Backfire: Instead of whitewashing NSA surveillance, Obama’s handpicked review panel urges change

posted at 8:01 pm on December 18, 2013 by Allahpundit

Not the result His Majesty expected, needless to say. Remember, he chose this panel because he trusted they’d go face-first into the tank for him by rubber-stamping mass surveillance. In the end they recommended 46 changes to the program, the most prominent of which is to have telecom companies control the database of customers’ metadata going forward rather than let the feds hoard the info and do lord knows what with it as government’s data-crunching capabilities inevitably expand. Only by getting an order from the FISA Court should the NSA be able to access the database, the panel said, and only then if it’s relevant to a particular terrorism investigation.

The full report is more than 300 pages long but I doubt there’s a more important paragraph in it than this one. Today’s magic words are “not essential.”

ne

That’s the second time in three days that an independent observer who’s looked closely at the program has claimed that it’s just not very effective. The other was Judge Richard Leon, who invited the DOJ to show him examples of metadata helping to stop terrorist plots and felt obliged to note that they couldn’t.

Benjamin Wittes of Lawfare knows a political disaster when he sees one:

This is a really awkward document for the Obama administration. Really awkward.

The President, after all, has stood by the necessity of the Section 215 program and objected to legislative proposals to curtail it. Then the White House handpicks a special review group, and it kind of pulls the rug out from under the administration’s position…

Similarly, the administration has stood by its national security letters authority. The review group suggests reining it in…

To put the matter bluntly, there is no way the administration will embrace a bunch of these recommendations. And from this day forward, any time the White House and the intelligence community resist these calls for change, the cry will go out that Obama, in doing so, is ignoring the recommendations of his own review panel. And the cry will be right.

Exactly. The panel’s recommendations obviously aren’t binding on him, but this report was supposed to be a fig leaf for O so that he could make some cosmetic changes and then declare the program “fixed.” As it is, they’re suggesting at least one change, i.e. placing the NSA and America’s Cyber Command under different directors, that the White House has already rejected out of hand. And certain others, like having the NSA stop trying to undermine encryption standards so that it can stay ahead of the technological privacy curve, are bound to be rejected too.

But … maybe we’re looking at this the wrong way. Here’s a tantalizing tidbit from Politico’s report yesterday about NSA officials being “slobberknockered” by how hard Obama’s panel ended up being on them:

Reflecting on the dramatic changes that have taken place since the first newspaper stories based on Snowden’s leaked materials began appearing back in June, one U.S. official noted that the NSA’s once-solid support inside the White House and on Capitol Hill has waned since the panel was created in August, and that the once cordial relationship between the White House and NSA has become distinctly “chilly” over the past two months.

NSA officials became concerned this fall when their memos were increasingly ignored and their phone calls to key officials in Washington, especially at the State Department, were not returned. And more ominously, rumors began to reach NSA headquarters at Fort Meade, Maryland, that the review panel had been given new marching orders to be robust and searching in its report.

“We got the distinct impression that we were now lepers in Washington,” a senior NSA official recalled, adding, “Putting as much distance as possible between the White House and us was the order of the day.”

Between the promise of further (and more damaging?) Snowden revelations and the potential for this subject to spark a bipartisan revolt in Congress (Justin Amash’s defunding measure nearly passed the House a few months ago), maybe the White House decided that it was time to throw the NSA under the bus. At some point, perhaps, the order came down to the panel that the best way to protect Obama was to switch from a whitewash of the program to a few meatier reform proposals that he can embrace as a way of limiting his political exposure on Big Brother surveillance. There’s no way, really, for him to suddenly change his mind and claim that he’s spontaneously reconsidered everything he said before in defense of the program. But if his handpicked panel floats a few ideas for him, he can portray himself as the can-do executive who took the problem seriously enough to closely investigate it and then listened to his experts when they urged him to change course in a few ways. He conducted a fact-finding mission, by delegation, and now his opinion has changed in a few particulars. What a champ.

He’s not going to get rid of the program, obviously — if he did that and there was a new attack on U.S. soil, hawks would destroy him over it notwithstanding today’s “not essential” finding — but maybe adopting a few key recommendations will calm Democrats in Congress and liberals in his base. That at least might spare him some legislative humiliation in which a more draconian reform measure passes both houses and he has to decide whether to veto it or not. O looooves unilateral power, but he doesn’t want unilateral responsibility for protecting the program. Exit quotation from Pat Leahy: “The message to the NSA is now coming from every branch of government and from every corner of our nation: You have gone too far.”


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Well, that report is going in the shredder.

ThePrez on December 18, 2013 at 8:05 PM

That isn’t a backfire. The Left has been wanting to crush the NSA since they found out it exists, and Obama is their creation. If he can, he will destroy it’s ability to carry out its mission, and then politicize the remnants.

Count to 10 on December 18, 2013 at 8:06 PM

Bush’s fault.

kcewa on December 18, 2013 at 8:08 PM

Change, from the makers of Astro Glide.

Christien on December 18, 2013 at 8:11 PM

Duck Dynasty dude suspended for preferring vagina over male anus.

xblade on December 18, 2013 at 8:12 PM

“Ignore the Review panel behind the curtain!!”

orangemtl on December 18, 2013 at 8:12 PM

Duck Dynasty dude suspended for preferring v@gin@ over @nus.

xblade on December 18, 2013 at 8:13 PM

O looooves unilateral power, but he doesn’t want unilateral responsibility for protecting the program.

The One’s entire life in a nutshell.

clear ether

eon

eon on December 18, 2013 at 8:16 PM

Sounds like some on the recommendations were written by Tech companies. These are silly:

The panel also declared that the N.S.A. should cease efforts to undermine work to create secure encryption standards to protect confidential communications and data stored on remote “cloud” servers, and make clear that “it will not in any way subvert, undermine, weaken or make vulnerable generally available commercial encryption.”

It also said the United States should get out of the business of secretly collecting flaws in common computer programs and using them for mounting cyberattacks, because the technique undermines confidence in American products. That technique, using what are called “zero day” flaws that have never been discovered before, were critical to the cyberattacks that the United States and Israel launched on Iran in an effort to slow its nuclear program.

kcewa on December 18, 2013 at 8:16 PM

This must be the reason that Boehner is blocking a select committee on the IRS investigation concerning the Tea Party….it’s all good.

d1carter on December 18, 2013 at 8:19 PM

hawks would destroy him over it notwithstanding today’s “not essential” finding

^ Must go.

Sounds like some on the recommendations were written by Tech companies. These are silly:

The panel also declared that the N.S.A. should cease efforts to undermine work to create secure encryption standards to protect confidential communications and data stored on remote “cloud” servers, and make clear that “it will not in any way subvert, undermine, weaken or make vulnerable generally available commercial encryption.”

kcewa on December 18, 2013 at 8:16 PM

How is that silly?

Axe on December 18, 2013 at 8:20 PM

Bad quote. Correction:

Sounds like some on the recommendations were written by Tech companies. These are silly:

The panel also declared that the N.S.A. should cease efforts to undermine work to create secure encryption standards to protect confidential communications and data stored on remote “cloud” servers, and make clear that “it will not in any way subvert, undermine, weaken or make vulnerable generally available commercial encryption.”

kcewa on December 18, 2013 at 8:16 PM

How is that silly?

Axe on December 18, 2013 at 8:20 PM

Axe on December 18, 2013 at 8:21 PM

How is that silly?

Axe on December 18, 2013 at 8:20 PM

They shouldn’t work to crack encryption? That’s pretty central to what an intelligence agency does.

kcewa on December 18, 2013 at 8:25 PM

Change to spy on muslims less and tea party more.

VorDaj on December 18, 2013 at 8:26 PM

If you like your privacy, you can keep your privacy. Period. You have my word on it. – Barack “I can not tell a lie” Obama

VorDaj on December 18, 2013 at 8:27 PM

All your communications belong to the all mighty state.

VorDaj on December 18, 2013 at 8:29 PM

If you have nothing to hide you should welcome Big Brother seeing and hearing everything you do.

VorDaj on December 18, 2013 at 8:30 PM

How wonderful to hear Pat Leahy is worried that “every corner of the country” condemning government actions should be heard, and the government should respond by changing.

Not to minimize the NSA stuff, but there is also this little matter of Obamacare that this same standard applies to.

MTF on December 18, 2013 at 8:32 PM

The other was Judge Richard Leon, who invited the DOJ to show him examples of metadata helping to stop terrorist plots and felt obliged to note that they couldn’t.

If this were a Republican president engaging in mass surveillance with no practical result the media would NEVER let it rest. He’d be torn asunder by their mob. I mean, just gutted. The Republicans have a couple of hearings then go back to biting their nails about 2014. Obama and the media should be attacked EVERYday by EVERY Republican in Washington. Breitbart would never permit this grotesque double standard.

rrpjr on December 18, 2013 at 8:38 PM

Snowden for President! For Freedom and liberty!

FloatingRock on December 18, 2013 at 8:40 PM

…look for some IRS audits!

KOOLAID2 on December 18, 2013 at 8:41 PM

Well the “Review Panel” can just kiss off getting an invite to the White House Christmas Holiday Party. That will show them!

GarandFan on December 18, 2013 at 8:42 PM

They shouldn’t work to crack encryption? That’s pretty central to what an intelligence agency does.

kcewa on December 18, 2013 at 8:25 PM

It says they shouldn’t work to deliberately break the encryption algorithms themselves, or deliberately break encryption algorithm implementation software, for the purpose of making it easier for them to decrypt encrypted data should the need ever arise.

. . . They should stop walking around indiscriminately whacking people’s kneecaps for the purpose of making it generally easier to run people down, it says.

Axe on December 18, 2013 at 8:46 PM

Backfire: Instead of whitewashing NSA surveillance, Obama’s handpicked review panel urges change

…they were racist!

KOOLAID2 on December 18, 2013 at 8:47 PM

Axe on December 18, 2013 at 8:46 PM

OK.

kcewa on December 18, 2013 at 8:50 PM

In a free society, public officials should never engage in
surveillance in order to punish their political enemies; to restrict freedom of speech or religion; to suppress legitimate criticism and dissent; to help their
preferred companies or industries; to provide domestic companies with an unfair competitive advantage; or to benefit or burden members of groups
defined in terms of religion, ethnicity, race, and gender.
**********************
cass sunstein must have gotten a good laugh over that line.

dmacleo on December 18, 2013 at 8:52 PM

O looooves unilateral power, but he doesn’t want unilateral responsibility for protecting the program.

The One’s entire life in a nutshell.

clear ether

eon

eon on December 18, 2013 at 8:16 PM

Eon beat me to it…

PointnClick on December 18, 2013 at 9:13 PM

he can portray himself as the can-do executive who took the problem seriously enough to closely investigate it and then listened to his experts

Experts, as in VayJay the Hezbollah Harlot, “Smokin” Joe Biden, Harry “Chester the Molester” Reid, Nanzi “Botox Babe” Pelousi, et al?

And just exactly when did he ever act like a “can-do” executive?
The guy probably can’t even wipe his own ass without direction from somebody, and that would probably be Sheryl “one sheet” Crowe.

Give me a freaking break.

lfwest on December 18, 2013 at 9:21 PM

Backfire: Instead of whitewashing NSA surveillance, Obama’s handpicked review panel urges change

I’m sure he’ll give this panel the same reverence and respect that he gave Simpson-Bowles.

TXUS on December 18, 2013 at 9:30 PM

Decrypt this:

ObamaCare. Because no one is better at garbling your diagnosis than the feckless cronies hired by Democrats.

SparkPlug on December 18, 2013 at 9:40 PM

Here’s a good line from the link:

At the same time, the agency’s once harmonious relationship with this country’s largest high-tech companies, such as Microsoft, Google and Yahoo, is now a shattered smoking ruin, NSA officials fret.

This could have been phrased, “Not content with merely destroying America’s relations with foreign allies, such as England and Egypt, the White House has now set its sights on destroying its relations with multinational corporations it had formerly been allied with.’

#smartpower

arik1969 on December 18, 2013 at 9:44 PM

They shouldn’t work to crack encryption? That’s pretty central to what an intelligence agency does.

kcewa on December 18, 2013 at 8:25 PM

By the NSA “undermining” they mean that the NSA is trying to ensure that inferior, easily-crackable encryption technologies are used by telecommunications companies and the public, rather than the best-available.

virgo on December 18, 2013 at 11:17 PM

Obama recommends an Orwellian Transparent Department of Transparent Transparency. Expanding government control by controlling government control – transparently.

ironked on December 19, 2013 at 8:12 AM

The President, after all, has stood by the necessity of the Section 215 program and objected to legislative proposals to curtail it.

Well, we all know how the President lies.

Herb on December 19, 2013 at 10:25 AM

The issue isn’t about whether the method is effective. Be careful about that slippery slope.

Put everyone in a nice, comfortable, locked room, and all crime is ended, right? But it’s the most effective method!

Whenever an argument for liberty is not the first consideration of such a topic, tyranny is at the door.

Do not submit.

Freelancer on December 19, 2013 at 12:14 PM

NSA officials became concerned this fall when their memos were increasingly ignored and their phone calls to key officials in Washington, especially at the State Department, were not returned.

I guess they’re just not that much into you any more…

affenhauer on December 19, 2013 at 2:07 PM