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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 8/23/13

Obama vs. Snowden: "Parsing the Presser" Series, Part 3

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Editor's Note: This article offers a highly critical, but thoroughly documented, analysis of President Obama's defense of the NSA surveillance program, as laid out in his August 9, 2013 press conference. It is being released in three parts on consecutive days, August 20-August 22. 

Part 3: Obama's Proposed "Reforms" Are in Fact Aimed at Dampening a Growing Public Awareness That the Constitution Is Being Violated.

Obama's bundle of four "steps" for reform of his surveillance program are presumably the product of his desired "orderly and lawful process to...come up with appropriate reforms." He patronizingly criticizes Snowden for short-circuiting these reforms as a stereotypical activist, "in a very passionate, but not always fully informed way." Of course Snowden has been the very model of phlegmatic decorum, letting his extremely well-informed documentation do most the talking through journalists with no arm-waving on his part whatsoever. Central-casting could not have made a better assignment for the role of foil to disarm Obama's annoying ploy of covering up his betrayal of his base by asserting merely stylistic differentiation of himself from generic activists, who his former Chief of Staff similarly, though more colorfully, called "f--ing retarded." But Obama doesn't have much. So, notwithstanding the obvious facts, he is sticking with his and his former chief's stereotype of uninformed emotionalism to pin on Snowden and any other Americans who would work effectively to support the Constitution.

Obama's "orderly" developed, "appropriate reforms" do not come close to the "thorough review" he falsely claims to have "called for" on May 23, even after taking more than two additional months to prepare his ineffective proposals. They are no more than a by-the-book government propaganda initiative "designed to ensure that the American people can trust that our efforts are in line with our interests and our values," without actually doing anything that could risk so aligning them. Obama's big lies about these "'steps' we're going to be taking very shortly" are aimed at Snowden and at dampening the heightened public consciousness of rampant constitutional violation that Snowden's revelations ignited. This is driving down Obama's poll numbers.

These proposals are designed not to change Obama's program but solely to deflect demands for such change by winning the PR offensive, which turns--as do all Obama's similar deceptions--on Mencken 's famous gambling tip that "no one" has ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the great masses of the plain people. Nor has anyone ever lost public office thereby."

Mencken recorded no opinion whether a politician who consistently employed no other betting tactic than routinely insulting the public's intelligence could "fool all the people all the time," contrary to Lincoln's axiom. Obama is in violation of the Constitution, he is telling transparent lies to cover it up and postpone the day of reckoning, and the people are paying greater attention to this than usual. The Snowden affair may be an occasion for witnessing the Lincoln exception to the general rule that guides Obama.

Presidential lawerly advice about the lawful path

Like the pretense that he had already announced pre-Snowden his intention to make reform proposals, Obama similarly suggests in cleverly deceptive language that he had already signed an Executive Order, which Snowden should have employed, to extend federal whistle-blower protection to the intelligence community. Obama claims there "were other avenues available for somebody whose conscience was stirred and thought that they needed to question government actions." Obama intended us to believe that this indefinite "somebody," if not referring explicitly to Snowden, at least included Snowden. But again, the mandatory fact-checking reveals that Obama's "somebody" refers to somebody else.

The referenced "Presidential Policy Directive 19, signed by Obama without much publicity on Oct. 10, 2012, has been criticized both for lacking due process protection and because PPD-19 does not cover contractor employees in any event. Even DoD's implementation of PPD-19 ordered on July 8, 2013, in its Directive-type Memorandum (DTM) 13-008 , excluded such employees after being urged to include them . The respected whistle-blower organization that did so later complained, on August 7, 2013, that the DoD "notably neglected to address intelligence community contractors, like Edward Snowden, who may continue to turn to outside channels if the DoD and other agencies do not extend PPD-19 protections to contractors with access to classified information."

Another whistle-blower advocate warned: ""We are concerned that national security employees may think that this [ PPD-19] directive gives them some much-needed protections when it does not," The new protection was solely for internal reports of fraud, waste and abuse. The Pentagon itself had released an assessment in 2012 criticizing the systematic denial of protection of DoD whistle-blowers by the relevant internal office of the Inspector General. The report criticized, among other problems, insufficient evidence to support findings of non-reprisal against whistle-blowers and erroneous definition as "harmless" of retaliatory actions against whistle-blowers affecting most cases.

This is the same system of sketchy protection that Obama invokes for that "somebody" who might limit their whistle-blowing to accepted channels. This system is in fact inadequate to predictably protect from the high risk of internal reprisal anybody who might believe Obama and use it. It would be naïve to think a secretive bureaucracy would work in any other way than to protect itself by suppressing and sidelining dissent as fundamental as Snowden's.

Since the bureaucracy is mostly carrying out Obama's orders, the gist of Snowden's concern is with Obama himself. Exposing a president in systematic violation of long-understood constitutional rights is not a matter for internal bureaucratic complaint processes, but rather a matter for the public to decide. Obama's reference to his ineffective PPD-19 was a propaganda ploy to disguise another truth -- which is also another essential element of Snowden's defense -- that Snowden's only practical means to defend the Constitution from Obama was to appeal over the head of the bureaucracy to the public.

Not only did Obama falsely suggest that he had extended whistle-blower protections that would have covered Snowden's revelations, protections that are highly defective in any case, but they had not even been extended to cover contractor employees like Snowden by the time of Obama's August 9 performance. The reader can decide if this is just another mistake by Obama or the kind of calculated mendacity that close observers have come to routinely expect from him.


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Rob Hager is a public-interest litigator who filed a Supreme Court amicus brief n the 2012 Montana sequel to the Citizens United case, American Tradition Partnership, Inc. v. Bullock, and has worked as an international consultant on legal (more...)
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