Paul Jacob

Who is telling the truth: President Barack Obama or Edward Snowden?

When the middle-aged Mr. Snowden (now 30 years old) fled to Hong Kong and then on to Russia, having disclosed to The Washington Post and Glenn Greenwald at The Guardian of London a reported treasure trove of top-secret documents about the National Security Agency surveillance and data-mining programs, a fierce national (and worldwide) debate ensued.

President Obama has repeatedly said that he welcomes the discussion.

On the minor little manner of this “debate” itself, who is dealing in truth? No one has ever suggested the documents pilfered and made public by Snowden were inauthentic. And no one sound in mind thinks Obama honestly welcomed this debate.

Had the Great and Powerful O truly longed for such a public examination of his administration’s surveillance policies, one that now seems at least partly responsible for his lowest public approval ratings in a year, he would have begun that discussion. Nothing kept him from it. As a USA Today editorial plainly put it, “The only reason there’s a debate now is because it was started by a leaker.”

At a Friday news conference, Mr. Obama was forced to acknowledge that “a general impression has, I think, taken hold, not only among the American public but also around the world, that somehow we’re out there willy-nilly just sucking in information on everybody and doing what we please with it.”

On that, the president reaches his highest level of veracity. But the president added, “Now, that’s not the case.”

From the first revelations from Mr. Snowden, our Commander-in-Chief has assured us that we, at least — that is, American citizens hanging out on U.S. soil — are not being targeted. Even if true, which is hard to verify given all the secrecy, several reports demonstrate the ease at which a person can be innocently swept up into a surveillance program.

Perhaps that’s justifiable collateral damage to Obama, but certainly “no one is listening to your telephone calls,” he assures. Only thing is, Edward Snowden says they are, or at the very least, they can be ever so easily, without meaningful oversight, without court authorization.

Paul Jacob

Paul Jacob is President of Citizens in Charge Foundation and Citizens in Charge. His daily Common Sense commentary appears on the Web and via e-mail.