Citizen Action Monitor

Glenn Greenwald “staggered” by Obama’s “deceitful and misleading” claims about NSA surveillance

“It’s actually worse than just misleading and deceitful; it’s just outright false”

No 785 Posted by fw, June 19, 2013

In a PBS interview on June 17, 2013, President Obama said this about NSA surveillance –

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA — What I can say unequivocally is that if you are a U.S. person, the NSA cannot listen to your telephone calls, and the NSA cannot target your emails…. They cannot and have not, by law and by rule, and—unless they—and usually it wouldn’t be “they,” it would be the FBI—go to a court and obtain a warrant and seek probable cause, the same way it’s always been, the same way, when we were growing up and were watching movies, you know, you want to go set up a wiretap, you’ve got to go to a judge, show probable cause. [To watch the servile Charlie Rose lob softball questions for Obama to knock out of the park, click on the linked title above for the full 50:47-minute interview].

And here is Glenn Greenwald’s response to Obama’s claims —

GLENN GREENWALD — I’m staggered by how deceitful and misleading that claim is from President Obama. It’s actually worse than just misleading and deceitful; it’s just outright false. And this is the story that we’re working on to publish next, which is an inside look at what the FISA court really does in terms of what it is called oversight, but is really an empty fig leaf, when it monitors the NSA.

Under the 2008 FISA law, which replaced the 30-year FISA law enacted in 1978, the principal change is that the United States no longer needs an individual warrant when it listens in on the telephone calls or reads the emails of American citizens when they communicate with people outside of the United States. It is true that when American citizens talk to other Americans on U.S. soil, exclusively domestic communications, the NSA legally is required to get an individualized warrant from the FISA court before they can listen to the content of those communications. But when an American citizen is talking to somebody outside of the United States who’s not a U.S. citizen, and the target of those communications is the person outside of the United States, that is now completely legal for the NSA to eavesdrop on that call or read the email without going and getting a warrant. That is the whole point of that 2008 law. Remember, the Bush administration in 2005 got caught eavesdropping on the conversations of American citizens, the international conversations of American citizens, without a warrant. And what that 2008 law did is legalize that Bush program by eliminating the warrant requirement.

And so, every six months, the NSA goes to the FISA court, and they say, “Here are the procedures that we use for determining who is and is not a U.S. citizen, who is and is not on U.S. soil.” The FISA court stamps the—an approval stamp on those guidelines, and the NSA is then empowered to go around collecting whatever calls and whatever emails they want. They can force the telecoms and the Internet providers to give them whatever content they want, which often includes American citizens talking to these foreign targets, without any kind of a search warrant. So when President Obama says nobody is listening to your calls or reading your emails without first getting a search warrant, that is absolutely false. It is true that the NSA can’t deliberately target—deliberately target U.S. citizens for that kind of surveillance, but it is also the case that they are frequently engaging in surveillance of exactly that kind of invasive technique involving U.S. persons.

Let me just say one last thing. This is why—just go to Google and read about this—Ron Wyden and Mark Udall, two Democrats on the Intelligence Committee, have been repeatedly asking the NSA, “How many Americans’ telephone calls and emails are you intercepting without warrants under this program?” And the NSA continuously tells them, “I’m sorry, we can’t provide you with even a rough estimate. We don’t have the technical capabilities to do that. It would take too much time and distract away from our core mission for us to assemble those statistics.” So this idea that President Obama is promoting, that the NSA never listens to Americans’ calls or reads their emails without warrants, is utterly false.

Click on the following linked title to watch the full interview with Glenn Greenwald and to access the full transcript. Or watch an embedded 16:25-minute version below.

Glenn Greenwald: As Obama Makes “False” Surveillance Claims, Snowden Risks Life to Spark NSA Debate, Democracy Now, June 18, 2013


First, “no warrants are needed for the NSA to eavesdrop on a wide array of calls, emails and online chats involving US citizens. Individualized warrants are required only when the target of the surveillance is a US person or the call is entirely domestic.”

Second, that Obama, when asked about oversight transparency, has to cite the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court that operates in complete secrecy demonstrates how little actual transparency there is to any of this.

Third, Obama and other NSA defenders have repeatedly claimed that “nobody” is listening to Americans’ telephone calls without first obtaining warrants. This is simply false.

Fourth, The decisions about who has their emails and telephone calls intercepted by the NSA is made by the NSA itself, not by the Fisa court, except where the NSA itself concludes the person is a US citizen and/or the communication is exclusively domestic. But even in such cases, the NSA often ends up intercepting those communications of Americans without individualized warrants, and all of this is left to the discretion of the NSA analysts with no real judicial oversight.

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