Yesterday, shortly after 3 p.m., President Obama gave what some believe to be his most dishonest press conference to date. And by “some,” I mean me, since many in the media seem unable or unwilling to label what Obama is doing with the proper word: lying.
Sure, there’s some miscommunication, some misdirection, but lying? That’s extreme, go back to the blogosphere, they say. Well, I think it’s extreme to sit through a historic press conference like that without asking the President of the United States a single valid follow-up question to his statements on the NSA fallout.
Let’s look at Mr. Obama’s exact words from yesterday:
“Now, keep in mind that as a senator, I expressed a healthy skepticism about these programs. And as president, I’ve taken steps to make sure that they have strong oversight by all three branches of government and clear safeguards to prevent abuse and protect the rights of the American people.”
The first part of this is true: as a senator, Mr. Obama did express concerns about dragnet surveillance of US citizens, and in fact sold himself to the American people as the antidote to the Bush era’s anti-terrorism excesses.
The second part is unequivocally not true, or as a cable pundit might delicately put it, “misleading.”
The NSA’s vast, warrantless surveillance of American citizens with no connections to terrorism or national security investigations is not subject to “clear safeguards” from all three branches of government.
Last year, the secret FISA court approved 100 percent of the requests it received. If that sounds a bit like a North Korean courtroom, you are right.
Furthermore, as The Guardian reported yesterday, a “previously undisclosed rule change allows NSA operatives to hunt for individual Americans’ communications using their name or other identifying information.”
But here’s the thing: “The authority, approved in 2011, appears to contrast with repeated assurances from Barack Obama and senior intelligence officials to both Congress and the American public that the privacy of US citizens is protected from the NSA’s dragnet surveillance programs.”
That’s two years after Mr. Obama took office, so it is exceedingly hard to explain this away as a Bush-era legacy Obama hasn’t gotten around to tossing out yet.
And even the most loyal of Obama supporters must have squirmed in their seats yesterday when Obama promised to work with Congress in order to “pursue appropriate reforms to Section 215 of the Patriot Act.”
How thoughtful of him! He appears willing to explore reforming one little section of a massively unconstitutional act he used to rail against. Is that the Change?
And worst of all from yesterday’s presser, Mr. Obama slipped into full Orwellian dystopia mode when he revealed that the NSA is now “taking steps to put in place a full-time civil liberties and privacy officer.”
Is this America? Where the selection of an unelected “privacy officer” is supposed to ease all of our concerns? We already have a full-time civil liberties team in place: it’s called the courts and the United States Constitution.
But a “constitutional scholar” should already know that.