. In the meantime, NO BODY, ANY WHERE, is even talking about this ruling. I just don’t understand. If ANYTHING, Obama SHOULD have said something in that regard. Yet nothing. WHAT am I missing here???? Does any one know anything about this. It’s really starting to bother me…to the point I woke up at 2:30 this morning and started researching some more. Nothing more than articles on that court ruling. Zilch.

    btw, ew was still tweeting when I got up. Holy moly.

  3. cocheese says:

    Another addition to your excellent analysis:

    When Obama said:
    “these efforts have prevented multiple attacks and saved innocent lives – not just here in the United States, but around the globe as well.
    And yet, in our rush to respond to very real and novel threats, the risks of government overreach – the possibility that we lose some of our core liberties in pursuit of security – became more pronounced.”

    Note that he says that preventing attacks is a *reality* yet overreach and civil liberties erosisions are mere “risks” and “possibilities.”

    In fact, the programs have not prevented any attacks (https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/930606-nsa-reform-report.html#document/p106), but the overreach and erosions are actual realities. See http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/09/27/us-usa-surveillance-watchdog-idUSBRE98Q14G20130927; https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/799974-pub-march-2-2009-order-from-fisc.html#document/p11).

  4. Peterr says:

    . . . nothing in that initial review, and nothing that I have learned since, indicated that our intelligence community has sought to violate the law . . .

    Is Obama saying the intelligence community has gotten so good at violating the law that they don’t even have to try anymore?

  5. lefty665 says:

    @Peterr: To the contrary. They have expended huge effort to stretch it beyond recognition and to shape it going forward.

    It will be interesting to see what new windows for spying Obama is opening. We may not know about them right away, but they’ll be in there. His charm offensive to make us all feel better about the UStasi will not come without a price.

  6. TheMagicIsOver says:

    “I ordered that our programs be reviewed by my national security team and our lawyers, and in some cases I ordered changes in how we did business.”

    The executive branch brings their lawyers in to help find ways to make things that are illegal on the surface appear legal and to push things to the limit of the law. They aren’t brought in to assess and halt things. I’d say anytime the gov needs to bring lawyers in to justify an action they probably shouldn’t be doing it in the eyes of the citizenry.

  7. pdaly says:


    Yes, I remember that time. It was an attempt to bring back to life the King of England’s ‘Writs of Assistance’–to recreate the kind of environment the colonists experienced before the American Revolution threw off the heavy hand of tyranny.

  8. pdaly says:

    Another ironic thing about Revere’s “midnight ride” to Lexington: it occurred on a near full moon, so the light from the moon helped him leave Boston’s North End undetected and reach by rowboat the Charlestown ferry landing where he mounted a horse and rode off into history. The British sailors and Regulars on the HMS Somerset and the British patrol boats that night in the Charles River were unable to spot him in the shadow cast by the city skyline in front of a brightly lit rising moon.

    When it comes to surveillance, sometimes too much light means seeing less.


  9. orionATL says:


    the first few lines you quoted involve a technique i would call “innonulation”.

    the speaker acknowledges east germany, indicating he is aware of that situation and the current criticism based on that situation (code named “stassi”)

    speaker acknowledges our government’s depredations on “liberty” occurring WAY back in the ’60’s, indicating to listeners that he is aware of american government’s susceptibility to spying on its citizen activists (code named “church committee”)

    and by doing so, leaves listeners with the impression that he will not allow history to repeat itself with respect to those histories and the conduct of the nsa in 2014 under his leadership.

    that “persisting impression” is a calculated rhetorical deceit.

    i await with great curiosity the outcome over the next six weeks of the contest tar heel dem alluded to between the presidency and the folks who hold the cards edward snowden dealt them.

    regretably, with his sloppy management/oversight of the affordable care act national website (as great a boon to the nation’s people and economy as the AFC will prove to be),

    the president has laid the groundwork for a nationwide repudiation of his leadership.

    even with brian williams, 60 minutes, and the nytimes abroad in the land, i would not want to bet on obama.

  10. P J Evans says:

    Jeeze. The place I worked, Tuesdays were turkey-with-all-the-trimmings day in the cafeteria. (I didn’t like their dressing. Too sweet; I think they put apples in it.) Tacos – well, Friday was fish tacos. (One time, the fish was salmon; it makes a heckuva taco.)

  11. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Reinventing history isn’t just for Stalinists and Orwelllian villains any more. Presidents seem to love it. Edward Bernays might justifiably call Mr. Obama one of his greatest students.

  12. masaccio says:

    It infuriates me that we don’t use our spy apparatus to lock up Wall Street. These crooks stole years savings from me and everyone I know. We were all made miserable by these thugs, and not a one of them went to jail. Not for stealing money from pensions, states and municipalities, not for helping drug titans move money around the world, not for dealing with terrorists, not even for the hookers and blow for which anyone they don’t like would be in jail.

    What the hell good are these bastards?

  13. Baldur Dasche says:

    What can’t be annoted was the apparent lack of any conviction in delivering this speech. That’s exactly what Obama was doing, delivering.

    But delivering nothing that he believed, or meant, or intended to do. He obviously was too busy to even ‘rehearse’ or pre-read it, for in parts he was truly lost and seemed to have no idea what he was even saying.

    7 more years of gathering the fat of the data is expected.

  14. Orwell says:

    “It is hard to overstate the transformation America’s intelligence community had to go through after 9/11”

    Always invoking 9/11, pretending as if there is widespread universal agreement as to what exactly happened on 9/11, when in fact nothing can be further from the truth. Within the US there is widespread skepticism of the official story. This has been borne out by many polls over the years. Outside the US, that skepticism is even greater with large majorities of populations flat out rejecting the official narrative.

    The first amendment gives me the right to express my views. It does not say my views must be correct or the truth. I have a constitutional right to be completely wrong. I do not believe for a minute that my views are inaccurate. Therefore, one has to wonder if the powers that be consider people whom have long ago arrived at the conclusion that the official narrative of 9/11 as put forth by the 9/11 Commission Report and he NIST reports, are lies from beginning to end…..whether they consider people like us to be a threat to national security?

    Are the (as of yesterday) 2,139 professionals whom have signed the Architects and Engineers petition to Congress to re-open the investigation into the collapse of all three WTC buildings. Are they under intense monitoring and surveillance, much more so that what Obama refers to as “ordinary Folks”? Do they threaten National Security?

    By “ordinary folks” he clearly does not mean dissidents. By dissidents, I am primarily focused here on dissidents whom reject the official government narrative of 9/11, but only because they keep invoking 9/11 as justification for every despicable, unconstitutional and immoral thing they do.

    When you engage in discussion and debate about the issues of the day, spying, war, terrorism, yadda, yadda, yadda, there are two paradigms through which you are locked into: you either accept or reject the basic narrative of what happened on 9/11 (and the Anthrax attacks that immediately followed). Which paradigm you occupy dramatically affects your views on all the above.

  15. carroll price says:

    There is simply no longer any “separation of powers” within the US government today. So you can forget about the judicial branch (Supreme Court or otherwise) doing anything about the dictatorial powers being exercised by NSA and US Justice (sic)Department. An occasional lower court decisions may place restraints on the system, but you may rest assured that when the decision is appealed to a higher court, it will be reversed as was the case involving the lower federal court decision blocking the detention of American citizens under section 1021 & 1022 of the Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) of 2012. In reality, the people of the United States today are now living under a virtual dictatorship.

  16. Subhuti says:

    Gee, Obama seemed to forget that 5 Israelis were caught filming the Twin Towers, and jumping for joy. And he seems to have forgotten that Michael Chertoff, a dual citizen of Israel, who was in charge of investigating 911, sent those Israelis home, along with 200 other Israeli spies right after 911. And he seems not to know that the 5 Israelis, who were Mossad, (Israel’s Cia) were later on Israeli TV, saying they were at the location filming the towers as they were hit in order to ‘document the event’. Or the FBI agents who said their pre 911 investigations were blocked. And he seems to have not noticed the many other anomalies and obfuscations around 911. like why Bush refused to have an investigation until absolutely forced to by the widows of the victims. Bush himself testified while not under oath, in secret, with no notes taken and minded by his handler, Dick Cheney, who is deeply implicated in failing to defend the Pentagon. The government spent reluctantly 14 million on the 911 Commission, which even its chairman Lee Hamilton admitted later was full of lies, while $40 million was spent on Clinton’s sex life. As Orwell pointed out, the speech was just–to quote Bernays–‘public relations’ AKA propaganda.

Comments are closed.