The wheels have come off the Obama administration

eyespyPrivacy advocates are understandably outraged over yesterday’s revelations of widespread spying on Americans by the Obama administration. Coming on top of last month’s allegations of spying on AP reporters, IRS misdeeds, and Benghazi bungling, it appears more and more as though the wheels have come off the Obama administration.

At first it looked as though maybe it was Republicans continuing to make mountains out of molehills. After all, they’ve been screaming about Benghazi for months. But eventually it became apparent that there had been a lot of mistakes, that additional security had been requested by the consulate but not received, that aid had been sent but then called back. Perhaps a case of the right hand not knowing what the left hand was doing. Not atypical with huge bureaucracies.

The IRS thing? Nothing so obvious would have been ordered directly by the president. Call it a few overzealous IRS workers acting … well, overzealously. Not that the Republican organizations in question were blameless. Technically they might not have been entitled to the tax breaks they were applying for, but hey, it was worth a try. The IRS is so bloated, the tax code is so insanely complex, enforcement is so spotty and erratic …

The seizure of AP reporters’ phone records? For security reasons? Come on. Maybe one reporter did wander into a gray area. Or maybe not. Maybe his reports were a threat to security — not that we’d ever know, of course, because that stuff is secret. But that didn’t justify the massive intrusion into and seizure of hundreds of reporters’ records. Were they warrantless seizures? Were the warrants so overly broad as to include virtually everything from everybody? We may never know. But the action was a clear threat to freedom of the press. Not to mention Obama’s promised “transparency in government,” which was called into question when a subsequent meeting with media representatives was declared “off the record.”

Then Wednesday the dam broke. The Guardian (why is it always the British media and not ours?) reported that phone records of all Verizon customers in the US, under some vague authority conferred by the Patriot Act, were being collected by the US government. Not just outbound international calls. Not just foreigners calling into the country. Not just people suspected of criminal activities. All customers, all calls, on the largest phone network in the country.

“Necessary for national security.” “Stopped a potential terrorist attack.” Really? One potential attack? That’s the justification for spying on millions — millions — of Americans?

But it didn’t end there:

In a new development, the National Security Agency and the FBI are tapping into the central servers of nine leading U.S. Internet companies in real time, obtaining audio and video chats, photographs, e-mails and other information, various news outlets reported. The program is code-named PRISM.

Which companies?

Microsoft was the first to participate. Yahoo joined in 2008. Others followed in quick succession: Google in 2009, then AOL, Apple, Facebook, PalTalk, Skype, and YouTube in October 2012.

We’ve been told all this information-gathering is to establish a database on tens of millions of American citizens so the government can refer to it in case they hear of a potential threat like Tamerlan Tsarnaev. What ever happened to having to prove a valid need for information before a warrant is issued and before information is gathered!? Before innocent Americans are spied on? Before our calls are monitored? Before our Internet activities are tracked, and recorded, and stored in some secret federal database? This is not, as Pres. Obama said today, the “right balance” between national security and the right to privacy.

All of this confirms that Senators Mark Udall (D-CO) and Ron Wyden (D-OR) were right to be concerned when, in March 15, 2012, they wrote to Attorney General Eric Holder regarding the government’s questionable interpretation of its powers under the Patriot Act. They said, in part:

We believe most Americans would be stunned to learn the details of how these secret court opinions have interpreted section 215 of the Patriot Act. As we see it, there is now a significant gap between what most Americans think the law allows and what the government secretly claims the law allows. …

… Americans expect their government to operate within the boundaries of publicly-understood law, and as voters they have a need and a right to know how the law is being interpreted, so that they can ratify or reject decisions made on their behalf. …

The letter also addressed the issue of whether Congress is in fact kept “fully briefed” as administration officials have claimed in the last two days.

We’ve said before that the Patriot Act was a huge, unconstitutional overreach by President Bush and Congress in the wake of 9/11. Now it appears that President Obama has allowed government agencies, using the Patriot Act as pretext, to continue an increasingly broad intrusion into the private lives of American citizens in direct violation of our constitutional rights.

If you aren’t outraged by all this, you haven’t been paying attention.




17 thoughts on “The wheels have come off the Obama administration

  1. Worrying stuff indeed, PT; I can’t imagine the same stuff is not going on over here. Thank goodness it seems the Senators Mark Udall and Ron Wyden have asked the right questions. This stuff should be named and shamed and if governments topple, so be it.

    1. I’m proud to say Sen. Udall is my senator. If he works on no issue but this, he will have justified my vote. The only reason I don’t regret my vote for Pres. Obama is because I think Mitt Romney, and before him, John McCain, would have been worse.

  2. So saddened. Destruction of trust and hope. Shame.
    People wouldn’t listen about the Patriot Act (all those silly librarians warning don’t look so silly now – they saw it)
    What worries me is that so many aren’t listening and understanding what is going on.
    Been reading the foreign presses for a bit now – the US media has become fluff. (The Brits now say they have been accessing all the NSA data for at least 3 years…all of it)
    Not comfortable at all having all my medical records on-line and in the hands of the IRS…look all this mess.

  3. Blogs are for opinions, right? So for what it’s worth, here are some of mine.

    1. The Benghazi outpost was actually a CIA office, not a diplomatic one, and it is impractical to set up instant military defense of each of the many hundreds of such places all over an unpredictable and unstable world. Benghazi ignited a political flap because of GOP demagoguery based on the absurd belief that any vulnerability to terrorists equates to political weakness.

    2. The IRS was given a cowardly-vague mission by the Congress to administratively and fairly (ha ha) differentiate “primarily” social organizations from political ones when they asked for tax-exempt status. Solomon himself would have likely chosen the same shortcuts as did the Cleveland office. Now the floodgates are probably open to even broader abuse of such status than ever before, thanks to the lack of spines in Washington, Obama’s included.

    3. No reporters’ actual conversations were recorded by the JD, so the fourth estate was hardly damaged in the AP flap and its rights are intact. Basic rights have always been in conflict with the exigencies of warfare.

    4. Similar to 3. above, the collection of “phone records” by the NSA involved no actual information other than phone numbers and connections in a data bank, except under judicial oversight, so that exercise is, at least so far, not the boogeyman it appears. That said, the mere capacity for abuse obviously calls for more and more-transparent oversight because it is so great that it invites abuse. It is still to be determined whether Edward Snowden’s claims of specific access by him and other technicians are true. But I think it’s important to note that social media, and especially Facebook and Google, have far more personal information in their data banks than the NSA. Why aren’t we complaining about that?

    5. The Patriot Act was an overreach, agreed. So was the launch of Top Secret America in response to 9/11 when the Bush administration threw open the fiscal floodgates to virtually unlimited contractor greed, both on and off the battlefield. This country needs to get a grip and decide maturely how to balance safety with financial prudence, but before we can expect Congress to do that, we the people need to stop expecting perfection in the war on terror. Perfection is damned expensive.


    1. Benghazi and the IRS thing were screw-ups, no matter who you believe and regardless of GOP demagoguery. They happened on Obama’s watch and there’s where the buck stops.

      It’s irrelevant whether the Justice Department recorded actual conversations. The point is that seizing the records of so many reporters when only one was suspected of wrongdoing was a gross overreach, a fishing expedition with no justification whatsoever. The same is true of the NSA’s information gathering. And the “judicial oversight” is no comfort whatsoever since the court (FISC) just rubberstamps whatever the intelligence community wants. All done under undisclosed interpretations of the Patriot Act — which I happen to think is unconstitutional.

      If Snowden accomplished nothing else, he ignited a long overdue conversation about government intrusion and citizens’ rights. As for Google and Facebook, I have complained about them, particularly Facebook. But the big difference is we willingly open ourselves up to Google and FB, We choose to give them access. The government just takes whatever information it wants, without our permission, cooperation, or knowledge. That’s wrong.

      I don’t expect perfection. Nothing even close. But I did expect Obama to reel in the excesses of the Patriot Act. Instead, he has allowed them to proliferate. I’m angry about that.

    1. Trolling my older posts, eh? These days, yes, the evidence points to the Chinese and Russians as the biggest foreign offenders. But I think the internal spying by our government on private citizens continues just as it did when I posted this in 2013.


        1. Ah, I see. I didn’t read above.

          I read these old posts all the time, just because visitors do. I want to see what it is they find interesting, and I rarely remember the content from just the title. I’ve written a lot of stuff in the last 7 or 8 years.

          “Boring” is one word for today’s news. Others might be “unnerving,” “biased,” “unbelievable,” or “irrelevant” (as in endless discussion, speculation, hypothesizing, etc.).

          1. To all your additional news descriptions, I might add… infinitum to the degree of boredom.

            In my opinion, Obama is the only Democrat with a reasonable response to the current political environment. The rest (most of ’em) are childish whiners who can’t accept that they are in no position to change the election outcome and ought to be pursuing some kind of legitimate opposition strategy. Boycotting the swearing in ceremony is just dumb. Of course, my opinion and ten dollars will get you a cup of coffee at any Starbucks.

          2. Nor would I, but if my congressional or senate representative were to think that it was HIS or HER time being wasted, I’d remember their childishness come the next election cycle.

          3. Not sure how I’d feel about my reps staying home. So far it looks like they plan to attend. I trust that whether they attend or not, all the Dems are busily formulating opposition strategies. I hope they plan something more constructive than the mindless obstructionism and gridlock pursued by the GOP for 8 years. Reasonable, responsible adults should be able to find some common ground and do some good things for the country.

... and that's my two cents