Tag Archives: national security

President Obama’s Statement on the NSA, 6/7/13

Excerpted from press conference about the success of the Affordable Care Act in California:

“When I came into this office, I made two commitments that are more important than any commitment I made: Number one, to keep the American people safe; and number two, to uphold the Constitution. And that includes what I consider to be a constitutional right to privacy and an observance of civil liberties.

Now, the programs that have been discussed over the last couple days in the press are secret in the sense that they’re classified. But they’re not secret in the sense that when it comes to telephone calls, every member of Congress has been briefed on this program. With respect to all these programs, the relevant intelligence committees are fully briefed on these programs. These are programs that have been authorized by broad bipartisan majorities repeatedly since 2006.

And so, I think at the outset, it’s important to understand that your duly elected representatives have been consistently informed on exactly what we’re doing. Now, let me take the two issues separately.

When it comes to telephone calls, nobody is listening to your telephone calls. That’s not what this program is about. As was indicated, what the intelligence community is doing is looking at phone numbers and durations of calls. They are not looking at people’s names, and they’re not looking at content. But by sifting through this so-called metadata, they may identify potential leads with respect to folks who might engage in terrorism. If these folks — if the intelligence community then actually wants to listen to a phone call, they’ve got to go back to a federal judge, just like they would in a criminal investigation.

…. This program, by the way, is fully overseen not just by Congress, but by the FISA Court — a court specially put together to evaluate classified programs to make sure that the executive branch, or government generally, is not abusing them, and that it’s being carried out consistent with the Constitution and rule of law….

Now, with respect to the Internet and emails — this does not apply to U.S. citizens and it does not apply to people living in the United States. And again, in this instance, not only is Congress fully apprised of it, but what is also true is that the FISA Court has to authorize it.

So in summary, what you’ve got is two programs that were originally authorized by Congress, have been repeatedly authorized by Congress, bipartisan majorities have approved on them, Congress is continually briefed on how these are conducted. There are a whole range of safeguards involved, and federal judges are overseeing the entire program throughout. We’re also setting up — we’ve also set up an audit process, when I came into office, to make sure that we’re, after the fact, making absolutely certain that all the safeguards are being properly observed.

Now, having said all that, you’ll remember when I made that speech a couple of weeks ago about the need for us to shift out of a perpetual war mindset, I specifically said that one of the things that we’re going to have to discuss and debate is how are we striking this balance between the need to keep the American people safe and our concerns about privacy? Because there are some tradeoffs involved.

I welcome this debate. And I think it’s healthy for our democracy. I think it’s a sign of maturity, because probably five years ago, six years ago, we might not have been having this debate. And I think it’s interesting that there are some folks on the left but also some folks on the right who are now worried about it who weren’t very worried about it when there was a Republican President. I think that’s good that we’re having this discussion.

But I think it’s important for everybody to understand — and I think the American people understand — that there are some tradeoffs involved. I came in with a healthy skepticism about these programs. My team evaluated them. We scrubbed them thoroughly. We actually expanded some of the oversight, increased some of safeguards. But my assessment and my team’s assessment was that they help us prevent terrorist attacks. And the modest encroachments on the privacy that are involved in getting phone numbers or duration without a name attached and not looking at content, that on net, it was worth us doing. Some other folks may have a different assessment on that.

But I think it’s important to recognize that you can’t have 100 percent security and also then have 100 percent privacy and zero inconvenience. We’re going to have to make some choices as a society. And what I can say is that in evaluating these programs, they make a difference in our capacity to anticipate and prevent possible terrorist activity. And the fact that they’re under very strict supervision by all three branches of government and that they do not involve listening to people’s phone calls, do not involve reading the emails of U.S. citizens or U.S. residents absent further action by a federal court that is entirely consistent with what we would do, for example, in a criminal investigation — I think on balance, we have established a process and a procedure that the American people should feel comfortable about. ..

But, again, these programs are subject to congressional oversight and congressional reauthorization and congressional debate. And if there are members of Congress who feel differently, then they should speak up. And we’re happy to have that debate.

I don’t welcome leaks, because there’s a reason why these programs are classified. I think that there is a suggestion that somehow any classified program is a “secret” program, which means it’s somehow suspicious.

The fact of the matter is in our modern history, there are a whole range of programs that have been classified because — when it comes to, for example, fighting terror, our goal is to stop folks from doing us harm. And if every step that we’re taking to try to prevent a terrorist act is on the front page of the newspapers or on television, then presumably the people who are trying to do us harm are going to be able to get around our preventive measures. That’s why these things are classified.

But that’s also why we set up congressional oversight. These are the folks you all vote for as your representatives in Congress, and they’re being fully briefed on these programs. And if, in fact, there was — there were abuses taking place, presumably those members of Congress could raise those issues very aggressively. They’re empowered to do so.

We also have federal judges that we put in place who are not subject to political pressure. They’ve got lifetime tenure as federal judges, and they’re empowered to look over our shoulder at the executive branch to make sure that these programs aren’t being abused.

So we have a system in which some information is classified, and we have a system of checks and balances to make sure that it’s not abused. And if, in fact, this information ends up just being dumped out willy-nilly without regard to risks to the program, risks to the people involved — in some cases, on other leaks, risks to personnel in a very dangerous situation — then it’s very hard for us to be as effective in protecting the American people.

That’s not to suggest that you just say, trust me; we’re doing the right thing; we know who the bad guys are. And the reason that’s not how it works is because we’ve got congressional oversight and judicial oversight. And if people can’t trust not only the executive branch but also don’t trust Congress and don’t trust federal judges to make sure that we’re abiding by the Constitution, due process and rule of law, then we’re going to have some problems here.

But my observation is, is that the people who are involved in America’s national security, they take this work very seriously. They cherish our Constitution. The last thing they’d be doing is taking programs like this to listen to somebody’s phone calls….

But I know that the people who are involved in these programs, they operate like professionals. And these things are very narrowly circumscribed. They’re very focused. And in the abstract, you can complain about Big Brother and how this is a potential program run amuck, but when you actually look at the details, then I think we’ve struck the right balance.”

Full text: http://1.usa.gov/18cmkgq

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President Obama Makes a National Security Personnel Announcement, 6/5/13

The President:

“At the same time, Tom [Donilon] has played a critical role as we’ve bolstered the enduring pillars of American power — strengthening our alliances, from Europe to Asia; enhancing our relationship with key powers; and moving ahead with new trade agreements and energy partnerships. And from our tough sanctions on Iran to our unprecedented military and intelligence cooperation with Israel — (baby cries) — it’s true — (laughter) — from New START with Russia to deeper partnerships with emerging powers like India, to stronger ties with the Gulf states, Tom has been instrumental every step of the way.

I’m especially appreciative to Tom for helping us renew American leadership in the Asia Pacific, where so much of our future security and prosperity will be shaped. He has worked tirelessly to forge a constructive relationship with China that advances our interests and our values. And I’m grateful that Tom will be joining me as I meet with President Xi of China this week….

Now, I am proud that this work will be carried on by another exemplary public servant — Ambassador Susan Rice. (Applause.) Susan was a trusted advisor during my first campaign for President. She helped to build my foreign policy team and lead our diplomacy at the United Nations in my first term. I’m absolutely thrilled that she’ll be back at my side, leading my national security team in my second term.

With her background as a scholar, Susan understands that there is no substitute for American leadership. She is at once passionate and pragmatic. I think everybody understands Susan is a fierce champion for justice and human dignity, but she’s also mindful that we have to exercise our power wisely and deliberately….

Now, normally I’d be worried about losing such an extraordinary person up at the United Nations and be trying to figure out how are we ever going to replace her. But fortunately, I’m confident we’ve got an experienced, effective and energetic U.N. ambassador-in-waiting in Samantha Power.

Samantha first came to work for me in 2005, shortly after I became a United States senator, as one of our country’s leading journalists; I think she won the Pulitzer Prize at the age of 15 or 16. One of our foremost thinkers on foreign policy, she showed us that the international community has a moral responsibility and a profound interest in resolving conflicts and defending human dignity….”

Mr. Donilon:

“Mr. President, to serve in this capacity where we’ve had the opportunity to protect and defend the United States, to improve the position of the United States in the world, has been the privilege of a lifetime. To serve during your presidency, however, is to serve during one of the defining moments in our nation’s history. This is because of your vision, your principled leadership, your commitment to defending our interests and upholding our ideals.”….

Ambassador Rice:

“Mr. President, thank you so much. I’m deeply honored and humbled to serve our country as your National Security Advisor. I’m proud to have worked so closely with you for more than six years. And I’m deeply grateful for your enduring confidence in me.

As you’ve outlined, we have vital opportunities to seize and ongoing challenges to confront. We have much still to accomplish on behalf of the American people. And I look forward to continuing to serve on your national security team to keep our nation strong and safe.

I want to thank my remarkable colleagues at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations. I am so proud of the work we’ve done together under your leadership, Mr. President, to advance America’s interests at the United Nations.”….

Ms. Power:

“I moved to the United States from Ireland when I — with my parents, who are here — when I was 9 years old. I remember very little about landing in Pittsburgh, except that I was sure I was at the largest airport in the history of the world. I do remember what I was wearing — a red, white and blue stars and stripes t-shirt. It was the t-shirt I always wore in Ireland on special occasions.

Even as a little girl with a thick Dublin accent who had never been to America, I knew that the American flag was the symbol of fortune and of freedom. But I quickly came to learn that to find opportunity in this country, one didn’t actually need to wear the flag, one just needed to try to live up to it.”

Full text: http://1.usa.gov/11ZS9FY