Two big headlines from today’s presser. One is that, after pretending to care about them as a senator in order to get elected and then basically forgetting about them for five years as president, O’s finally ready to pursue reforms to the NSA’s domestic surveillance apparatus. As summarized by National Journal:
1. Reform the USA PATRIOT Act program that collects telephone programs.
2. Work with Congress to reform the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to introduce an “independent voice” that would “make sure the government’s position is challenged by an adversary.”
3. Increase transparency. The Department of Justice will be making public the legal rationale for the collection of data. A website will also be created as “a hub” for further transparency.
4. A “high-level group of outside experts” will be formed for “new thinking, for a new era.” The independent group will be asked to review surveillance technologies, to ensure there is no abuse and find how the programs can maintain the trust of the public.
The second headline is that the guy whose leaks created this political shinolastorm over surveillance is, according to O, assuredly not a patriot, even though no one but no one thinks Obama would have pushed these reforms if not for Snowden’s revelations. Help me square that circle. It’s not a hopeless contradiction; you can believe that Snowden’s initial leaks about PRISM and domestic data-gathering were legit whistleblowing while also believing that he’s since veered into Wikileaks-style antagonism towards the U.S. government with no obvious benefits to civil liberties. But it’s surreal to see The One essentially stipulate that Snowden’s critique of NSA procedures is valid, enough so that a presidential press conference is necessary to introduce reforms responding to his concerns, and then dismiss the guy as a fake patriot because he didn’t stay put and invoke statutory whistleblower protection in the blind hope that the feds wouldn’t give him the full Bradley Manning treatment. Read Lavabit’s shutdown message yesterday about a “fight for the Constitution” if you haven’t already. Would that sort of catalyzing, awareness-raising gambit have happened without Snowden? If Obama cared about the expansions of the surveillance state on the merits rather than as a political fire he has to put out, he would have held this presser in 2009.
Exit question: How independent can the new “independent voice” at the FISA Court be if it’s not allowed to communicate with the targets of surveillance for national security reasons? Are the feds going to build their own ACLU/public defender bureau to secretly represent people suspected of terror links, unbeknownst to them?