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Center study warns President Obama’s NSA reforms jeopardize national security

U.S. President Barack Obama speaks about the National Security Agency (NSA) at the Justice Department, on January 17, 2014
U.S. President Barack Obama speaks about the National Security Agency (NSA) at the Justice Department, on January 17, 2014
(Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

The Center for Security Policy (CSP) released a new report on Monday to the Paulding County Republican Examiner and other media outlets through email communications, analyzing reforms announced by President Obama in the wake of former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden’s unauthorized disclosure of vital intelligence programs.

The CSP report refers to Obama’s 45-minute speech on January 17, 2014 where he is ordering NSA phone data limits, tighter restrictions for spying on international leaders but some members of Congress remain skeptical.

FoxNews reported that Sen. Rand Paul, R-KY said in a statement, “While I am encouraged the president is addressing the NSA spying program because of pressure from Congress and the American people, I disappointed in the details.”

While Obama was short on details, CSP is warning Obama that his new NSA reforms will jeopardize national security.

The CPS’ new report analysis, “A Critique of President Obama’s Reforms of U.S. Intelligence”, concludes that while the president had decided to reject some of the more radical recommendations made by a panel, the panel he named last summer, the reforms he announced on January 17, will seriously undermine U.S. intelligence capabilities and could damage American national security.

In the CSP report, authored by CSP Senior Fellows and former Central Intelligence Agency analysts Fred Fleitz and Clare M. Lopez, in part observed the following of Obama’s reforms.

President Obama’s reforms of NSA programs reflect a dangerous bias against signals intelligence and could weaken the crucial role it plays in gathering intelligence to protect our nation’s security.

Despite the president’s claims that the NSA metadata is an important program designed to fill pre-9/11 intelligence gaps, the changes Obama has mandated would impose bureaucratic and legal hurdles that will make it almost impossible to use.

The president’s proposal to move the metadata database from NSA to a third party would create real privacy concerns.

President Obama’s directive that signals intelligence collection must respect the privacy rights of non-U.S. citizens is inconsistent with the nature of intelligence and will harm U.S. national security… and second, the president’s decision to exempt dozens of foreign heads of state from U.S. intelligence surveillance is a serious mistake.

In regards to those two observations, Fleitz and Lopez said, “We are especially concerned that this will make collection difficult against terrorists in friendly countries planning attacks against U.S. interests. We are very concerned about this because of the occasional need to surveil close allies to learn leadership plans and intentions related to important U.S. interests.”

Fleitz and Lopez continued, “Congress should reject President Obama’s proposal for FISA Court advocates. This idea will further complicate what is already a cumbersome legal process in the name of addressing what are unfounded privacy concerns.”

The report further stated that care must be taken in declassifying information on sensitive intelligence programs.

“We are concerned that Mr Obama’s rush to declassify FISA court decisions and national security letters is endangering sensitive electronic surveillance programs, sources and methods and will enable America’s adversaries to better conceal their malevolent intentions and activities,” said Lopez and Fleitz.

“While we agree with President Obama’s proposal to study “Big Data,” we are concerned that the commission he proposes will narrowly focus on privacy concerns and ignore intelligence collection possibilities.”

Lastly, in the report's observation points, Lopez and Fleitz stated, “Instead of focusing on alleged and unproven privacy concerns from U.S. intelligence programs stemming from the compromise of classified documents by Edward Snowden, President Obama’s intelligence reform speech should have focused on improving the security clearance process and the security of classified networks.”

Frank J. Gaffney, Jr., President and CEO of the Center for Security Policy, commented and said, “Many critics of NSA programs – and even some of their supporters – have dismissed President Obama’s intelligence reform speech as inconsequential, mere window dressing or an exercise in splitting the difference. This is not the case.”

“As the Center’s Fred Fleitz and Clare Lopez make clear in this new report, many of the President Obama’s announced changes will damage crucial signals intelligence efforts. In particular, his extending of privacy protections to non-U.S. citizens threatens to undermine all U.S. intelligence collection,” Gaffney continued.

“It is crucial that U.S. intelligence officials and Members of Congress weigh in with the president to stop these reforms and protect U.S. security in a dangerous world.”

Fleitz and Lopez’s did a previous analysis entitled, “Report and Recommendations of The President’s Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies” and the report was sent to President Obama prior to his January 17, 2014 speech.

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