President Barack Obama Frday coupled his new curbs on NSA surveillance with straightforward praise for the intelligence community’s mission, methods and moral purpose.
The praise is noteworthy partly because Obama has repeatedly declared and shown his personal distance from the military and its mission, and because he’s under pressure from his progressive base to dismiss and diminish the intelligence community’s mission.
“In an extraordinarily difficult job, one in which actions are second-guessed, success is unreported, and failure can be catastrophic,” the president said in a speech at the Department of Justice. “The men and women of the intelligence community, including the NSA, consistently follow protocols designed to protect the privacy of ordinary people.”
The location was likely intended to highlight civilian oversight of the military NSA, which is based just north of Washington D.C., in Fort Meade, Maryland.
“They are not abusing authorities in order to listen to your private phone calls, or read your emails… 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,” Obama said.
Obama backed the agency’s anti-terror mission, saying the NSA’s inability to track cellphone data in 2001 prevented its realization that an al-Qaida group was operating in the United States.
He also endorsed the NSA’s need to be able to detect and block cyberspace threats, such as hacker attacks on banks, electricity grids and other vital portions of the nation’s infrastructure.
“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,” he said.