Obama’s NSA Speech: Review Without Review, Reform Without Reform

Lambert here: Not worth color-coding.

By Hugh, who is a long-time commenter at Naked Capitalism. Originally posted at Corrente.

Obama’s speech on intelligence gathering was the full-on horsesh*t performance many of us thought it would be.

Obama began with a revisionist, some might say tortured, reworking of American history which placed the NSA in the tradition of Paul Revere and the Sons of Liberty. I guess what they say is true, that patriotism is the last refuge of scoundrels and Obama’s wrapping the NSA’s war on the Constitution up in the flag certainly qualifies.

But it is when Obama arrives at 9/11 that he really goes off the rails and dispenses with any semblance of reality.

Across the political spectrum, Americans recognized that we had to adapt to a world in which a bomb could be built in a basement, and our electric grid could be shut down by operators an ocean away. We were shaken by the signs we had missed leading up to the attacks — how the hijackers had made phone calls to known extremists and traveled to suspicious places. So we demanded that our intelligence community improve its capabilities, and that law enforcement change practices to focus more on preventing attacks before they happen than prosecuting terrorists after an attack.

It is hard to overstate the transformation America’s intelligence community had to go through after 9/11.

The first question is who is this “we” Obama is talking about? OK, that’s a rhetorical question. Obama is simply engaged in a standard dodge where he invokes most Americans and subsequently stuffs his words into their mouths. I don’t know about you but the 9/11 hijackers didn’t scare me or most of the people I know into thinking about bombs built in basements or for possible use against the electric grid. After all, Timothy McVeigh, a homegrown terrorist, had done the homemade bomb thing years before in Oklahoma City. This sparked exactly zero calls for the NSA to engage in massive spying on Americans. Nor was there any push for a war on America’s wacko right, the movement out of which McVeigh came.

I for one was less concerned about the intelligence community improving its capabilities and more concerned with them and our political leaders doing their f*cking jobs. It had been known for years that Saudi Arabia’s monarchy had seen outwardly directed terrorism and funding of terrorism as an important relief valve for pressures built up by that monarchy’s toxic brew of financial corruption, political repression, and religious fanaticism. Bush, Cheney, and Condoleezza Rice were so interested in maintaining close relations with the big oil producer that they repeatedly ignored all the signals from that same intelligence community in the lead up to 9/11. Because of their negligence, dots that could have been connected were not. If there had been a government wide warning, agencies that had some indications would have been able to re-evaluate the information they had and make those connections.

What Obama is invoking is the old canard that 9/11 happened because our intelligence community failed us. This is untrue. 9/11 happened because our political leaders failed us. The intelligence was there. It was just dismissed. Other than some minor modifications concerned with intelligence sharing in certain specific situations, there was no transformation that the nation’s intelligence community needed to go through post 9/11.

Instead the Bush-Cheney Administration which could have prevented 9/11 but so spectacularly failed to do so seized on the terrorist attack, exploited the resulting fear and uncertainty, and pushed through the foundations of the Stasi like police surveillance/police state we now live under. More than this, where the gross violations of the Constitution in the Patriot Act were insufficient to their ambition, they simply proceeded based on the flimsiest of legal justifications provided to them by their sockpuppets in the Department of Justice.

Obama says”

Today, new capabilities allow intelligence agencies to track who a terrorist is in contact with, and follow the trail of his travel or his funding. New laws allow information to be collected and shared more quickly and effectively between federal agencies, and state and local law enforcement. Relationships with foreign intelligence services have expanded, and our capacity to repel cyber-attacks have been strengthened. And taken together, these efforts have prevented multiple attacks and saved innocent lives — not just here in the United States, but around the globe.

This is another case of misdirection. After the initial American incursion into Afghanistan, al Qaeda lost its bases and most of its operational capabilities. Since then, traditional law enforcement techniques, not the new police state, have been responsible for thwarting attacks against the US. And in this group I am not including the various sting operations where the government orchestrates and grooms pathetic terrorist wannabes before arresting them.

At the same time, successful acts of terror, like the Boston marathon bombing, occurred despite this vast apparatus, and, like 9/11 before it, despite numerous conventional warnings that were ignored.

Nor does Obama take into account in this calculus the thousands of American soldiers killed, tens of thousands maimed, and hundreds of thousands of ordinary innocent people killed around the world by the Bush-Obama, useless but incredibly expensive, and dangerous to democracy, War on Terror.

As President, Obama embraced and expanded the Bush surveillance state. As has so often been said, Obama institutionalized the excesses of the Bush years and in doing so legitimized them. So he is simply lying when he says, “I maintained a healthy skepticism toward our surveillance programs after I became President.”

As the conservative Andrew Bacevich remarked way back in 2008 to a question posed by Bill Moyers,

BILL MOYERS: Do you expect either John McCain or Barack Obama to rein in the “imperial presidency?”

ANDREW BACEVICH: No. I mean, people run for the presidency in order to become imperial presidents. The people who are advising these candidates, the people who aspire to be the next national security advisor, the next secretary of defense, these are people who yearn to exercise those kind of great powers.

Until Edward Snowden blew the whistle on the NSA, Obama was perfectly fine with the NSA and the police state he was happily expanding. Nor has his attitude changed in any material way. He has always viewed Snowden as a nuisance and Snowden’s revelations as a public relations problem.

What Obama describes as “healthy skepticism” looks more like infatuation and a man crush to anyone else. Obama says he knew about the NSA programs from the start of his Administration but did not stop them

— not only because I felt that they made us more secure, but also because nothing in that initial review, and nothing that I have learned since, indicated that our intelligence community has sought to violate the law or is cavalier about the civil liberties of their fellow citizens.

It’s hard to fix a problem if you can’t even admit there is a problem. Obama’s whole propaganda line can be reduced down to “our intelligence community follows the law, and is staffed by patriots.” And “When mistakes are made — which is inevitable in any large and complicated human enterprise — they correct those mistakes.” Obama trots out all the old saws about these people having a difficult, thankless job but great responsibilities in that they “know that if another 9/11 or massive cyber-attack occurs, they will be asked, by Congress and the media, why they failed to connect the dots.”

Of course, this is all BS piled on BS. The NSA has no history of preventing terrorist attacks. It didn’t stop 9/11. It didn’t stop the Boston bombers. These are not dot connecting people. At least, they do not connect the dots that most Americans are interested in. Obama is not reforming an out of control agency. He is instead engaging in a full-throated defense of it. But this being kabuki, Obama has to pretend that this isn’t a defense but a serious review. This just raises the question of why Obama feels he needs to review what doesn’t need reviewing. Well, those of us who inhabit the real world know there is a two word answer to this question: Edward Snowden. Obama, of course, can not admit this. So he says that the review of the intelligence community was an incidental outgrowth of his review of his drone assassination program. It is a case of Obama going the extra mile, even when he doesn’t need to. As evidence of this, he cites a speech he made to the National Defense University before the Snowden disclosures. But this is a lie. Prior to the Snowden releases, the Obama Administration had been caught spying on the AP news agency. And his speech at the NDU was in response to this. This whole incident would have been flushed down the memory hole months ago. Indeed Obama’s failure to mention it shows it has been. No, the only reason Obama feels pressured into engaging in this kabuki exercise is Edward Snowden.

Obama makes this abundantly clear when he says that he is not going to “dwell” on Edward Snowden’s actions because there is an ongoing investigation, an investigation he could end at any time with a Presidential pardon, and then proceeds to dwell on Snowden’s actions anyway.

Obama then proceeds to describe the nature of the review he has undertaken:

Over the last six months, I created an outside Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies to make recommendations for reform. I consulted with the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, created by Congress. I’ve listened to foreign partners, privacy advocates, and industry leaders.

Again this is all kabuki. His review panel was a collection of Administration insiders tasked with a looking primarily at a single NSA programs the one collecting telephone metadata and associated with this Obama’s personal spying on other heads of state, including supposedly close allies. The oversight board (PCLOB) was created, if I remember correctly out of a recommendation of the 9/11 commission. It was left unstaffed for years. But even staffed, it remains without power, independence, or any real oversight capability. It’s inclusion shows just how unserious Obama is about conducting a real review of the NSA. While I am sure Obama has gotten an earful from the foreign leaders he has personally spied on and complaints from corporations fearing loss of business, although these were probably not the telecoms involved in the metadata collection, what is remarkable is the lack of public input beyond unnamed “privacy advocates”.

The strains between acting as if he is critically evaluating something he whole heartedly supports produce some memorable flights into schizophrenia, like this one,

during the course of our review, I have often reminded myself I would not be where I am today were it not for the courage of dissidents like Dr. King, who were spied upon by their own government. And as President, a President who looks at intelligence every morning, I also can’t help but be reminded that America must be vigilant in the face of threats.


[E]ven the United States proved not to be immune to the abuse of surveillance. And in the 1960s, government spied on civil rights leaders and critics of the Vietnam War.

Yet this is the same President who used the Department of Homeland Security to organize the coordinated suppression of the OWS movement in numerous American cities. The kabuki demands he exhibit awareness of intelligence abuses. But his own inclinations and track record clearly demonstrate he is on the side of the abuses and the abusers. Obama is being breathtakingly cynical. This is all a kabuki exercise. He knows it and no longer cares if we know it. This is the President as dictator. The power resides with him. He will go through the motions but keep his police state in place and its powers intact.

So what are Obama’s reforms when all is said and done? There is a new Presidential directive to increase Executive oversight. Again misdirection. The problem is not oversight of out of control programs but the programs themselves. Oversight is meaningless kabuki. Nobody does it, not really, not the White House, not the courts, and certainly not the Congress.

Second, Obama will release some but not all of the secret legal opinions which provide legal justification for his surveillance programs. And in a blatant conflict of interest, the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) will control and review what gets released. And he will be advised in this with regard to cases involving the FISA court by another toothless panel made up of Establishment insiders.

Third, Obama proposes unspecified reductions in the use in criminal cases of communications “incidentally” collected while targeting foreign individuals under Section 702. If this sounds empty, that’s because it is.

Fourth, some limits are to be placed on National Security Letters, letters used by the FBI to force surrender of information on individuals without a warrant and which prohibit disclosure by those providing information to the targets that they have been targeted. These kinds of warrantless warrants are inherently abused and lead to sloppy, abusive police work. This is, by my count, at least the third time that NSL reform has been promised. Again the problem is not in how NSLs are used but in the NSLs themselves.

Fifth, with regard to the Section 215 bulk collection of telephone metadata, the object of most of this supposed review, Obama has had to try to sell two diametrically opposed propositions. The first is that metadata collection is not intrusive, that is does not provide any real personal information. The second that it is crucial to track down terrorists because of all the information it does provide. Yet Obama could give no instance where this program has actually tracked down a terrorist, only one of the 9/11 hijackers where it might have, or given the Bush Administration’s overall leadership failure, not.

Here too Obama has no real solution. All he has is a “transition”, that is retention of the present system, until some unnamed and likely unworkable alternative involving “third party” retention (whatever that means) or the individual telecoms holding on to their data. The only give in Obama’s position is a reduction of three hops to two. A hop is the circle of contacts of a target. This likely reduces from a million to several thousand the number of contacts involved in a query. And these queries will be passed through the rubber stamp FISA court, except in case of emergencies.

Sixth, Obama promised to stop spying on the leaders of our close allies, but not their citizens. Or as Obama says:

The bottom line is that people around the world, regardless of their nationality, should know that the United States is not spying on ordinary people who don’t threaten our national security, and that we take their privacy concerns into account in our policies and procedures.

Even if we are, or if not us, then our friends at GCHQ. By omission, Obama also seemed to be promising that the US would not engage in economic spying, at least for economic reasons.

Seventh, Obama will appoint some figureheads to oversee this overall non-process and will name yet another toothless panel headed by John Podesta to conduct yet another review of “big data and privacy.”

This was one of Obama’s longer speeches. I think its length indicates the importance that he attaches to surveillance. The lack of real, specific content, and the failure to acknowledge Edward Snowden and the serious institutional problems he raised demonstrate that this is not about reform but damage control. Finally, the question not raised or addressed at all is why our political classes feel the need to spend hundreds of billions of dollars on a surveillance/police state aimed at everyone everywhere, including all Americans’ electronic communications, yet ostensibly directed against foreign terrorists, even though it has never caught one. Is it as simple as the totalitarian belief that information is power and total information equates to total power?

A transcript of Obama’s speech can be found here.

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About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.


      1. NotTimothyGeithner

        I always thought his speeches were drivel anyways and announced his right wing paternalism. The guy was applauded for taking shots at Edwards “Two Americas”** at the 2004 DNC, and no one seemed to notice when he should have been called on it. I believe you’ve pointed out problems with his 2008 speech.

        I think the change is just his attitude because little Obama can’t stand to be challenged. The GOP doesn’t bother him because he kowtows to their demands or they are so irrational they self destruct on their own. I didn’t think much of it at the time, but the joke was Hillary was assertive in the one debate Obama curled up on the stage. That was always the real Obama.

        I think Obama is more pathological and views himself as our all knowing parent, a pater familias for the whole country. His language mimics a parent talking to children instead of a representative of citizens which can be seen from “eat your peas” to meaningless concessions of not pushing for a raise of his Presidential salary.

        **which is a little simplistic but good for a speech.

  1. Cynthia

    If you believe in complete secrecy, lying about surveillance, and lying about welcoming a debate on surveillance, then Obama is your man. Freedom for the liars, jail for those who expose them.

  2. TarheelDem

    If one wanted the NSA issue not to go away, delivering the speech Obama did on Friday would be perfect.

    Now can we hear for some reconsideration of the Truman era laws that created the secret state. It’s time to question the non sequitur of having a classification system at all.

    Time to examine a bunch of hidden assumptions that “everyone” maintains are the only way to do things.

  3. Katniss Everdeen

    A few things to keep in mind:

    The global terror mastermind–Osama bin Laden–was supposedly shot and dumped at sea without ever having been asked ONE SINGLE QUESTION. What are all these electronic “dots” supposed to be for if not to locate and interrogate those who actually HAVE the information we are ostensibly seeking? Purportedly the terror world’s biggest fish and–silence..

    The remaining Boston “bomber” has apparently dropped off the face of the earth. Whatever happened to him? And the all important video showing the placement of the “bomb” by the infamous duo has never surfaced. A missing electronic dot or a dubious exercise that was met with too much skepticism and, therefore, was prudently abandoned? (After, of course, the mysterious death in Orlando.)

    And now, in a few short weeks, come the Sochi Olympics. The president has been forced, as detailed above, to defend a program he was elected to rein in. His defense is nothing more than a tired, hackneyed rhetorical exercise that no one but the most fervent Obots even paid attention to let alone believed. But over the past several weeks, the media has been replete with “concerns” over the lack of adequate security in Sochi. Sochi is near Chechnya, you know.

    Could an unconvincing defense of and waning support for the American “security” apparatus mean that something wicked this way comes?

    1. James Levy

      I was astonished that otherwise intelligent people, people I respected at the university where I taught, thought that bin Laden was simply beyond any law, that the government was trying to “protect us”; the whole “world of walls” crap paradigm from A Few Good Men that they would scoff at from the mouth of a belligerent Marine but swallow whole from a presumptively “liberal” black man. It’s as if the entire “we live under a system of laws, not men” narrative that we were supposed to walk away from Watergate believing never happened.

      If anyone has a clue as to how we can reverse this trend, please enlighten us, because right now I haven’t got a clue (and the idea that “if the people only knew they’d respond differently” just doesn’t cut it).

    2. jrs

      I think Bin Laden if it was him was no longer in control of anything by that point. So they killed a powerless old relic of Bin Laden at that point if it was him. Of course there are perfectly legitimate reasons to believe it was not him: no identification, no DNA, dumped at sea, reports of his death in the mainstream media years earlier, reports he would be dead soon and was on dialysis years early etc.. Only to be weighted against the extent of the conspiracy required the other way if it was all fake. The swat teams had to believe it was real afterall. However if we have whole conspiracies diverting people’s physical postage in the mail so the NSA can hack it. If that is going on in our Stasi society, Bin Laden ain’t nothing.

      1. Schemp

        ” The swat teams had to believe it was real afterall.”

        I think you mean Seal Teams. Most of whom subsequently died in a helicopter accident, because dead men tell no (discrepant) tales.

    3. Ulysses

      Something wicked has already arrived. The GWOT has already allowed for the shredding of our Bill of Rights and the establishment of a thinly veiled police state here in the United Stasi States of Amerika. Our only hope against this authoritarian regime is that it now provides so little in the way of bread and circuses to millions of (formerly) middle-class Americans that vestigial allegiance to the system is breaking down everywhere. A great example is that friends of mine, who hadn’t abandoned their reformist hopes and worked on the De Blasio campaign, have now washed their hands of him since he appointed Bratton as the Commish.

      The people are fed up!!

  4. TedWa

    Thanks for this review of the speech as I can no longer listen to his bs speeches. It’s as I suspected, he remains true to form in legitimizing and enshrining as public policy the illegal activities of his predecessor, as if he hero-worships him. It’s astounding, to me anyway, how much his “open” public persona does not reflect his private “paranoid” personality. We elected him because we were sick of Bush and what do we get? Bush and Cheney on steroids. How much longer are we going to allow Wall Street controlled media to choose our candidates for us?
    When Ford pardoned Nixon that opened the door to influencing/pressuring the President into illegal activities since they know they will be pardoned by their replacements. Obama basically pardoned Bush and Cheney by refusing to prosecute their violations of the Geneva Convention, adding himself as accomplice to their list of crimes. And so corporate control and corruption of Presidents will continue until that power to pardon is taken away. The imperial presidency is one where they can commit crimes with impunity. I want to see him impeached for his expansion of the NSA and the FISA courts beyond their intended uses – but that won’t happen.

    1. NotTimothyGeithner

      “as if he hero-worships him”

      Obama does, or at least Obama considers himself to be the current pater familias of the U.S. Obama has always used language which announces that he views himself as our wise all knowing father who demands total obedience while offering nothing in return. “Let me be clear,” “eat your peas,” and shared sacrifice ad nauseum while not sacrificing himself or demanding anything from the wealthy is a sign we are to listen.

      He didn’t offer an explanation for the actions of the “savvy businessmen” except to say they were businessmen and we should leave it at that and focus on our own issues.

      I think Obama is a sick man who basically was ignored because like “Modern Family” his particularly story had a nice ring to it which people wanted to claim to demonstrate their post-modern and hip nature despite a lack of substance and crummy jokes.

      1. j gibbs

        Does anyone else see the irony in the appearance of this post on Martin Luther King’s birthday? I rather expected something intelligent about Dr. King and Civil Rights, although, personally, I would prefer to celebrate Jackie Robinson’s birthday. He was twice the man King was, IMHO the greatest man of the 20th Century, nobody else even a close second. Paradoxically, Robinson was considered only a mediocre Negro League ballplayer by his peers.

        1. Sammy Maudlin

          “Paradoxically, Robinson was considered only a mediocre Negro League ballplayer by his peers.”

          I ‘ve never heard, colloquially, that his Negro League peers considered him mediocre. However, if true, those peers would have been chewing on pure sour grapes.

          In his one year in the Negro Leagues, he led the league in batting with a .414 average. He also led the league in OPS at 1.029 (although, at the time, no on cared about that). Also, his hits, runs, RBI and total bases were on pace with or better than the League’s leaders, per at bat (he had far fewer plate appearances than some).


          1. j gibbs

            I should have said they considered him a ‘mediocre shortstop’. He did not have a strong arm. Personally, I consider him the greatest player in Dodger history, which ended for me in 1957.

  5. Oregoncharles

    I think we need to talk about the background to this controversy: the overall, systematic destruction of our political rights. What is driving this?

    It seems to me that TPTB, the top .1%, are in a position to know just how badly they’re ripping off the rest of us. Consequently, they fully expect resistance, and are getting ready. That is the real reason for mass surveillance of Americans. Claiming that it can lead to uncovering foreign terrorists is magical thinking – there is no algorhythm that powerful. It CAN, however, reveal the domestic networks and alliances that would be key to effective resistance to the Mafia that’s running the country.

    If anybody has good ideas for that, now is the time. It’s damn near too late.
    The most disturbing thing is that so far, they’re wrong about that. Aside from Occupy, which showed a poor sense of strategy and mostly faded away, there has been hardly a whisper of resistance – even at the ballot box, the cheapest and easiest kind (unless the electoral cheating is far more pervasive than I thought – a possibility). I’m beginning to wonder what it takes to wake the American people from their complacent stupor.

    1. James Levy

      Let me play devil’s advocate for a second and condemn my fellow citizens. Perhaps they understand that their privileged position on this planet, where they don’t have to earn those dollars to buy all the gasoline and the I-phones and the other shit they crave but can simply wish them into existence at a computer screen, is the result of our meddling, bullying, bribing, and murdering to stay on top of the international heap. That to keep all the bad things we’ve done from coming home to roost we’ve got to give up any illusion of freedom so that we can have whatever plenty our rulers feel like disbursing to us. Perhaps deep down Americans are venal and cowardly and just want to be left alone with their toys and their Super Bowl parties and NCAA tournament betting pools? Not all of them, but enough to make sure that TPTB need not fear. I’m not saying that’s true, but it could be, and would fit at least some of the facts on the ground I witness on a daily basis.

      1. j gibbs

        If history is any guide, the only thing that will provoke widespread resistance is hunger. Those looking forward to it are encouraged to read The French Revolution, by Thomas Carlyle. Revolution can be very nasty.

        I know you don’t want to hear this, but most of those intelligent enough to comment regularly on this blog can probably find a place for themselves in the midst of all the injustice, greed, looting, etc., most of which has been going on in America in one form or another since the Revolution. And the National Security State has existed in its present form since at least 1946.

        1. psychohistorian

          Please speak for yourself about your place in the midst of injustice, greed, looting, etc.

          As someone who was listened to by our government back in 2004 and told to STFU by the CIA, I am offend by your generalization of the commenters of this web site.

          Regular readers of this site well know that hunger may be the ultimate tipping point but want to believe and work towards other penultimate resolutions to our crisis of global governance.

    1. TedWa

      Chris Hedges nails it – like he always does. If Obama had been that honest I’d have at least some modicum of respect for him.

  6. Jim

    “This is the President as dictator. The power resides with him. He will go through the motions to keep his police state in place and its powers intact.”

    In order to take a more critical look at the nature of our modern state it may be worthwhile to at least raise the issue of whether the imperial Presidency (a concept which assumes a top-down model of policy making) is actually operable, especially in the area of National Security and surveillance.

    To what extent do Presidents actually make policy decisions, especially in the area of National Security and foreign policy? Would it be more accurate to argue that the President tends to confirm policy choices already formulated by the national security apparatus? How often are non-expert Presidents intimated by national security experts? Would someone like Robert Gates (who has served in the National Security Council of both Nixon, Ford and the first President Bush, was close to Casey in the CIA, and was head of the Department of Defense in the recent Bush and Obama administrations) tend to have more power and influence than President Obama?

    If in our modern State, the national security apparatus frames most of the decisions in this area, is it more accurate to say that the President (despite his powers) is often largely following orders?

    Is it also more accurate to argue that our publicly visible institutions of government–Congress, the Courts and the Presidency, are increasingly subservient, in the area of national security as well as economic/financial policy to a much less public and more hidden public/private bureaucratic network of power?

    1. James Levy

      I think Presidents do give orders, but to be taken as “serious” and get to the presidency they have to assimilate a worldview that has been shaped for 70 years by a very small group of insider “experts” who are driven by a profoundly ideologically informed brand of realpolitik that sees the USA as outside history and above law. We are simply imagined as Lincoln’s “last, best hope for humanity”, utterly indispensable for human progress, even existence. Without us there is only darkness. Our power and our “values” (private property, free market capitalism) must prevail, at any cost. If Obama didn’t buy into this shit then he would never, ever be allowed anywhere near the Big Chair. Too many institutions, public and private, would line up against him if he did. Even when those institutions were debatably at their weakest after the rebellious 1960s they were able to make a war hero like McGovern look like a pansy and a fool and smash him and the Democratic insurgency in 1972. So I think the dichotomy you raise–president on one side, permanent foreign/intelligence apparatus on the other–doesn’t exist in practice, and since no president since old man Bush has had any foreign policy experience, I think they are happy to take the advice of the spooks, the generals, and the insider foreign policy “intellectuals”.

  7. jrs

    “So we demanded that [] law enforcement change practices to focus more on preventing attacks before they happen than prosecuting terrorists after an attack. ”

    No, no, 1000 times no. This merges very quickly into “precrime”. While prosecuting after a crime is perfectly legitimate and exactly what SHOULD have been done after 9-11 (it was a criminal matter and should have led to criminal persecutions not war), the attempt to prevent all attacks is very risky for civil liberties.

    As for the review groups, it sounds worthy of Lewis Carrol. I mean we’re at: who guards the guards who guard the guards at this point. It’s that level of absurd pile up. What is proposed is we will have review groups that aren’t accountable to the people or to the people’s so called repsentatives (which would be the whole of congress!), that in fact often CAN’T even release reports of what is going on to the people (because of “security concerns” of course) that will somehow stop government abuse of the people’s civil liberties. And who will make sure this is being done? No accountability.

  8. John Yard

    My take is different. Obama is simply the Democratic equivalent of Gerald Ford. Their is no substance there , only rhetoric. The Party is trapped in its conflation of race, ethnicity, and gender issues with progress. Given racial equality, gender equality, and ethnic consciousness we live in the promised land. But the banks have foreclosed on your title.

    1. Cassiodorus

      I’m sure that at some point we will have an albino disabled lesbian feminist Haitian-American President who will lie to us all the time and who will claim to “oversee” the cabal of rich white males who will control all of the money-printing, surveillance and gun-pointing apparatuses which will run every aspect of our lives.

    2. jrs

      And of course be being so, they don’t even make much progress on those issues. Making real progress there would require looking at economics and criminal justice and the like – oh noes.

      1. hunkerdown

        The Democratic Party’s doing a fair job of selling the concept of social identity as consumer product. But that’s all we should really expect from sales organizations.

  9. W. A. Franklin

    Folks, this has all been going on since the 1920s or so, only magnified intermittently by advances in technologies. The compulsion to perform an act is never limited by any moral consideration, only if it can be done. Such is the search for power. The progression has been that the US could tolerate no incipient threat, the 1% rule of Cheney. And the damned pols bought it and have kept buying the military and police crap without limits. I was in this business for many years, from planting bugs to communications intelligence, and the demand was forever for MORE, MORE – did not matter what. in the 1980s NSA got good at sucking up the electromag spectrum, so much they flat ran out of storage. Even today, with increases in analytic technology improvements, they most likely still have square miles of storage of various vintages which have not been read or analyzed. They are the original info junkies, figuring ” we might need it some eon”. But, we pay for this crap and have no idea what it is for, why it is done or if it has ever been proven effective. Classification keeps the money rolling in as stupid advances stupid. And the elites are still scared of the “people” and want this information to save them, from what they do not know – irrelevance perhaps.

  10. Jim

    “So I think the dichotomy you raise—president on one side, permanent foreign/intelligence apparatus on the other doesn’t exist in practice.”

    But don’t you largely endorse this dichotomy between experts in the bureaucracy and non-experts in the Presidency when you state “…and since no president since old man Bush has had any foreign policy experience, I think they are happy to take the advice of the spooks, the generals and the insider foreign policy intellectuals”

    I would agree with you that anyone who gets to be President has been vetted for the proper world-view.

    The question then becomes(taken similarity in world views) who in most/many national security questions–is actually calling the shots.

    I would add, that to my mind, our entire panoply of constitutionally-created institutions (The Presidency (minor control) the Congress (largely dysfunctional) and the Courts (minimal judicial review) have less and less to say—while the national security apparatus continues to tighten its influence and control.

    These days, when push comes to shove, don’t our public branches of government, have a keen interest in having national security policy in-line with the frames decided by the national-security apparatus?(despite occasional exceptions like Obama firing General McCrystal).

    It just may be that a public-private network has structurally emerged within the Federal Government that exercises predominant power with regards to both national security and financial/economic policy with few internal checks and balances from the Presidency, the Congress or the Courts and even less external checks and balances from the press and public opinion.

  11. Eureka Springs

    This is a man who heads a government who orders vaporization of human beings all around the world by remote control. For being mere suspects, all from a menu. All in a country which allows it.

    I’m really amazed at the calm in threads like this. I’m equally amazed in threads like this what goes for “debate” (mentioned nine times in the speech, HA!) is a sort of negotiation which promises perpetuation.

    I reject government secrecy. I reject secret law, secret executive order, secret courts, secret police and secret budgets. I reject the very notion that everyone from a senator or congresscritter to judge and common citizen cannot know something, anything our government does. Why there should not even be such a thing as an FOIA. Everything, everything, from wikileaks to all Snowden files is the kind of information which should all be live streamed open sourced available free from a database in Utah. At this point the oval office, NSA’s equivalent and the command rooms in the basement should all have live cams.

    These people are completely mad…. what the hell are we debating here and now America? Can we even have one in threads like this?

    I think worst of all for me is the lack of this kind of rejection or ability to consider the possibility of open government by so many people.

    1. James Levy

      I am almost completely with you, but I’ve also noticed that when I get emotional, I lose outright any chance I have of convincing people of anything I say. If the guy across from you talks calmly and forcefully and authoritatively about the national interest, about keeping us and “the troops” safe, about being “responsible” and not “endangering our operatives and the people who are trying to help us” and you get all upset and angry at the hypocrisy and venality of what he is saying, and make statements about what Obama et al. actually are doing on a daily basis, you are lost. You are immediately a crank, a nut-job, a conspiracy theorist, and the people you might reach are lost to you.

      Perhaps I should no longer care about that. Perhaps those people are way past convincing. I said as much up the thread. But I don’t know. I hate to lose before I’ve even tried to win. And I hate to hand easy victories to the mendacious shits who support the current order.

      1. hunkerdown

        Elsewhere I read a friend of a friend commenting in a gay marriage discussion to the effect of how “we live in a more tolerant world today”. *turns red, counts to ten* a) no, you’ve just found profitable factions to join the mainstream, b) you mean Western society and not the world, you imperialist, c) Whig history is old and tired. If said FOAF weren’t trying to get into said OP’s pants I would have said as much, but since I have no objections to that cause and have other dealings with said FOAF, I let it slide.

        But a bourgeoisie that thinks nothing of arrogating office supplies for personal use can hardly help but endorse the arrogation of bureaucracy to personal ends, especially when they as a class have a better-than-average chance of making those ends their own. That Arthur Silber piece in today’s Links, “Secret Information: Giving Up Your Life for a Vicious Lie”, illustrates how this is modeled in the child-parent relationship.

  12. Jackrabbit

    This would be a joke if it weren’t so serious.

    * A pandering, manipulative President puppet with a 40%-ish approval rating – half of which is just partisan knee-jerk.

    * A Congress with 15% approval that can’t step up and hold the executive branch accountable.

    * An electoral system that is essentially an elaborate form of bribery in which only half of “eligible voters” show up to vote.

  13. EverythingsJake

    He also recycled the “shed more heat than light” trope he first used against John Edwards. Frankly, a little (or a lot of) fire under the ass of Obama and the elite seems like it’d yield substantially better effect than shining a light up their backsides…

  14. bh2

    Good job, Lambert.

    Just as an addendum, others have probably also noticed the usual suspects are now ramping up their messaging to kill the messenger (or at least to undermine his motives) by accusations that he simply wasn’t talented enough to obtain all that information without assistance from Russian spy handlers. This so he could quit his cushy, high-paid tech job in Hawaii to flee to Russia and live anonymously while working for a Russian tech company.

    Yeah, that all sure makes sense, now that it’s been properly explained to the American public.

  15. psychohistorian

    Thanks to Hugh for the analysis of the Obama latest cock sucking speech.

    Obama is the current puppet enabler of the vampire plutocrats. He was sold to the public as a hopey changey kind of guy very effectively…..as will be Hillery.

    IMO, until we confront the accumulating private ownership of property and the existence of and rules governing inheritance, we are treading water…..that is now increasingly radioactive.

    We need to wake up the zombies of the 99% that still think this class based system of social organization has any validity.

  16. toocrazy

    Very good article and right on all the points. We know none of this would have been discussed had it not been for the Snowden disclosures. These fear tactics of terrorism is a very big business with more private contractors doing the spying than government employees. The Patriot Act need to see a SUNSET period. No reform just an end to violating our civil liberties.

  17. Jerry

    The New World Order thru an article called Global Trends2030 Alternative Worlds published by the Atlantic Council think tank this nonstate actors (i.e. Snowden, Bradley, Anonomys) are a read danger to the way the Big Business and Governments who plan to direct the path…quote “A clearer understanding of the central units in the international system. Previous works detailed the gradual ascendance of nonstate actors, but we did not clarify how we saw the role of states versus nonstate actors. The reviewers suggested that we delve more into the dynamics of governance and explore the complicated relationships among a diverse set of actors.”
    From this I would guess that NSA is one of the agencies that is to make the New World Order for the predetermined path.

  18. Jerry

    The New World Order groups (Bildender, etc), identified, thru an article called Global Trends2030 Alternative Worlds published by the Atlantic Council, that they think these nonstate actors (i.e. Snowden, Bradley, Anonomys) are a read danger to the way the Big Business and Governments plan to direct the path to the world they want…
    quote “A clearer understanding of the central units in the international system. Previous works detailed the gradual ascendance of nonstate actors, but we did not clarify how we saw the role of states versus nonstate actors. The reviewers suggested that we delve more into the dynamics of governance and explore the complicated relationships among a diverse set of actors.”
    From this I would guess that NSA is one of the agencies that is to make the New World Order for the predetermined path.

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