Congressman Raul Grijalva isn't happy with the disclosure that the National Security Agency has been sweeping telephone metadata—or records of who calls whom, in plain English. Press release from Grijalva's office today:
Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva today called the National Security Agency’s overreaching domestic surveillance programs “a serious breach of faith between the federal government and the American people” and called on the administration to curtail and explain the excessive records sweeps documented over the past 48 hours.
“Senator Obama would not have supported this program under President Bush,” Grijalva said. “A secretive intelligence agency gathering millions of phone records and using them as it sees fit is the kind of excess many of us warned about after the Patriot Act became law. Continuing this program indefinitely gives the impression of being under constant siege and needing to know everything at all times to keep us safe, which I find a very troubling view of American security policy.”
Grijalva called for the court decisions approving the program — which is not limited to Verizon Business Networks and did not originate in April of this year, according to multiple reports — to be released so Congress and the public can understand the scope of the effort.
“We’re being assured that this is limited, supervised and no big deal,” Grijalva said. “When we heard the same under President Bush, we weren’t comfortable taking his word for it and moving on. I feel the same today.”
President Barack Obama has indeed said that this is no big deal today, according to Talking Points Memo:
President Barack Obama responded Friday to reports that the National Security Agency is collecting millions of phone records and tapping into data from leading tech companies, pushing back against what he described as "hype."
Obama said that the revelations in the reports should not have come as a surprise to members of Congress.
"Now the programs that have been discussed over the last couple of 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," Obama said during a press briefing in San Jose, Calif. "With respect to all these programs, the relevant intelligence committees are fully briefed on these programs."
The President then insisted that the government is not eavesdropping on anyone's phone calls.
"When it comes to telephone calls, nobody is listening to your telephone calls. That's not what this program's about," Obama said. "As was indicated, what the intelligence community is doing is looking at phone numbers and durations of calls. They are not looking at peoples' 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 may engage in terrorism."
Among those agreeing with Obama: The Wall Street Journal, which calls the program "legal and necessary."
Well, another day, another Washington furor. This one is over a National Security Agency phone data monitoring program, but unlike the other White House scandals there seems to be little here that is scandalous. The existence of the program was exposed years ago and such surveillance is a core part of the war on terror, if we can still use that term.
Among those disagreeing: The editorial page of The New York Times:
The administration has now lost all credibility on this issue. Mr. Obama is proving the truism that the executive branch will use any power it is given and very likely abuse it. That is one reason we have long argued that the Patriot Act, enacted in the heat of fear after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks by members of Congress who mostly had not even read it, was reckless in its assignment of unnecessary and overbroad surveillance powers.
Jonathan Chait looks at the scrambled politics in the wake of the disclosure; Slate's William Saletan says people should "stop freaking out"; Marc Ambinder fills in more context.