[discuss] EMBARGOED: Presidential Policy Directive -- Signals Intelligence Activities
Carlos A. Afonso
ca at cafonso.ca
Sat Jan 18 13:16:07 UTC 2014
What? "Excellent" for whom?
Of course I believe he will mend the multibillion-dollar spying machine
to "behave" and we should trust him, so they will never peek into the
world for commercial advantage, blablabla etc etc. I also believe in
fairies, gnomes, and Santa.
I agree with Greenwald's analysis, reproduced below.
On 01/17/2014 03:02 PM, Jorge Amodio wrote:
> Yes, it was an excellent speech.
Obama's NSA 'reforms' are little more than a PR attempt to mollify the
The Guardian, Friday 17 January 2014 19.23 GMT
In response to political scandal and public outrage, official Washington
repeatedly uses the same well-worn tactic. It is the one that has been
hauled out over decades in response to many of America's most
significant political scandals. Predictably, it is the same one that
shaped President Obama's much-heralded Friday speech to announce his
proposals for "reforming" the National Security Agency in the wake of
seven months of intense worldwide controversy.
The crux of this tactic is that US political leaders pretend to validate
and even channel public anger by acknowledging that there are "serious
questions that have been raised". They vow changes to fix the system and
ensure these problems never happen again. And they then set out, with
their actions, to do exactly the opposite: to make the system prettier
and more politically palatable with empty, cosmetic "reforms" so as to
placate public anger while leaving the system fundamentally unchanged,
even more immune than before to serious challenge.
This scam has been so frequently used that it is now easily
recognizable. In the mid-1970s, the Senate uncovered surveillance abuses
that had been ongoing for decades, generating widespread public fury. In
response, the US Congress enacted a new law (Fisa) which featured two
primary "safeguards": a requirement of judicial review for any domestic
surveillance, and newly created committees to ensure legal compliance by
the intelligence community.
But the new court was designed to ensure that all of the government's
requests were approved: it met in secret, only the government's lawyers
could attend, it was staffed with the most pro-government judges, and it
was even housed in the executive branch. As planned, the court over the
next 30 years virtually never said no to the government.
Identically, the most devoted and slavish loyalists of the National
Security State were repeatedly installed as the committee's heads,
currently in the form of NSA cheerleaders Democrat Dianne Feinstein in
the Senate and Republican Mike Rogers in the House. As the New Yorker's
Ryan Lizza put it in a December 2013 article on the joke of
Congressional oversight, the committees "more often treat … senior
intelligence officials like matinee idols".
As a result, the committees, ostensibly intended to serve an overseer
function, have far more often acted as the NSA's in-house PR firm. The
heralded mid-1970s reforms did more to make Americans believe there was
reform than actually providing any, thus shielding it from real reforms.
The same thing happened after the New York Times, in 2005, revealed that
the NSA under Bush had been eavesdropping on Americans for years without
the warrants required by criminal law. The US political class loudly
claimed that they would resolve the problems that led to that scandal.
Instead, they did the opposite: in 2008, a bipartisan Congress, with the
support of then-Senator Barack Obama, enacted a new Fisa law that
legalized the bulk of the once-illegal Bush program, including allowing
warrantless eavesdropping on hundreds of millions of foreign nationals
and large numbers of Americans as well.
This was also the same tactic used in the wake of the 2008 financial
crises. Politicians dutifully read from the script that blamed
unregulated Wall Street excesses and angrily vowed to rein them in. They
then enacted legislation that left the bankers almost entirely
unscathed, and which made the "too-big-to-fail" problem that spawned the
crises worse than ever.
And now we have the spectacle of President Obama reciting paeans to the
values of individual privacy and the pressing need for NSA safeguards.
"Individual freedom is the wellspring of human progress," he gushed with
an impressively straight face. "One thing I'm certain of, this debate
will make us stronger," he pronounced, while still seeking to imprison
for decades the whistleblower who enabled that debate. The bottom line,
he said, is this: "I believe we need a new approach."
But those pretty rhetorical flourishes were accompanied by a series of
plainly cosmetic "reforms". By design, those proposals will do little
more than maintain rigidly in place the very bulk surveillance systems
that have sparked such controversy and anger.
To be sure, there were several proposals from Obama that are positive
steps. A public advocate in the Fisa court, a loosening of "gag orders"
for national security letters, removing metadata control from the NSA,
stricter standards for accessing metadata, and narrower authorizations
for spying on friendly foreign leaders (but not, of course, their
populations) can all have some marginal benefits. But even there,
Obama's speech was so bereft of specifics – what will the new standards
be? who will now control Americans' metadata? – that they are more like
slogans than serious proposals.
Ultimately, the radical essence of the NSA – a system of suspicion-less
spying aimed at hundreds of millions of people in the US and around the
world – will fully endure even if all of Obama's proposals are adopted.
That's because Obama never hid the real purpose of this process. It is,
he and his officials repeatedly acknowledged, "to restore public
confidence" in the NSA. In other words, the goal isn't to truly reform
the agency; it is deceive people into believing it has been so that they
no longer fear it or are angry about it.
As the ACLU's executive director Anthony Romero said after the speech:
"The president should end – not mend – the government's collection
and retention of all law-abiding Americans' data. When the government
collects and stores every American's phone call data, it is engaging in
a textbook example of an 'unreasonable search' that violates the
That, in general, has long been Obama's primary role in our political
system and his premiere, defining value to the permanent power factions
that run Washington. He prettifies the ugly; he drapes the banner of
change over systematic status quo perpetuation; he makes Americans feel
better about policies they find repellent without the need to change any
of them in meaningful ways. He's not an agent of change but the soothing
branding packaging for it.
As is always the case, those who want genuine changes should not look to
politicians, and certainly not to Barack Obama, to wait for it to be
gifted. Obama was forced to give this speech by rising public pressure,
increasingly scared US tech giants, and surprisingly strong resistance
from the international community to the out-of-control American
Today's speech should be seen as the first step, not the last, on the
road to restoring privacy. The causes that drove Obama to give this
speech need to be, and will be, stoked and nurtured further until it
becomes clear to official Washington that, this time around, cosmetic
gestures are plainly inadequate.
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