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Obama Tries to Calm a Handful of Surveillance Critics in Closed-Door Meeting

But lawmakers already upset over evidence that Congress was misled by the administration now have a new revelation to get angry about.

by
Bridget Johnson

Bio

August 1, 2013 - 7:27 pm

President Obama met behind closed doors with a handful of lawmakers concerned about national security in the wake of Edward Snowden’s revelations — a mix of those concerned about compromised security and those alarmed about the NSA’s reach into Americans’ daily lives.

The Thursday afternoon sit-down in the Oval Office included Senate Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and ranking member Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) and House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence chairman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) and ranking member Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.), as well as House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.).

Representing administration skeptics and critics of the surveillance programs were Assistant Majority Leader Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Mark Udall (D-Colo.), and principal Patriot Act author Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.).

The Obama administration called the combination a meeting of “some of the programs’ most prominent critics and defenders.”

“Today’s meeting was constructive and the president committed that he and his team would continue to work closely with the Congress on these matters in the weeks and months ahead,” the White House said in a brief readout.

The leaders of the intelligence committees called the meeting “productive” in a joint statement.

“There was agreement in the room the NSA call record program (Section 215) is not a domestic surveillance program,” they said. “We will continue to work through the August recess on proposals to improve transparency and strengthen privacy protections to further build the confidence of the American public in our nation’s counterterrorism programs.”

But Sensenbrenner said after the meeting “it is becoming increasingly apparent the balance between security and liberty has been tainted.”

“Amidst public outcry, the President invited members from both sides of the debate to discuss this important issue. The conversation was productive and everyone agreed something must be done,” he said. “Washington must ensure our homeland is protected, as is our right to privacy.”

Sensenbrenner promised to come back after the five-week recess armed with legislation “to ensure Section 215 of the Patriot Act is properly interpreted and implemented.”

“The bill will ensure the dragnet collection of data by the NSA is reined in, safeguards are established to significantly increase the transparency of the FISA Court and protections are put in place for businesses who work with the government,” he said.

The meeting was added to Obama’s schedule this week, squeezed in before a planned bilateral meeting with Yemeni President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi and undoubtedly intended to tamp down his critics who are growing louder on the Hill.

On Wednesday, Wyden slammed the declassified documents released by the Director of National Intelligence — yet another attempt to assuage critics — by saying they just served to highlight administration lies.

“The newly declassified briefing documents released today show that the executive branch repeatedly made inaccurate statements to Congress about the value and effectiveness of the bulk email records collection program that was carried out under the USA PATRIOT Act until 2011. These statements had the effect of misleading members of Congress about the usefulness of this program,” Wyden said.

“The briefing documents that were provided to Congress in December 2009 and February 2011 clearly stated that both the bulk email records and bulk phone records collection programs were ‘unique in that they can produce intelligence not otherwise available to NSA.’ The 2009 briefing document went on to state that the two programs ‘provide a vital capability to the Intelligence Community,’ and the 2011 briefing document stated that they provided ‘an important capability,’” the senator continued.

Wyden noted that he and Udall “spent a significant portion of 2011 pressing the Intelligence Community to provide evidence to support the claims that they had made about the bulk email records program.”

“They were unable to do so, and the program was shut down due to a lack of operational value, as senior intelligence officials have now publicly confirmed,” he said.

And again, he stressed the deception.

“While I believe that releasing these documents is a welcome step toward greater openness and more informed debate about domestic surveillance programs, they are, in fact, further evidence of a pattern of misleading statements to Congress on this topic,” Wyden said. “Similarly misleading statements about the bulk email records program were also made to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, though these statements unfortunately remain classified.”

The Oval Office meeting came not just on the day that Russia gave one-year asylum to Snowden, but a day after Guardian columnist Glenn Greenwald revealed another one of Snowden’s secrets: a secret NSA program called XKeyscore that “allows analysts to search with no prior authorization through vast databases containing emails, online chats and the browsing histories of millions of individuals.”

The documents on the program give more weight to Snowden’s claim that he could “wiretap anyone, from you or your accountant, to a federal judge or even the president, if I had a personal email.”

The co-chairman of the Congressional Bipartisan Privacy Caucus called the revelation “appalling, but not surprising.”

“For weeks we were assured that the NSA was only collecting unidentifiable metadata that could only be accessed after a warrant was issued,” said Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas). “The truth is that by filling out a simple online form analysts could search your emails, your online chats and even your browsing history without prior authorization. This is a violation of your privacy, a violation of the 4th Amendment, and it is just wrong.”

“We need to thoroughly investigate the use of this program and promptly pass legislation that will rein it in,” Barton added.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney brushed off criticism of the surveillance programs at Thursday’s briefing, saying of support for the snooping “there’s not many things that Democrats and Republicans agree on, but this seems to be one of them.”

“I’m not going to engage in a discussion about or characterize our views on proposals that have been put forward — and certainly there is more than one — except to say that we’re in conversation with members of Congress about various ideas,” Carney continued. “…I think the president, as he has made abundantly clear, welcomes the discussion and debate. He believes that the balance is essential. And I think he certainly doesn’t doubt that there are ways to improve the effectiveness of the programs that we have.”

It’s not lost on the White House that the House last week came surprisingly close to killing funding for the NSA’s mass phone record collection in a bipartisan show of force.

Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.), one of the co-sponsors of Rep. Justin Amash’s (R-Mich.) bill, said today he’s been “hearing from constituents, an enormous public outcry about reining in our national security apparatus and making sure that we have reasonable checks and balances around access to our most personal information in honoring the spirit of our Constitution.”

“I think the point that Representative Amash and I are making that the American people feel is common sense, is that liberty and security are not mutually exclusive. We can and we must have them both,” Polis said on MSNBC. “We can’t give up what makes it special to be an American under our Constitution in the name of security, or we lose the very thing that we’re trying to protect and that we cherish.”

Bridget Johnson is a career journalist whose news articles and opinion columns have run in dozens of news outlets across the globe. Bridget first came to Washington to be online editor at The Hill, where she wrote The World from The Hill column on foreign policy. Previously she was an opinion writer and editorial board member at the Rocky Mountain News and nation/world news columnist at the Los Angeles Daily News. She has contributed to USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, National Review Online, Politico and more, and has myriad television and radio credits as a commentator. Bridget is Washington Editor for PJ Media.

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Top Rated Comments   
Obama wants us to believe that he knew nothing about what was going on with the gun running to Mexican drug gangs, nothing about what the IRS was doing and nothing much anyway about Benghazi, yet we are suppose to believe he knows all about what the NSA is doing. He seems to know nothing about anything except when he knows everything about it.
37 weeks ago
37 weeks ago Link To Comment
All Comments   (15)
All Comments   (15)
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OK, so we are going to tell you that we are spying on every American without a warrant, but we ain't gonna stop spying.
37 weeks ago
37 weeks ago Link To Comment
Layla. if you think Jacqueline`s comment is really cool... last saturday I bought a new Maserati from having made $7518 this past four weeks and-over, $10,000 this past-month. it's by-far the most-comfortable job I've had. I began this five months/ago and immediately started making a nice more than $84, per-hour. I follow the details on this straightforward website, http://www.wep6.com
37 weeks ago
37 weeks ago Link To Comment
Lets be clear, the NSA bulk e-mail surveillance program was ineffective in catching terrorists, the NSA lied about that to both Congress and the FISA Court. And when finally cornered by the Senators Wyden and Udall to provide proof of effective anti-terrorism ops resulting from that surveillance, they shut it down.

The NSA lied to the FISA Court to get the bulk e-mail surveillance program established.

They lied to keep it.

And they behaved like cornered rats when they got called on it.

The program wasn't for terrorists. It was for power, the power to have mass domestic surveillance of American citizens.

Please also carefully note that principal Patriot Act author Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) was on-board with Senators Wyden and Udall with limiting the NSA power here.

The NSA is going to face a Tea Party lead Church Comittee style investigation in the event of a Republican President being sworn in come Jan. 2017
37 weeks ago
37 weeks ago Link To Comment
The issue with the NSA surveillance is that data mining today _is not_ a straight line projection to tomorrow. What ever the NSA can’t find now with today’s data mining techniques doesn’t mean they won’t tomorrow or next month or next year.

“Total Information Awareness” requires total information control, which is why the NSA went to the FISA court to get a complete copy of all US domestic internet and phone activity for their files from all the major Silicon Valley internet firms. The NSA has access to _everything_ in terms of domestic and foreign communications metadata passing through the major American internet & cellular companies via FISA Court Order.

IOW, the NSA has a data mining time machine for your life on-line, and the lives of every other American, starting from several years ago. The NSA has the budget to store it all.

That massive data cache is potential blackmail material that makes the "Hoover files" look like a wet firecracker compared to a 50 megaton thermonuclear device.

That is power that will be abused at the expense of American individual liberty by the rest of the Federal government.

And what the NSA can do now with $50 to $500 million in software and hardware will be a off-the shelf $50,000 to $500,000 software and software seven years from now.

Consider the implications of that thought. Especially in light of the massive corruption possibilities provided to the guardians of the NSA data centers via providing selective access to the data.

My real short term fear regards the NSA metadate data warehouse is the Secret Service NATIONAL THREAT ASSESSMENT CENTER (See: http://www.secretservice.gov/ntac.shtml) using NSA metadata intercepts to very broadly and unconstitutionally "predict and prevent threats to the President".

The Secret Service is not limited by FISA Court warrants or Congressional oversight in identifying and dealing with "possible threats" to it's protectees.

The possibility of the Secret Service people in charge using the NSA metadate warehouse for "predictive software threat assessment data mining" being as morally suspect as the local prostitute using Cartagena, Colombia Secret Service advance team is very real.
37 weeks ago
37 weeks ago Link To Comment
Here are 226 examples of Barack Obama’s lying, lawbreaking, corruption, cronyism, etc. http://danfromsquirrelhill.wordpress.com/2013/07/27/obama-226/
37 weeks ago
37 weeks ago Link To Comment
Obama wants us to believe that he knew nothing about what was going on with the gun running to Mexican drug gangs, nothing about what the IRS was doing and nothing much anyway about Benghazi, yet we are suppose to believe he knows all about what the NSA is doing. He seems to know nothing about anything except when he knows everything about it.
37 weeks ago
37 weeks ago Link To Comment
So whats new? I don't much like the NSA having access to all my emails - I have nothing to hide - but this has to have a chilling effect on anyone Obama considers an enemy. And we pretty much know who is on that list - ~49% of Americans. The question isn't whether the NSA is spying on Americans - we know they are - the question is what is the NSA doing with that information? Knowing exactly the tactics Tea Party organizations are going to use is a pretty handy tidbit. There is nothing like being able to 'head em off at the pass'. Knowing about racy (sexist etc) emails can be used to coerce individuals. I don't put it past this Organizer-In-Chief to order up such information for dissemination to OFA and other like-minded organizations. Just like what has apparently happened with much of the information the IRS demanded - and got from conservative organizations.

Obama is using every gear and wheel in the US Federal Government machine to gather information all in a blatant attempt to draw power to himself and the democrats. Can a dictatorship be far off?

37 weeks ago
37 weeks ago Link To Comment
(One more time!)

What Do You Want to Do?

You do know that on Jan. 20 2017 his Obamaness will no longer be President, right?

Point being, I see a lot of complains (very often well deserved) about our Community Organizer In Chief, big government...etc...etc., what I have not seen is an answer to my small simple question. Another thing I haven't seen is examples of the NSA abusing the information gathered. Not saying it hasn't happened, just that I have not seen it.
37 weeks ago
37 weeks ago Link To Comment
Read the Guardian's other article today showing how the U.S. is funding the British spying capabilities and the insinuation that while the U.S. can't LEGALLY get information on U.S. citizens without a warrant the Brits can for us, especially since we are providing access to the same information. So if someone at the NSA wants something on someone and doesn't want to have to go through channels they can just ask the Brits to do it for them. And as the article shows, they are very beholden to us for the funding.
37 weeks ago
37 weeks ago Link To Comment
The Liar-in-Chief can spin, dodge and weave, but Americans hopefully know better, or they soon will - http://adinakutnicki.com/2013/08/02/the-nsa-caught-dead-to-rights-commentary-by-adina-kutnicki/

And Obama Inc. may yet calm the so called 'handful of critics', but the general public won't be so easy to 'calm'.

Adina Kutnicki, Israel http://adinakutnicki.com/about/
37 weeks ago
37 weeks ago Link To Comment
The President is having a meeting now. This has been going on for months. Dithering again!
37 weeks ago
37 weeks ago Link To Comment
A meeting that excluded Rand Paul .... ... which is telling.
37 weeks ago
37 weeks ago Link To Comment
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