On Friday President Barack Obama gave his first press conference in three months where he addressed the controversy surrounding his administration’s involvement in spying on all Americans. During the press conference he made a number of questionable statements, not the least of which was a claim that no abuses occurred in the program. On the same day, a white paper was released that stated the opposite.
Since the telephony metadata collection program under Section 215 was initiated, there have been a number of significant compliance and implementation issues that were discovered as a result of DOJ and ODNI reviews and internal NSA oversight. In accordance with the Court’s rules, upon discovery, these violations were reported to the FISC, which ordered appropriate remedial action. The incidents, and the Court’s responses, were also reported to the Intelligence and Judiciary Committees in great detail.
Obama also made the claim that Congress was fully informed and that the program has been properly overseen – a claim contradicted by lawmakers who spoke with the Washington Post.
The Obama administration points to checks and balances from Congress as a key rationale for supporting bulk collection of Americans’ telephone communications data, but several lawmakers responsible for overseeing the program in recent years say that they felt limited in their ability to challenge its scope and legality…
“In terms of the oversight function, I feel inadequate most of the time,” said Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), a member of the House Intelligence Committee and an NSA critic. Bulk surveillance “certainly was approved by Congress. Was it approved by a fully knowing Congress? That is not the case.”
The most difficult statement to accept from Obama, one that even he backed away from later in the press conference, was that he was already making the reforms before Edward Snowden highlighted problems with the program. In essence, Snowden was jumping the gun on an ongoing process. That doesn’t even pass the laugh test.
Later, as reporters pushed back Obama retreated and conceded that Snowden “triggered” some policy discussion, but that he had issued a historic order protecting intelligence agency whistleblowers – despite the overwhelming evidence that the Obama Administration has declared war on whistleblowers.
Also, Obama essentially acknowledged that he has lost the communications war on the NSA spying program and was forced to hold the pre-vacation press conference to stop the bleeding and to offer reforms. In short, Edward Snowden won.