Back when the IRS’s targeting of Tea Party and conservative groups became public knowledge, President Barack Obama said he first learned of the scandal through the news since senior White House officials opted not to make him aware of the investigation. He later said the same thing about the Justice Department’s chilling targeting of journalists.
It became a joke for pundits like Jon Stewart, who told his audience that he “wouldn’t be surprised if President Obama learned Osama bin Laden had been killed when he saw himself announcing it on television!”
Unfortunately, Obama has admitted once again that he learned about the NSA’s surveillance programs through the media.
The admission came on Friday during a press conference St. Petersburg, Russia at the G-20 summit. President Obama spent much of his time trying to build world support for his administration’s proposed strike against Syria, though unsuccessfully.
President Obama was asked about the concerns expressed by world leaders over the NSA’s spying on Brazil and Mexico, which was another topic of discussion at the summit. He said that he had spoken to the leaders of the two nations, but his answer led to a stunning admission.
“Now, just more specifically, then, on Brazil and Mexico. I said that I would look into the allegations. I mean, part of the problem here is we get these through the press and then I’ve got to go back and find out what’s going on with respect to these particular allegations — I don’t subscribe to all these newspapers, although I think the NSA does — now at least,” said Obama (emphasis added).
President Obama admitted that he had no idea what was going on with the NSA until the media started reporting on information provided by Edward Snowden, the whistleblower who uncovered vast reach of the agency’s spying programs.
Mike Masnick of TechDirt explains just how problematic this is.
“Here is the President of the US admitting two astounding things. First, it appears that he and the NSA really have no clue at all what information Ed Snowden walked away with, and second (and worse), it appears that the President is admitting that he doesn’t know what the NSA is doing and is similarly learning these facts from the press,” wrote Masnick.
“This comes from the same President who has repeatedly insisted that there is plenty of oversight over these programs. If that’s true, then he shouldn’t be taken by surprise when the press reveals what the NSA is doing, and shouldn’t have to ‘go back and find out what’s going on,’” he added. “He’s more or less admitting that there’s no oversight and the NSA is a rogue agency making its own rules, only checked on when the press reveals something.”
The right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing, leaving plenty of room for agency employees to do whatever they want. In fact, that’s what is happening. In 2011, the Obama Administration managed to win a secret court ruling, as the Washington Post reported over the weekend, that “permit[s] the agency to search deliberately for Americans’ communications in its massive databases.”
Past instances of violations of privacy rules and willful abuse of protocols have been documented by various media outlets. President Obama has tried to downplay these NSA’s spying capability, but to no avail, as Americans have been largely outraged that their own government is retaining their personal phone and Internet metadata.