Yesterday, I suggested that the report on NSA surveillance by the President’s Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies delivered just what President Obama hoped and expected it would — a document that would pull the rug out from under his own surveillance policies. You don’t appoint a strongly left-leaning panel unless you want such a document.
The president’s conduct at his press conference today tends to confirm my assessment. As John Yoo says:
The big news out of the press conference is President Obama’s waffling on the NSA. The president is commander-in-chief and responsible for our government’s national security operations. Yet Mr. Obama talks about the NSA as if it were some group of agents outside the executive branch, and that it is. . .interesting to talk about reforming it. . . .
As president, he has access to everything that the NSA does, and he is ultimately responsible for its activities. If there have been any abuses, he should explain why and what he has done to repair matters. All of the evidence, even from the White House’s own independent commission, has not revealed any real abuses of the surveillance program (unlike, say, the IRS’s persecution of tea-party groups).
But instead of defending the NSA program, President Obama seems more worried about whether the NSA should be more restrained in wiretapping communications that takes place outside the U.S. Although he says he will study the problem and give a major speech next year, watch for Obama to try to shift as much authority over intelligence as he can to Congress or the courts for oversight.
President Obama clearly does not like the heavy national-security responsibilities of his office, and [as] with Gitmo, the trial of terrorists, and Syria, he will do his best to offload the job onto others.
The critical report Obama contrived to have produced by his own panel will pave the way.
How ironic that Obama wants to walk away from the one area of policy where he has performed competently or better. And how ironic that the most power-hungry president in recent memory wants to shed power when it comes to a function so central to his duties as president — protecting national security while upholding legitimate privacy interests.