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President Obama's gamble on NSA

Is the Obama NSA changes viewed the wrong way? This is being asked and reported today in RT.com, an online twenty-four hour news site.

We were all looking at the president’s speech the wrong way, according to Sam Sacks, political reporter for RT in Washington D.C.

It was billed as a major speech on reform to the nation’s intelligence programs. But although some genuine reforms were introduced, the speech really wasn’t about reform. It was about saving the NSA’s most controversial tactic, as revealed by Edward Snowden, which is to ‘collect it all.’ Build the haystack, and then find the needle.

Of all the Snowden disclosures thus far, it’s the very first one that’s still most significant: the NSA is running a domestic spying program based on the collection and storage of virtually all Americans' telephone metadata.

A very significant fact of the Obama speech last Friday was that the White House and spy chiefs deny it is a domestic spy program – a denial the President reiterated in his ‘reform’ speech. But their denials are belied by former CIA Director Michael Morrell, a member of the president’s own NSA review panel, who admitted to the Senate Judiciary Committee a few days before the speech, ‘When you have the records of the phone calls that a particular individual made, you can learn an awful lot about that person.’

There is a very key point to the NSA metadata program is that it has an expiration date and Congress can act to kill it through legislation.

When US District Court Judge Richard Leon ruled against the telephone spying program, he argued, ‘I cannot imagine a more ‘indiscriminate’ and ‘arbitrary invasion’ than this systematic and high-tech collection and retention of personal data on virtually every single citizen for purposes of querying it and analyzing it without judicial approval.’

His key words: ‘collection and retention.’ Does Judge Leon rule the same way if the ‘retention’ is taken out of the picture? That’s the gamble President Obama is making. By removing the NSA’s bulk retention, President Obama may just be able to save bulk collection moving forward.

Where do Washington insiders and Congressional leaders stand after the President’s speech?

The chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Senator Dianne Feinstein predicted after the speech that the telephone spying program will end up surviving. She told NBC, ‘the president has very clearly said that he wants to keep the capability…I know a dominant majority of the — everybody, virtually, except two or three - on the Senate Intelligence Committee would agree with that.’ Her counterpart in the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Mike Rogers (R-MI), echoed those sentiments.

What could have the President done to end the NSA spying on American citizens?

If he really wanted to see the program terminated, he could have ended the bulk collection on his own without the approval of Congress. He could have ordered his spy agencies to no longer seek approval from the FISA court for the collection of everyone’s telephone data. And by ending bulk collection, the question of bulk storage would be settled, too.

But the president didn’t do that. Instead, he handed the wounded remains of the program back to Congress, where the NSA’s staunchest supporters are poised to reincarnate it before its old form expires.

You can put lipstick on a pig but it is still a pig. Despite Snowden and his entrusted journalists publicizing the point of privacy, a reincarnated program will appear.

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