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article imageOp-Ed: Distrust, doubts surround Obama's domestic spying claims

By Kimberly Reynolds     Jan 21, 2014 in Politics
As the releases by Edward Snowden pile up, President Obama has been forced to address the many issues that have been raised. The answers he has offered are now under as much scrutiny as the revelations by Snowden.
Edward Snowden’s revelation about domestic spying by the National Security Agency (NSA) has Americans questioning the government’s intentions. More troubling is the answers given by President Obama. They seem to be at odds with the released facts. With the conflicting messages how is a person able to determine the truth?
There is a saying that “truth is the first casualty of war” and that saying extends to the work of the NSA. The agency is trusted with keeping Americans safe — a daunting task considering the scope and size of the NSA. According to the German weekly Der Spiegel, the NSA has a staff of over 40,000 and an operating budget in the billions.
More revealing, the NSA has never formally admitted they exist and until recently no NSA employee has ever commented on anything. The information released by Snowden has forced the NSA to respond, either directly or through the President. As can be imagined the message is sometimes lost in the sudden rush to explain their actions.
Presidential Claims Questioned
As the releases by Snowden piled up, the President has been forced to address the many issues that have been raised. The answers President Obama has offered are now under as much scrutiny as the revelations by Snowden.
On December 13, 2013, President Obama stated, “There had not been evidence and there continues not to be evidence that the particular program had been abused in how it was used.” The President was referring to the collection of bulk surveillance, such as Rich Data or Meta Content. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) questioned this claim in a report.
The 2011 report reprimanded the NSA for abuses, among them accusations of bulk domestic phone records collection. The FISA Court found that for three years “the NSA had been collecting tens of thousands of domestic emails and other communications in violation of the Fourth Amendment.”
“At least 50 terrorist threats have been averted” due to the collection of information by the NSA, the President claimed June 2013. Although impossible to verify given the secretive nature of the data, to date the only confirmed suspect the NSA has identified using the phone records collection program was a San Diego cab driver. The man was subsequently convicted of transferring $8,500 to a Somalia-based terror organization.
On the subject of Snowden, President Obama stated in August of 2013, “I signed an executive order well before Mr. Snowden leaked this information that provided whistleblower protection to the intelligence community.” While true, the protections offered were for employees of the NSA only and would have excluded Mr. Snowden, as he was a contractor. Additionally, the directive had not yet come in effect when Mr. Snowden made his revelations.
All of the above examples pale in comparison to the remark the President made during that same August 2013 press briefing. By stating, “We don’t have a domestic spying program,” President Obama left security experts and Americans in general wondering what to believe. The comment was delivered as a way of separating the collection of data with the actual use of the data collected.
Essentially, the President was saying, “Yes, the NSA collects information on domestic communications.” However, it wasn’t domestic spying because the agency wasn’t actively using the information. This set off alarms with Senator Ron Wyden. Senator Wyden said recent (2011) changes to section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act (FAA) created a loophole for the NSA to search for US citizens' email and phone calls without a warrant.
A secretive agency with no transparency. Direct access to private conversations of American citizens without approval. Those are the very definition of a domestic spying program.
The President has reason to be concerned about Americans’ reactions to perceived domestic spying by the NSA. A poll released by the Guardian Newspaper found, “A clear majority of Americans are concerned about the actions and operations of the NSA. This feeling is mirrored by additional polls and surveys.”
It seems that Americans are concerned both by the revelations of domestic spying and the evasive and at times deceptive answers given by the president. When it comes to the secretive nature of spying, it appears the public wants assurances they are not being targeted.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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