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Is Obama’s NSA plan a non-starter?

President Obama’s idea of ending the government’s role in gathering the phone records of Americans is probably unworkable according to various U.S. officials contacted by the Washington Post. Obama’s idea is to transfer control of the NSA’s massive database of phone records to telephone companies or some kind of independent board. But the phone companies do not want this responsibility and, according to the Post, no one has come up with a workable alternative.

To add to the difficulty, Congress is highly skeptical of what Obama has in mind. Accordingly, one official suggested that the collection program will remain as it is until 2015 when the law authorizing the program is due to expire.

This won’t be the first Obama administration agenda item that has turned out to be largely notional. Six years after the president vowed to close the Guantanamo Bay detention center it still operates. And no big terrorism trials have been held in New York.

Obamacare too is proving to be unworkable as concocted, forcing the administration, in effect, to rewrite the law on the fly. But that’s another story.

In the case of NSA phone data collection, Obama seems to understand that his new concept is pie-in-the-sky. In his speech announcing the proposed change of course, he acknowledged that the process would “not be simple.” He added:

Relying solely on the records of multiple providers, for example, could require companies to alter their procedures in ways that raise new privacy concerns. On the other hand, any third party maintaining a single consolidated database would be carrying out what’s essentially a government function, but with more expense, more legal ambiguity, potentially less accountability, all of which would have a doubtful impact on increasing public confidence that their privacy is being protected.

Truer words Obama has seldom spoken.

It looks to me like Obama doesn’t really want to change a system that is helping to protect America but feels compelled for political reasons to show his sensitivity to privacy concerns.

Perhaps an analogy can be drawn to Obama’s Afghanistan surge. Although more than notional — we actually did surge — Obama apparently didn’t believe in what he proposed, and served it up primarily to show his bona fides as a warrior against al Qaeda and the Taliban.

Oh how we could use a president who says what he means and means what he says.

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