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Obama Re-Frames Paul Revere as 'NSA Poster Boy'

I’m thinking whistleblower Edward Snowden far better fits the profile of a latter day Paul Revere than Obama’s nomination of the fourth-amendment-eliminating NSA.

Edward Snowden believed that the American citizenry should have the right to know about and to choose for itself how big a part of its civil liberties should be sacrificed for “security” -- if any -- and to be able to reject the alarming degree of constitutional protections now being arbitrarily and secretly defied by a growing US police state. The checks and balance system is not working within our government. Hundreds of millions of innocent Americans (and foreigners) are unconstitutionally (not to mention seemingly gratuitously and expensively) being spied upon by the US government.

Edward Snowden risked and is still risking his life to protect hard-won American freedoms that have been and are currently being violated by the NSA, now with a disturbing, robust enabling of our current Democratic President.

This is what David Swanson had to say in “Obama Fans Aren't even Pretending That Was a Good Speech” about Obama’s misdirected Paul Revere patriotism-conjuring at the beginning of his January 17th, NSA speech from the Justice Department.

Obama began Friday’s speech with a Sarah Palinesque bit of Paul Revere history.  Revere is now an honorary NSA spy. In reality, the British would have hit Revere with a hellfire missile if Obama had been their king.


Obama has not proposed to end abuses. He's proposed to appoint two new bureaucrats plus John Podesta. Out of this speech we get reviews of policies, a commitment to tell the Director of National Intelligence to read court rulings that impact the crimes and abuses he's engaged in, and a promise that the "Intelligence Community" will inspect itself. (Congress, the courts, and the people don't come up in this list of reforms.) Usually this sort of imperial-presidential fluff wins praise from Obama's followers. This time, I'm not hearing it.

Colin Friedersdorf in “The NSA Speech: Obama Accepts the Logic of Staying Terrorized” had this to say about the reference:

The president began his speech on NSA reform by harkening back to "the dawn of our republic," when a small, secret "surveillance committee" was established in Boston. "The group’s members included Paul Revere," he said, "and at night they would patrol the streets, reporting back any signs that the British were preparing raids." In this telling, the patriots, literal revolutionaries rebelling against the government of their day, were forerunners of the National Security Agency.

That is egregious historical malpractice. In fact, King George's colonial overseers and the general warrants they enforced are much closer analogues to domestic-surveillance efforts today. Had colonial governors had access to five years of communications metadata and "two-hop" network analysis, it is highly likely that they would've arrested the Founding Fathers, tried them for treason, and sentenced them to death for their crimes.

Or would the FFs have been rendered, detained and tortured indefinitely?

So many of us assumed that Obama’s ascendancy to the presidency would guarantee a U-turn from the relentless march to the slippery slope of fascism led by the Bush cabal. INSTEAD, OBAMA SEEMS TO HAVE BROUGHT A SLED!

Obama is helping to engineer the elimination of our fourth amendment. He is institutionalizing -- codifying -- the illegal mass surveillance of the Bush administration.

The text of the Fourth Amendment reads:

“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

Cindy Cohen and Parker Higgins of Electronic Frontier Foundation helpfully give us an overview of the unconstitutional mass surveillance programs now up and running. There are three types of mass surveillance that they know about:

- surveillance of millions of phone records under Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act [this is the one Obama primarily vaguely addressed but enthusiastically endorsed in the Friday speech];

- surveillance of Internet communications internationally under Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act;

- and surveillance of communications overseas under Executive Order 12333.

Anthony Romero director of ACLU said after the speech:

The president should end – not mend – the government's collection and retention of all law-abiding Americans' data. When the government collects and stores every American's phone call data, it is engaging in a textbook example of an 'unreasonable search' that violates the constitution.

Jonathan Turley had this to say about Obama’s abandonment of our fourth amendment rights:

I just listened to the NSA speech by President Obama and as expected there is precious little in terms of real change. For civil libertarians, it is a nothing burger served hot and with a sympathetic smile. It is much of the same. ...

.. The speech had the feel of a car salesman coming back from “speaking with the manager” and saying that he is able to offer a deal that no one likes but he wants to offer because he likes the customer. Of course, this “deal” does not require our consent.

In the end, the changes are either undefined (like the privacy advocates) or basically “trust us were your government” (including a reminder that NSA people are your neighbors).”

Glenn Greenwald acknowledged the very limited positives of the President’s speech:

To be sure, there were several proposals from Obama that are positive steps. A public advocate in the Fisa court, a loosening of "gag orders" for national security letters, removing metadata control from the NSA, stricter standards for accessing metadata, and narrower authorizations for spying on friendly foreign leaders (but not, of course, their populations) can all have some marginal benefits. But even there, Obama's speech was so bereft of specifics – what will the new standards be? who will now control Americans' metadata? – that they are more like slogans than serious proposals.

Greenwald goes on to call out Obama for his toxic, style over substance, public relations razzle dazzle:

Ultimately, the radical essence of the NSA – a system of suspicion-less spying aimed at hundreds of millions of people in the US and around the world – will fully endure even if all of Obama's proposals are adopted. That's because Obama never hid the real purpose of this process. It is, he and his officials repeatedly acknowledged, "to restore public confidence" in the NSA. In other words, the goal isn't to truly reform the agency; it is deceive people into believing it has been so that they no longer fear it or are angry about it.


That, in general, has long been Obama's primary role in our political system and his premiere, defining value to the permanent power factions that run Washington. He prettifies the ugly; he drapes the banner of change over systematic status quo perpetuation; he makes Americans feel better about policies they find repellent without the need to change any of them in meaningful ways. He's not an agent of change but the soothing branding packaging for it.

As is always the case, those who want genuine changes should not look to politicians, and certainly not to Barack Obama, to wait for it to be gifted. Obama was forced to give this speech by rising public pressure, increasingly scared US tech giants, and surprisingly strong resistance from the international community to the out-of-control American surveillance state.

Rebecca Shabad on Julian Assange’s take:

“Although those national whistle blowers have forced this debate, this president has been dragged, kicking and screaming to today’s address. He is being very reluctant to make any concrete reforms,” he said. “Unfortunately today we also see very few concrete reforms.”

Obama is just pushing the debate further down the road, Assange said, by delegating some of these decisions to a divided Congress and panels of lawyers.

Sen. Rand Paul issued the following statement [Jan. 17] regarding President Obama's plan to reform the National Security Agency (NSA) surveillance program:

"While I am encouraged the President is addressing the NSA spying program because of pressure from Congress and the American people, I am disappointed in the details. The Fourth Amendment requires an individualized warrant based on probable cause before the government can search phone records and e-mails. President Obama's announced solution to the NSA spying controversy is the same unconstitutional program with a new configuration," Sen. Paul said. "I intend to continue the fight to restore Americans rights through my Fourth Amendment Restoration Act and my legal challenge against the NSA. The American people should not expect the fox to guard the hen house.”

In “We Need Real Protection From The NSA - Top NSA whistle-blowers vision of how to reform intelligence collection" Ed Loomis, Kirk Wiebe, Thomas Drake, William Binney and Diane Roark do an impressive job organizing a rollback to justice from the administration and Congress:

- They should release the true extent of their data collection before the Snowden reporters do. Tell us how many Americans are in your files. Reveal the other categories of government agency and private business records that you have amassed.

- Identify any other agencies that copy NSA databases and/or collect their own.

- Reveal the secret "black" budget that funds this intrusion into every nook and cranny of our lives.

- Give citizens the right to see any information collected about them.

Want to improve your success against terrorists? And obey the Constitution? The obvious answers are:

- Return NSA to "targeted" collection focusing on suspects and their associates. NSA has demonstrated its inability to find a few terrorist "needles" buried in a continually expanding "haystack" of communications between innocent people both domestic and foreign.

- Establish protections that encrypt data about Americans found in these targeted investigations until a court has found probable cause to suspect them, and add systems that automatically track people using the databases so we catch abuses — and improve security.

- Cease allowing NSA-derived information to be used for domestic criminal investigations.

- Don't co-opt tech companies and telecommunications firms under the ruse of national security and threats. Seek their help only in exceptional, supervised instances.

- Stop weakening Internet encryption then claiming that the insecurity you helped create justifies still more "cybersecurity" databases, dollars and power.

 As for Congress, how about some real oversight for a change?
 - Revoke the legislation that has undermined the Constitution, including the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force and the USA Patriot Act.

- Destroy the mass databases on Americans collected without probable cause.

- Outlaw the FBI's National Security Letters. [subpoena-like letters not authorized by a court with gag orders for citizens' private data]

- Remove power over ordinary Americans from the FISA court and abolish the court's "secret law" by returning to the original 1978 version of FISA. It works.

- Never again rely completely on NSA's word. Establish a permanent independent Signals Investigatory Body of technical experts tasked with auditing NSA data collection and access to NSA databases that reports to Congress and the FISA Court.

- Legally protect whistle-blowers and journalists, the public's best sources for information on intelligence and law enforcement community conduct.

These measures would deflate the unconstitutional power of our national security state.

This is a footnote to their article:

Ed Loomis, Kirk Wiebe, Thomas Drake, William Binney and Diane Roark were career professionals at the NSA or, in Roark's case, the House Intelligence Committee. The FBI raided each of their homes in 2007, falsely accusing them of leaking part of the NSA program to The New York Times in 2005.

Eric London and Barry Grey in “Obama defends police state spying” see Obama in a long term crusade to beef up police state power to protect a rapacious ruling class elite devastating the working class of America.

In his speech, Obama proceeded to invoke, yet again, 9/11 and the “war on terror” to justify police state spying on the people. He repeated the discredited myth that the massive spying dragnet is motivated entirely by a desire to protect the American people from terrorist attack. He made no attempt to explain why this supposed struggle against terrorists requires the government to spy on every American and tap the phones of foreign leaders, including nominal US allies.


The public will remain in the dark about the secret operations of the NSA and the rubberstamp FISA Court, and all power will remain in the hands of fascistic intelligence bureaucrats, who will continue to lie at will, with the backing of Congress, the courts and the media, knowing that they are immune from prosecution for their crimes against the democratic rights of the people.

What is really driving these police state preparations is the staggering and accelerating growth of social inequality in America. Democracy is incompatible with a social system in which the richest 1 percent controls 35 percent of the country’s total wealth, the top 20 percent controls 85 percent, and the bottom 40 percent controls 0.2 percent; and where the richest 400 individuals have more wealth than half of all Americans combined.

The Obama administration is, moreover, spearheading a drive, on behalf of the financial-corporate aristocracy, to further impoverish the working class and transfer even more wealth to the very top. On the same day be delivered his speech on the NSA, Obama signed a new bipartisan budget that further slashes social spending while devoting more than 50 percent of funds to the military. Meanwhile, benefits for the long-term unemployed have been terminated and the Democrats and Republicans are preparing to cut another $9 billion from the food stamp program.

The ruling class and its political representatives are terrified of the prospect of a mass movement of the working class in opposition to the social counterrevolution they are carrying out. They are preparing for the inevitable by building up the police powers of the state for mass repression and dictatorial rule.

Kevin Gosztola reveals that Obama was less than honest implying he has had full awareness of the scope of the NSA mass spying and of the nature of the exercise of its authority:

Obama’s version of his record as president sharply contrasted the history of support for spying as presented by The New York Times. Obama aides even anonymously told the Times that he had been “surprised to learn after the leaks…just how far the surveillance had gone.” So, it was fraudulent for him to claim to Americans that he was about to bring transparency and promote debate on government surveillance.


What Obama said the NSA consistently follows “protocols designed to protect the privacy of ordinary people” and “they are not abusing authorities in order to listen to your private phone calls, or read your emails,” that was false. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court found in a ruling in 2009, “The minimization procedures proposed by the government in each successive application and approved as binding by the orders of [the FISA Court] have been so frequently and systematically violated that it can fairly be said that this critical element of the overall [business records] regime has never functioned effectively.”

This is a dramatic rundown of where our civil rights stand right now from Chris Hedges in “What Obama Meant to Say ...” - Hedges' imaginary subtext from a craven Obama:

In the 1960s, the U.S. government spied on civil rights leaders, the Black Panthers, the American Indian Movement and critics of the Vietnam War, just as today we are spying on Occupy activists, environmentalists, whistle-blowers and other dissidents. And partly in response to these revelations decades ago, especially regarding the FBI’s covert dirty tricks program known as COINTELPRO, laws were established in the 1970s to ensure that our intelligence capabilities could not be misused against our citizens. In the long, twilight struggle against communism, and now in the fight against terrorism, I am happy to report that we have eradicated all of these reforms and laws.

The crimes for which Richard Nixon resigned and the abuses of power that prompted the formation of the Church Commission are now legal. The liberties that some patriots, including Daniel Ellsberg, Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden, have sought to preserve have been sacrificed at the altar of national security. To obtain your personal information, the FBI can now freely issue “national security letters” to your bank, doctor, employer or public library or any of your associates without a judicial warrant. And you will never be notified of an investigation.

We can collect and store in perpetuity all metadata of your email correspondence and phone records and track your geographical movements. We can assassinate you if I decide you are a terrorist. We can order the military under Section 1021 of the National Defense Authorization Act to arrest you, strip you of due process and hold you indefinitely in military detention centers. We can continue to throw into prison those who expose the illegality of what we are doing, or force them into exile, as all totalitarian secret police forces from the SS to the KGB to the East German Stasi have done. And we can torture.


I think one of the best comments conveying the Orwellian nature of NSA-encroachment of our liberties was posted as a "featured comment" in the New York Times from "ScottW", Chapel Hill, NC:

I feel so much better knowing a secret court will now issue secret opinions, based upon secret one-sided arguments, that MY communications held at a secret location, can be used by the government for secret reasons.

[cross-posted on open salon]

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Submitted by libbyliberal on

There's a lot of juicy stuff on corrente especially right now. Thank you!

CMike's picture
Submitted by CMike on

Off in a different direction, did you see this Daniel Ellsberg explanation cited from an early January Gosztola article about what happens to those who serve?:

[Jeffrey] Toobin argued in June [and Fred Kaplan more recently], “Any government employee or contractor is warned repeatedly that the unauthorized disclosure of classified information is a crime.” (Note [in Toobin's case]: That is, unless you are taking government secrets for a book you are planning to write.)

In June 2013, MSNBC host Karen Finney articulated:

I can tell you when I worked in the Clinton administration, I had a top secret clearance. I took that as sacred. It bothers me. I’m very uncomfortable that this 29-year-old kid decided that it was OK to put this information out there...

Ellsberg has explained what happens to people in, as journalists William Arkin and Dana Priest have called it, “Top Secret America.”

The promise to keep “secrets of state,” once demanded and given, becomes virtually part of one’s core identity. In the national security apparatus, one’s pride and self-respect is founded in particular in the fact that one has been trusted to keep secrets in general and trusted with these particular secrets. Second, they reflect one’s confidence that one is “worthy” of this trust. Indeed, the trust (with respect to truly sensitive secrets, requiring utmost reliance on the discretion of the recipient) will have been “earned,” before being conferred, by a long history of secret-keeping, building habits that are hard to break, that form part of one’s character.

These habits will allow a good deal of leeway and discretion in disregarding formal rules of the classification system when it comes to sharing information with others who have not been explicitly authorized to receive it — even reporters who have not been formally cleared, in flat violation of the rules — when this is in the interest of furthering the policies or interests of one’s agency boss or the president.

Furthermore, according to Ellsberg, “Keeping information from foreign adversaries-the official rationale for the whole secrecy system-is actually a less salient consideration for the larger part of the classified material, especially that which is ‘only’ top secret or lower. Since foreign states neither control the agency’s budget nor do they vote in elections or in Congress, they are not the parties who must be excluded from much of the most ‘sensitive’ information.)”

And, “It is a fundamental truth that wrongful secret-keeping is the most widespread form of complicity in wrong-doing. It involves many more people both within and outside an organization that is acting wrongfully than those who give wrongful orders or who directly implement them, though it includes these.”

Snowden decided to give up a part of his “core identity.” The pride and self-respect that came with having access to secrets daily was given up forever. He violated trust so that he could show Americans it was wrong for so many to blindly trust in their own government. That is what upsets people like Kaplan.

I think for President Obama it's been a little different, he's a bold self-promoter but his strategy is that once he's in a job not to rock the boat in that particular bay while he's waiting to make his next career move.

Submitted by libbyliberal on

Thanks, CMike. Very insightful share! Thank you for bringing it here!!! Core identity stuff interesting. Based on ego-supporting cronyism and authoritarian following I'm thinking which is why that culture is so tight. As for your last line re Obama, his career moves -- intense narcissism -- rises above any kind of moral sensitivity, conscience. He became president to get it onto his resume, no moral calling, just ferocious damaged ego being helped by celebrity iconic Oprah vetting him. Colossal consumer collective not real citizenry we are who was willing to believe in him and when he colossally betrayed DID NOTHING AND ARE STILL DOING NOTHING, most of us. You could almost feel sorry for Obama if he didn't have such immense power for evil and has already perpetrated so much of it. But next you have to look at the willfull exploiters of Obama and his hollow Stepford human-lessness and his usefulness as black and amiable frontman for the ruling rich and you also have to look for the Team Dem cronies, progressives in name only, who are the "good Germans" ending our democracy with their own wounded egos and colossal narcissism.

best, libby