The Obama as Civil Libertarian Propaganda Rolls Out

Remember back in May 2012, when Daniel Klaidman (and the NYT), rolled out stories about the White House imposing new order on the drone program. The initial roll-out stories adopted the new White House euphemism — Terrorist Attack Disruption Strikes or TADS — in lieu of the previously used “signature strike” or more accurate “untargeted drone strike.” But in stories masquerading as comprehensive, neither made any mention of the death of 16 year old American citizen Abdulrahman al-Awlaki.

And remember back in February 2013, when Klaidman rolled out claims that John Brennan would not only change the drone targeting rules at CIA, but roll back the war on terror altogether? That article didn’t see any contradiction with treating Brennan’s claims as honest when trying to argue he approved signature strikes in Yemen yet admitting he had twice opposed them. Once again, a purportedly comprehensive article — even one focused on Yemen — didn’t mention Abdulrahman al-Awlaki.

And remember when, a month later, Klaidman proclaimed, “Exclusive: No More Drones for CIA”? I predicted then, based on the evidence of John Brennan’s formal statements to Congress and actions rather than credulously treated anonymous claims, it was wrong.

I was right.

Well, yesterday Klaidman was out with another big counterterrorism scoop, this one promising that “Obama’s Defining Fight” would be “how he will take on the NSA’s surveillance state in 2014.” It dedicates 2,200 words to supporting this proposition.

Throughout his presidency he has struggled, even agonized, over how to balance security and liberty in an age of terror.


Obama’s willingness to go back and reform his own counterterrorism policies sometimes has led him to give up power or place it under tighter constraints, an unusual characteristic, given that most presidents try to enhance executive authority, especially in the national security arena. Obama, on the contrary, ordered a policy review toward the end of his first term that eventually placed greater restraints on his targeted killing program, resulting in fewer strikes.

His trajectory on surveillance fits the pattern. [my emphasis]

Klaidman apparently doesn’t see the contradiction with the conclusion of his tale.

Sometime in January, Obama plans to deliver a major speech laying out his own blueprint for surveillance reform.

That is, ultimately Obama plans his own “reform.” Which not only keeps the authority for “reform” in the Executive’s hands — protecting executive authority — but almost certainly stops short of the reasonable but by no means adequate changes proposed by his Review Group.

More importantly, in a story focusing on the reform proposals offered by his Review Group that Obama apparently may accept, Klaidman once again has one of his increasingly characteristic black holes in the middle of the story.

Klaidman reports on Obama’s openness to entertain his NSA Review Group’s recommendations. Yet he makes not one mention of the Group’s recommendation that Director of NSA and CyberCommand be split, and that a civilian lead the former organization. This is one of the most important structural reforms proposed by the Review Group.

Nor does Klaidman mention that Obama has already pre-empted that recommendation publicly after having learned of it, announcing that the position would remain joined and in military hands.

This, in an article that portrays Obama getting miffed at General Alexander (and credulously reporting Alexander’s laughable–and more limited claim, in reality–that no one knew that NSA hadn’t turned off deliberate features of the illegal dragnet after FISC excluded those features from the dragnet.

But behind the scenes, Obama was showing some irritation with the intelligence leadership that had pressed for these capabilities and repeatedly vouched for their value. One story that rocketed around the intelligence community involved a meeting between the president and NSA Director Keith Alexander. Alexander, who holds advanced degrees in physics and electronic warfare, was trying to explain certain aspects of one of the surveillance programs to Obama. As his highly technical and jargon-laden presentation rambled on, Obama was beginning to lose patience. When Alexander finished, the president thanked him and then icily asked if he could do it over again, “but this time in English.”

While it went unstated at the time, Obama may have felt frustrated that the complexity of the technology was overwhelming policymakers. Even Alexander had publicly conceded that no single person at the NSA had the wherewithal to understand the metadata program in all its dimensions.

Obama already made it clear that certain issues — as it happens, issues that might rein in the national security state — are not up for deliberation. And yet Klaidman makes no mention of that evidence refuting his central premise, even while pretending Obama will and has stood up to Alexander.

Don’t get me wrong. These tales from Klaidman are useful, because so few other reporters get this access. But given the black holes that persist at the center of Klaidman’s scoops, it’s advisable to take his factoids as potentially fictional details, floating completely independently of the narrative he places them in. Because his narratives increasingly have enormous holes precisely where the known evidence exists.

22 replies
  1. der says:

    As believable a story as the one of Judge William Pauley’s “independant” ruling arrived at without the help of Obama’s Justice or NSA lawyers helping guide the hand of his clerk’s pen (or keyboard fingering). (Of course it’s rank speculation on my part, but hey Benghazi!).

  2. TarheelDem says:

    If the reforms don’t involve massive repeal of the National Security Act of 1947, Central Intelligence Act of 1949, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and its amendments, and the PATRIOT Act and a total rethinking of US national security and intelligence community legal foundations, it will not serve civil liberties. Period. There is no incrementalist way that stops the abuses. There is no incrementalist way that returns civil liberties to the people. There is no way to restore civil liberties without dismantling the Department of Homeland Security.

    And because there is so much boondoggle pork involved, not many members of Congress will sign on the legislative changes that are needed.

    The only Obama-esque strategy that agrees with Klaidman’s optimism is that Obama throws the buzzer-beating basket that ensures a major place in the history books.

    Apparently, someone is worried. Holy Joe’s back.

  3. scribe says:

    Only Nixon could go to China.

    Only Obama could do as much damage to civil rights and civil liberties as he’s done and continuing to do.

  4. lefty665 says:

    @scribe: … and the economy, and New Deal support for the old, disabled & unemployed, and regulation of/protection from financial sector exploitation, and continuing to create enemies faster than we can kill them, and, and, and…

  5. Don Bacon says:

    Throughout his presidency [Obama] has struggled, even agonized, over how to balance security and liberty in an age of terror.

    Oh yes, this killer has struggled, even agonized, over whom to kill next, because the US is a nation of laws, and the law of the jungle prevails. But we won’t call it the murder of innocents, we’ll call it — balancing security and liberty. That reduces the agony factor and makes murder pure and wholesome. I bet the copy-cat domestic killers in the US agonize as well before they do an Obama.

    Pakistanis and Yemenis, the struggling agonizers’ chief targets, don’t see it that way, and the rest of the world wonders — who’s next.

    Thank you, thank you for focusing on the criminal Obama instead of blaming Clapper/Alexander/Brennan while letting the assassinator-in-chief go scot-free in a frenzy of sympathy for his personal devils. We feel his pain of agonizing — not.

  6. bloodypitchfork says:

    quote:”the new White House euphemism — Terrorist Attack Disruption Strikes or TADS —”unquote

    As if they “disrupted” a “terrorist attack” by a group of alleged “militants” in Pakistan by murdering them on Christmas Day. Well, I have a new euphemism for Obama’s murder program too…

    TADS=Traitorous Assassins Demonic Schemes
    tarheeldem said:
    quote:”If the reforms don’t involve massive repeal of the National Security Act of 1947, Central Intelligence Act of 1949, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and its amendments, and the PATRIOT Act and a total rethinking of US national security and intelligence community legal foundations, it will not serve civil liberties. Period” unquote

    Ding! Ding! Ding! We have a winner! :) Unfortunately..we know THAT ain’t gonna happen..EVER. After all, those are the golden goose’s for the entire MIC Plutocracy. But yeah, I whole hardheartedly agree with you.
    Btw, ever read those Acts? They’ll give you a clue to the depth of depravity these scumbags went to hide their worldwide murder programs, notwithstanding the criminal Federal Reserve Act AND the NDAA. Given what Appelbaum just disclosed..were talking Totalitarianism on steroids. And I got $1k that says Senator pond scum Feinstein secret of course, new Sedition laws tied to the NDAA within this year. Youbetcha..the ruling class is getting nervous.

  7. lefty665 says:

    “And I got $1k that says Senator pond scum Feinstein secret of course, new Sedition laws”

    Hard to see how DiFi could write a sedition law that wouldn’t snare her.

  8. coloradoblue says:

    @lefty665: That’s easy. Congress has pretty much always exempted themselves from every law they pass for the serfs. No reason for any change.

  9. P J Evans says:

    I’m not sure anyone is going to buy that, now. You’d have to have slept through the last five years.

  10. RAM says:

    How can a reporter know the President has “struggled, even agonized” over anything? A reporter can know what the President SAYS he “struggled, even agonized” over, but unless he’s clairvoyant, he can’t know that. Don’t they have copy editors over at the NYT any more?

  11. Bay State Librul says:

    I never considered Obama a “Civil Libertarian”
    A progressive Democrat would never be elected to the White House, in my view. I would vote for the progressive, but odds are he/she would lose.
    The good news is that if John McCain was elected we would likely be still at war in Libya and perhaps Iran.
    I’ll take Obama any day over that thought.
    Also, Kerry is doing a good job as Secretary of State, but I always liked Kerry.

  12. thatvisionthing says:

    @Don Bacon:

    Charlie Chaplin, 1947:

    Henri Verdoux: Wars, conflict – it’s all business. One murder makes a villain; millions, a hero. Numbers sanctify, my good fellow!

  13. thatvisionthing says:

    Serial murderer, terrorist, president, moral rectitude czar… imagine the trial:

    The Prosecutor: Never, never in the history of jurisprudence have such terrifying deeds been brought to light. Gentlemen of the jury, you have before you a cruel and cynical monster. Look at him!

    [all heads turn to face Verdoux, who turns around himself to look behind]

    The Prosecutor: Observe him, gentlemen. This man, who has brains, if he had decent instincts, could have made an honest living. And yet, he preferred to rob and murder unsuspecting women. In fact, he made a business of it. I do not ask for vengeance, but for the protection of society. For this mass killer, I demand the extreme penalty: that he be put to death on the guillotine. The State rests its case.

    Judge: Monsieur Verdoux, you have been found guilty. Have you anything to say before sentence is passed upon you?

    Henri Verdoux: Oui, monsieur, I have. However remiss the prosecutor has been in complimenting me, he at least admits that I have brains. Thank you, Monsieur, I have. And for thirty-five years I used them honestly. After that, nobody wanted them. So I was forced to go into business for myself. As for being a mass killer, does not the world encourage it? Is it not building weapons of destruction for the sole purpose of mass killing? Has it not blown unsuspecting women and little children to pieces? And done it very scientifically? As a mass killer, I am an amateur by comparison.

  14. LapsedLawyer says:

    @scribe: And only Clinton could gut welfare. And Obama is proposing to cut Social Security benefits (chained CPI is a cut). The most successful assaults on the New Deal and Great Society have been not only aided and abetted by D’s but actively proposed and carried out by them. Similarly now with our civil liberties.

  15. bloodypitchfork says:



    Henri Verdoux: Despair is a narcotic.”unquote

    ummm, care to explain? I mean, I didn’t get the Charlie Chaplin thing either so maybe I’m dense.

  16. P J Evans says:

    centrist Ds, not DFHs. Because being a ConservaDem sounds so much better than being a moderate Republican, even if you’re doing all the same things.

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