Civil-liberties board: NSA phone-surveillance program likely illegal, should be stopped

posted at 9:21 am on January 23, 2014 by Ed Morrissey

Yesterday, I wrote about the difficulties of putting Barack Obama’s ambiguous pledges for “reform” at the NSA into concrete action, and concluded that no one at the White House had bothered to do any groundwork before giving a speech. As it turns out, the White House didn’t even bother to wait for all of the evidence to come in before setting policy — even as murky as the policy in the speech was. The Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB) investigated the Section 215 metadata collection and surveillance programs and concluded that they are illegal, a threat to privacy, and should be cancelled rather than reformed:

An independent executive branch board has concluded that the National Security Agency’s long-running program to collect billions of Americans’ phone records is illegal and should end.

In a strongly worded report to be issued Thursday, the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB) said that the statute upon which the program was based, Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act, “does not provide an adequate basis to support this program.”

The board’s conclusion goes further than President Obama, who said in a speech Friday that he thought the NSA’s database of records should be moved out of government hands but did not call for an outright halt to the program. The board had shared its conclusions with Obama in the days leading up to his speech.

The divided panel also concluded that the program raises serious threats to civil liberties, has shown limited value in countering terrorism and is not sustainable from a policy perspective.

Why not wait for the PCLOB to finalize its conclusions before making a decision on policy? Maybe Obama figured the PCLOB would agree with him; it has a certain lapdog reputation, enhanced by the fact that it hadn’t ever acted from its inception in 2004 until the Snowden revelations prompted its first substantive action in November of last year.  If so, why not wait for the political cover?

More likely, Obama decided that he wanted to keep the Section 215 programs no matter what the PCLOB concluded. Again, though, the better option here is to wait for the PCLOB to report and then announce that he will follow the recommendations of his own presidential commission (which had an even stronger lapdog sensibility) while paying lip service to whatever concerns the PCLOB might raise.

The PCLOB took more care with its public case than did Obama. The administration used the case of al-Qaeda operative Khalid al-Midhar, who coordinated the 9/11 attack while in San Diego via cell phone. The White House argued that the current Section 215 surveillance would have allowed the NSA to detect the entire 9/11 cell, but the PCLOB report concludes that the problem wasn’t detection — it was communication:

“The failure to identify Mihdhar’s presence in the United States stemmed primarily from a lack of information sharing among federal agencies, not of a lack of surveillance capabilities,” the report said, noting that in early 2000 the CIA knew Mihdhar had a visa enabling him to enter the United States but did not advise the FBI or watchlist him. “…This was a failure to connect the dots, not a failure to connect enough dots.”

Second, the report said, the government need not have collected the entire nation’s calling records to identify the San Diego number from which Mihdhar made his calls. It asserted that the government could have used existing legal authorities to request from U.S. phone companies the records of any calls made to or from the Yemen number. “Doing so could have identified the San Diego number on the other end of the calls,” though, it noted, the speed of the carriers’ responses likely would vary.

Now, the White House is stuck with having to answer this unexpectedly harsh blast from a panel that few thought was capable of independence, after making his grand NSA speech last week. Obama’s back on the defensive instead of controlling the media space, thanks to this unforced error. And this time, as McClatchy notes, Obama will have to explain himself in a lot more detail:

President Barack Obama’s response to the international uproar over the nation’s surveillance programs is leaving Americans with more questions than answers.

Where will millions of phone records be stored? What protections will foreigners have? Which secret documents will be declassified?

In what was designed to be his defining speech on the issue last Friday, Obama announced few specifics.

“For every answer he gave, there are several new questions about how he plans to implement these changes,” said Elizabeth Goitein, a co-director of the Brennan Center for Justice’s Liberty and National Security Program. “Ultimately, the full effect of these reforms remains to be seen.”

The Pew poll that McClatchy features shows just how poorly that speech went.

President Obama’s speech on Friday outlining changes to the National Security Agency’s collection of telephone and internet data did not register widely with the public. Half say they have heard nothing at all about his  proposed changes to the NSA, and another 41% say they heard only a little bit. Even among those heard about Obama’s speech, few think the changes will improve privacy protections, or make it more difficult for the government to fight terrorism. …

Reflecting the limited impact of Obama’s address, overall approval of the program and opinions about whether adequate safeguards are in place were no different in three nights of interviewing conducted after the speech (Jan. 17-19) than during the two nights of interviewing conducted prior to the address (Jan. 15-16).

Only 21% thought Obama’s “reform” would increase privacy protections, and only 13% thought it would adversely impact the ability to fight terrorism. More than seven in ten on both questions think it made no difference at all. That’s what happens when speeches substitute for real action, and assumptions are made before all the facts are in.


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and then hotair will run out of material to bash the President on…that’s what you’re really afraid of, right?

nonpartisan on November 19, 2013 at 4:47 PM

Chris of Rights on January 23, 2014 at 9:23 AM

Obama took to heart the saying,’ If you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bull feces.’

meci on January 23, 2014 at 9:31 AM

Since it’s illegal, we should expect prosecutions. One count per violation.

Akzed on January 23, 2014 at 9:31 AM

Obama took to heart the saying,’ If you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bull feces.’

meci on January 23, 2014 at 9:31 AM

The technical term for that is shucking and jiving.

Happy Nomad on January 23, 2014 at 9:36 AM

Stasi doesn’t give info, it collects it.

Ot-http://thehill.com/homenews/senate/196172-schumer-seeks-to-poison-tea-party.

It’s going to be one helluva year.

wolly4321 on January 23, 2014 at 9:40 AM

And this time, as McClatchy notes, Obama will have to explain himself in a lot more detail:

Twice as many “uhhhs” as normal.

Bishop on January 23, 2014 at 9:41 AM

So we have a domestic spying program that does nothing to protect us from terrorist attacks which is the justification for the program.

And now we have a determination that Section 215 doesn’t say what the rat-eared bastard and NSA claims it says (the authors of the Patriot Act have already said that 215 is being abused).

Which means that domestic spying is going to end, right? /

Happy Nomad on January 23, 2014 at 9:42 AM

Twice as many “uhhhs” as normal.

Bishop on January 23, 2014 at 9:41 AM

And a significant increase in the “let’s me be clear heres.”

Happy Nomad on January 23, 2014 at 9:42 AM

President Barack Obama’s response to the international uproar over the nation’s surveillance programs is leaving Americans with more questions than answers.

0bama didn’t even know what 0bama was saying. He just reads the words off the teleprompter that Valerie puts there for him.

CurtZHP on January 23, 2014 at 9:49 AM

I don’t know why anybody cares about domestic spying by the NSA Stasi when there are so many other pressing problems our nation faces……

A fat bastard shut down bridge lanes for partisan payback.

The Captain & Tennille are divorcing after 39 years of marriage.

Wendy Davis is a liar and gold digger.

Justin Beiber got arrested for DUI.

The Bachelor said something mean if you support the gay lifestyle.

Need I go on? These totally phony made-up scandals and concerns should be ignored.

Happy Nomad on January 23, 2014 at 9:49 AM

If these NSA revelations and the president’s response were occurring under a Republican administration, the MSM and every democrat would be demanding impeachment. It’s amazing how the MSM can passively engage on issues under a democrat president that would have them frothing at the mouth if it were a Republican. The MSM are traitors to this country.

Aplombed on January 23, 2014 at 9:50 AM

Please….. gubRmint’s only concern is power… keeping it and expanding it wherever possible….. it produces nothing, only gets what it has thru theft and force….and run by a gang of thugs and plunderers. The only 2 people that don’t know it are the fool and the blind.

roflmmfao

donabernathy on January 23, 2014 at 9:53 AM

“And, in other news, all members of the executive branch PCLOB were informed this morning that they had been randomly selected for IRS audits, reviewing all returns dating back to 1962.

A spokesman for the IRS described the audits as completely random selections. The White House had no comment.”

orangemtl on January 23, 2014 at 9:57 AM

If these NSA revelations and the president’s response were occurring under a Republican administration, the MSM and every democrat would be demanding impeachment.

Aplombed on January 23, 2014 at 9:50 AM

Well past that point. GWB LEGALLY fired 18 incompetent US Attorneys and the Dems and Dems in the media were calling for impeachment.

With the filthy rat-eared bastard……..

Fast and Furious
Black voter intimidation against whites
Benghazi
IRS partisanship
NSA snooping

etc……..

Not a big deal.

Happy Nomad on January 23, 2014 at 10:04 AM

Stasi doesn’t give info, it collects it.

Ot – http://thehill.com/homenews/senate/196172-schumer-seeks-to-poison-tea-party.

It’s going to be one helluva year.

wolly4321 on January 23, 2014 at 9:40 AM

Yeah, why do Liberals/Democrats/Progressives/Marxists (whatever) think they get to define us?

“Liberals have been trying to claim the Tea Party is something other than what it is from the beginning,” said Sal Russo, co-founder and chief strategist of Tea Party Express, a major Tea Party political action committee. “We heard everything from Karl Rove’s orchestrating it to the Koch brothers are doing it or oil companies.”

Russo said the Tea Party is an indigenous grassroots reaction to “exactly what Chuck Schumer is,” and that the movement resulted from “an oppressive intrusion into the people’s lives by the federal government, runaway spending and an unsustainable national debt.

Fallon on January 23, 2014 at 10:04 AM

“This was a failure to connect the dots, not a failure to connect enough dots.”

Just a quickie, because this seems stuffed in just to use the much overused “connect the dots” cliche and it makes no sense whatsoever here. If used in any way, then it should read, “This was a failure to connect the dots, not a failure to collect enough dots.”

And, as for the suggestion that communications between the CIA and the FBI was where the failure occurred, that is likely misleading because it omits the fact that communications between the two were set out in Jamie Gorelick’s 1995 “Wall” memo. If so, then the failure wasn’t in communications, the failure was in policy. Going full circle, the cliche should now read, “This wasn’t a failure to connect the dots, this was a failure to allow dot connecting.”

Dusty on January 23, 2014 at 10:08 AM

Which means to me that the administration will keep right on doing what they’re doing.

scalleywag on January 23, 2014 at 10:19 AM

The lies are so thick and twisted that people can’t understand what Barry is lying about now.

albill on January 23, 2014 at 10:31 AM

The simple truth is Obama rushed out his speech not for policy reasons but for political ones. He needs something big to supplant ObamaCare in the national conversation. But he is not capable of doing anything positive because he has no clue what he is doing.

This is a man who believes in his own myth of superiority without ever having demonstrated any. He doesn’t talk to Congress, not even the members of his own party, and has no idea how to hire good people instead of ideological sycophants. His incompetence has been covered every step of the way by his handlers, Democrats, and a fawning media.

Obama would not even know where to begin to fix anything. He only knows how to read off teleprompters and hopes to change the subject – to anything else.

Adjoran on January 23, 2014 at 10:40 AM

Personally I dislike the term “human rights” and to some extent “civil liberties.” They have been hijacked by the progressives. What I like is “Natural Rights.” Because regardless of government laws, humans have natural rights which some are written down in the US Constitution and BOR.

MoreLiberty on January 23, 2014 at 10:41 AM

Vote for/against the policies…not the person.
 
verbaluce on January 21, 2014 at 1:30 PM

 
We’ll mark that down as a “for”.

rogerb on January 23, 2014 at 10:49 AM

Civil liberties board is full of horse manure.

rlwo2008 on January 23, 2014 at 10:50 AM

Obama will have to explain himself in a lot more detail

Explain himself to whom?

Certainly not the press! NO CHANCE that Justice Dept has any problems with domestic spying. SCOTUS – maybe, but the WH and Justice claims no one has standing to bring a case.

Congress? There seem to be bipartisan support for keeping the citizenry sheepishly in line to be fleeced. Government will not easily give up a means of control and intimidation.

pilsener on January 23, 2014 at 11:24 AM

The board’s conclusion goes further than President Obama, who said in a speech Friday that he thought the NSA’s database of records should be moved out of government hands but did not call for an outright halt to the program. The board had shared its conclusions with Obama in the days leading up to his speech.

Anyone else catch that tidbit, Barky KNEW before he gaveread his speach on Friday.

He doesn’t give a flying fig what you think, he is going to do whatever the heck he wants. Who is going to stop him???

D-fusit on January 23, 2014 at 12:11 PM

Yeah, I noticed and brought this up in an earlier post. Obama, the narcissistic dictator-wanna-be, has already proven he couldn’t give a d@mn what the constitution or Law says – he is going to do what he wants to do. And why should he give doing so a second thought? Congress has already roven that they hold as much concern for their oaths of office, Constitution, and Law as Obama does. None of them are willing to stand up and hold him accountable by filing Articles of Impeachment. Obama KNOWS no one is willing to oppose him and call him on his ‘treason’, so there is no deterence for him to stop.

In his speech he demonstrated this by declaring the problem was not the violation of the Constitution and trampling of Americans’ rights but rather WHO is doing it. He believes Americans problem with the NSA sying is WHO has the data – the govt – and that they fear the govt will use the info for personal reasons…sorta the way Obama used the IRS to take out his political enemies & the roadblocks to his 2012 re-election. So, he still intends to continue violating the Constitution but simply wants someone else to hold on to the information.

Ever heard the expressive warning, ‘if you give ‘X’ an inch they will take a mile’? Congress / the GOP have not set and insisted on a line which Obama is not allowed to cross. The Constitution set that limit, but the GOP has refused to enforce it. By refusing to do so, Obama has kept his promise to ‘funsamentally change this country’ as he has free reign to go as far to push his agenda as he wants with no fear of being held accountable.

…will the last American out please bring the flag?!

easyt65 on January 23, 2014 at 12:43 PM

Sean Trende is looking more accurate all the time.

Zomcon JEM on January 23, 2014 at 1:19 PM

Obama’s response? Screw you!

White House rejects review board finding that NSA data sweep is illegal

Ward Cleaver on January 23, 2014 at 2:25 PM

Not to totally change the subject, but Obama has not been forced to end any of his Constitution/Law-violating activities or his Persecution of Conservatives.

Congress’ report on the IRS Targeting of Obama’s personal political enemies (TEA Party & Conservative groups) IS STILL ON-GOING AS THOSE TARGETED HAVE STILL NOT RECEIVED THEIR TAX EXEMPT STATUSES.

Now a report on Drudge exposes how the IRS is now TARETING a Conservative Group in Hollywood. While the Liberal-dominated Hollywood constantly holds fund raisers for Liberal Politicians (like Obama)and causes, Conservative Groups face Draconian / McCarthy-istic attacks and ‘Black Listing’. Specifically, a Conservative Group in Hollywood called ‘Frieds of Abe’ (as in Abraham Lincoln) HAS BEEN and continues to be TAGETED by the IRS. The IRS has not issued the Group’s Tax Exempt Staus FTER 2 YEARS.

Recently a story ran of how a Hollywood actor was kicked off of filming a movie when it was discovered he is a Conservative. Because of such McCarthy-istic Black Listing this Conservative Organization are forced to adopt ridiculously secretive rules to hide their identities. These rules include strongly discouraging the sue of members’ names, banning cameras at any of their events to keep the identity of members secret to avoid Liberal retribution. In America, not since McCarthy, has Hollywood members had to hide their affiliation and identities. Not since then have Americans protected under the Constitution had to be so afraid of political retribution.

Good Lord, this is AMERICA; yet, our nation is adopting the policies and practices – targeting their enemies – as those we FOUGHT IN WORLD WAR 1 AND 2!

Christians….Conservatives…Conservative Groups….all being targeted and in danger of being wiped out by any and all means by today’s Progressive Liberals commanded/led by Obama!

easyt65 on January 23, 2014 at 3:14 PM

Speaking of ‘Fundamentally changing the United states’, a promise made by Obama in 2007…anyone see how Obama is directing the changing of the dress/uniform code for the military…to allow ‘Soldiers of Allah’ to wear beards, for a start?

This issue came up because self-proclaimed ‘Soldier of Allah’ Major Hassan, perpetraitor of the TERRORIST attack at Fort Hood, Texas, refused to shave his beard – citing his Islamic faith (over the standards/rules of the military he joined…then attacked) – before agreeing to show up for his military trial.

Being out of regs, refusing to adhere to THE MILITARY Dress Code, is ALSO A VIOLATION OF THE UNIFORM CODE OF MILITARY JUSTICE, A PUNISHABLE OFFENSE. INSTEAD OF FOLLOWING THE LAW, something Obama has proven not to give a d@mn about when it suits him, he has made the decision and EDICT that the UNITED STATES MILITARY will change to accept the demands of a TERRORIST who attacked, killed, and wounded fellow members of the Army. He has ordered the uniform & LAW / RULE CHANGE just so Maj Hassan can keep his beard when he goes to trial. That means anyone joining the military will be able to wear their own religeous head coverings instead of the standard, uniform military hats/covers, they will be able to wear any form of beard, mustache, etc as long as they claim it is part of their religeous beliefs. WHAT THE F*?! Seriously?

Anyone who has ever been in the military knows, besides hundreds of years of tradition, when you go to basic you are broken of your selse of individuality and it is replaced with a sense of UNIT / TEAM. Now Obama, a P.O.S. who has never served but who has sent soldiers in harms way to support a plan he never believed in…a man who has aided the very terrorists who have recruited jihadists for years to go kill them in Afghanistan & Iraq…a man who ABANDONED & BETRAYED Americans under fire in Benghazi, wants to make this monumental concession to a terrorist who killed his fellow soldiers!

I guess this is just part of his continued ‘fundamentally changing’ of America!

…will the last d@mn American PLEASE bring the flag with them?!

easyt65 on January 23, 2014 at 3:28 PM

“Likely!?!?” Are you F’in kidding me!?!?

4th amendment ring a bell?!?

KMC1 on January 23, 2014 at 4:55 PM