From the moment he emerged at the White House press conference today, President Obama had a visible chip on his shoulder, apparently annoyed that facing growing public outrage over the NSA surveillance schemes he had to make public promises of reforms.
Or at least what passes for reforms in his mind. Obama insisted that he is entirely “comfortable” with the surveillance system as currently constituted and expressed anger that “rather than a lawful process” the public debate was a result of leaks.
The president promised four “reforms,” three of which amounted to talking with other officials about how to sell the American public on the idea that everything is going as well as he thinks it is, and the fourth of which offering a minor tweak to FISA courts.
That tweak was the idea, proposed before, to have a “civil liberties advocate” present at FISA courts, since apparently judges in secret courts don’t take individual freedom very seriously. Obama expressed openness to the idea, but would only allow advocates “in appropriate cases.”
Beyond that, the sum total of the promises amounted to hiring a “full-time privacy officer” to work at the NSA, a single employee who will no doubt get lost in that ever-growing leviathan, and a pledge that the intelligence community will eventually make a web site explaining to people how great surveillance is.
Oddly, Obama conceded of the surveillance that “I would be worried too if I wasn’t inside the government,” but then went on to insist that the public would’ve been fine with the program but his trust was “undermined” by leaks, which of course are the only reason the American public knew about the surveillance in the first place.
Most of the press conference was of little substance, with Obama angrily rejecting questions about drone strikes in Yemen and mocking Russian President Vladimir Putin’s slouch, saying he’s “lookin’ like the bored kid in the classroom.”
He only briefly touched on Edward Snowden personally, mostly just attacking the leaks as “unlawful” and a “threat to national security.” In that brief mention, Obama rejected the notion that Snowden was a patriot, and demanded that if he truly believed what he did was right he return to America immediate to accept punishment for it.