by: David Harris-Gershon on December 31st, 2013 | 4 Comments »
The Daily Beast‘s Daniel Klaidman is reporting this morning that President Obama, currently on his Hawaiian vacation, is preparing to rein in the NSA’s bulk metadata collection in the coming year.
Klaidman’s report chronicles how Obama is currently studying an independent review panel’s 300-page report on how to reform the government’s surveillance programs while on vacation. And as Klaidman shows, this holiday reading is being done with an eye toward making serious reforms upon his return to Washington.
Klaidman’s piece is full of compelling nuggets, including a glimpse into how the scope and nature of the government’s surveillance activities have begun to tug at Obama’s conscience – a man who railed against Bush’s warrantless wiretapping program in 2008. It Also reveals Obama’s behind-the-scenes frustration with NSA officials, including NSA Director Keith Alexander.
However, the most compelling part of Klaidman’s piece is his report on how, days ago, Obama approached his meeting with the independent review panel which is suggesting countless reforms be made to the U.S. intelligence apparatus.
This is a must-read:
Meeting with the review group, Obama had shown a little more leg [than what he showed in his final press conference of the year]. As he walked briskly into the Situation Room last Wednesday, he characteristically wasted little time on small talk. He said he had five points he wanted to make and, without notes, began ticking them off, according to two people who were in the room. Much of what he had to say involved process–now that the recommendations were on the table, he would have to lead an interagency debate to develop a new set of policies. According to one panel member, Obama said he needed to hear whatever objections there were and “probe them.” And he wanted to make sure that those who objected to the recommendations fully understood them.
But he also talked about the substance of the proposals and assessed their viability within the administration. He said he believed the bulk of the 46 recommendations would be acceptable to the intelligence community. He also said that many of the recommendations toward the back end of the panel’s report could be easily adopted, including new procedures for establishing secure networks without infringing Internet freedom, and improving vetting and security clearances in hiring. He even mentioned a specific number, amounting to roughly 75 percent of the 46 recommendations, that he thought could be adopted without any problem.
A number of panel members, speaking anonymously, said they had the clear impression that Obama was personally inclined to back their proposals on ending the metadata program, as well as many of the other recommendations that would rein in the NSA’s surveillance capabilities. “The question is whether he will be able to resist whatever pushback comes from the intelligence community,” said one panel member.
Now, what happens in 2014 regarding which reforms Obama will insist be made remains to be seen. Whether or not they will go far enough to ensure Americans’ privacy is respected and constitutional rights maintained is an open question.
However, what seems to be clear is that those revelations made by Edward Snowden have compelled Obama to examine, and possibly rein in, his administration’s surveillance activities.
Activities he may not have fully known about until Snowden’s whistleblowing.
David Harris-Gershon is author of the memoir What Do You Buy the Children of the Terrorist Who Tried to Kill Your Wife?, just out from Oneworld Publications.
Follow him on Twitter @David_EHG.