James Oliphant writes: President Obama has a rare opportunity this week to reshape the nation’s counterterrorism strategy. He won’t take it.
The White House has been trying to lower expectations for the president’s planned Friday speech for days now. He’ll outline a series of reforms to the National Security Agency’s surveillance programs in an address at the Justice Department, but Obama will do nothing to diminish the government’s capacity to root out terror networks, aides say.
Ever since the flood of disclosures regarding the NSA from former contractor Edward Snowden, Obama and his team have tried to walk a careful public line: appearing to cherish Americans’ privacy while defending the agency’s actions, particularly the bulk collection of telephone records, the so-called “metadata.”
But it’s been evident all along that the White House has more or less been dragged into the reform debate. At a press conference back in August, for example, the president maintained, amid heavy criticism, that the programs are valuable and that a public skeptical about their reach simply needs reassurance that they won’t be abused.
That’s still Obama’s view. And in the days leading to Friday’s speech, Jay Carney and others in the White House have referred to the issue as one of transparency and disclosure, not of reining in government power. “The president has been clear throughout this review process that we will not harm our national security or our ability to face global threats,” Obama’s press secretary said last week. “And our intelligence-gathering activities are directly related to our ability to face those global threats and protect our national security.”
To lay the groundwork for that position, aides to the president told the Los Angeles Times this weekend that the NSA’s metadata collection scheme could have prevented the Sept. 11 attacks. What’s more, Obama has adopted that “9/11 justification” for the NSA program, the paper reported.
That’s a blinking-red signal that the administration is not about to be accused of making the country more vulnerable by tampering with such a preventive weapon. [Continue reading…]