The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Opinion

January 23, 2014

Our View: Obama’s troubling answers

NEW YORK — Washington doublespeak is alive and well thanks to President Barack Obama’s response to the Edward Snowden caper. Doublespeak is language used to deceive through concealment or misrepresentation of truth; the word was coined by George Orwell in his book “1984.”

As we all know by now, Snowden sought asylum in Russia after releasing hundreds of National Security Agency documents supporting his claim that the U.S. government, with assistance from major telecommunications carriers, including AT&T, has engaged in illegal surveillance of the domestic communications of millions of ordinary Americans since at least 2001.  

As the documents released by Snowden continue to pile up, the president has been forced to address the many issues that have been raised. The answers Obama has offered are now under as much scrutiny as the revelations by Snowden. And they should be.

Indeed, the answers given by Obama are troubling. They seem to be at odds with the facts. With conflicting messages, how is a person able to determine the truth? The president says he strongly believes in certain principles but reserves the right not to apply them in difficult situations. If that isn’t Washington doublespeak, we don’t know what is.

Obama claims there have been no abuses by the NSA. He says that in all his reviews of this bulk surveillance program the NSA has not acted inappropriately in the use of this data. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, however, has reprimanded the NSA for abuses both in warrantless surveillance targeting people abroad and in bulk collection of domestic phone records.

In a speech last summer in Germany, Obama said: “We know of at least 50 threats that have been averted because of this information not just in the United States but, in some cases, threats here in Germany. So lives have been saved.”

The record is far less clear. To date, the only suspect the NSA says it has identified using the phone records collection program is a San Diego cab driver later convicted of sending $8,500 to a terrorist group in his homeland of Somalia.

Obama said last summer that the federal government doesn’t have a domestic spying program. In fact, the government has the phone records of most Americans, and, as the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court learned in 2011, the NSA continues to gather thousands of domestic emails and phone calls.  

According to the German weekly Der Spiegel, the NSA has a staff of over 40,000 and an operating budget in the billions.

When it comes to the secretive nature of spying, it appears the public wants assurances that we are not returning to an era of McCarthyism, in which accusations of disloyalty, subversion and treason are made without proper regard for evidence.

Memo to the president: Stop the doublespeak and stick to the truth.

 

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