Rather, the Obama administration has been working hard to protect the NSA’s wide-sweeping powers beyond the public’s eye. As the New York Times’ James Risen recently commented at the George Polk Awards, the administration “is the greatest enemy of press freedom that we have encountered in at least a generation.” According to Risen, the administration wants to “narrow the field of national security reporting and to create a path for accepted reporting” and any journalist who surpasses the criteria for accepted reporting “will be punished.” The New York Times reporter and Fox’s James Rosen were both accused of co-conspiring with whistleblowers by the Federal Bureau Investigation and Central Intelligence Agency. In fact, several elected officials have repeatedly demonized journalists for reporting the facts of the NSA’s metadata program. For example, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper accused Greenwald of criminally aiding and assisting Edward Snowden. President Obama needs to be on the forefront of protecting First Amendment rights, as he was during his tenure as a constitutional law professor.
To win back the trust of the American people, President Obama also needs to hold national security officials accountable for false testimonies. When Clapper denies that the US government “collects any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans,” accountability needs to be called into action by the White House. When NSA Director General Keith Alexander makes similar denials, he needs to be held accountable. President Obama’s reluctance to condemn the actions of his national security officials and his silence on the false testimonies made by them only proves his unwillingness protect privacy rights.
It may be that the President is strategic in his reforms out of fear of a terrorist response in the immediate aftermath. However, the NSA surveillance program in itself does little to prevent terrorist attacks, as the New America Foundation has reported through an in-depth analysis of hundreds of individuals that were in contact with Al-Qaeda and any related terrorist organization. The study found that the NSA’s mass surveillance programs to push forward investigations were minimally effective and that traditional methods of investigations through targeted intelligence operations, informants, and intel from local communities were far more successful.
There is a long road ahead of President Obama if he wants to win the trust of the American people. His rhetoric is no longer enough to capture the heart of the American people. He must take action and implement reforms through his executive power and jurisdiction of the NSA.