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Obama: If You Trust Congress, Trust the NSA

In what may be the worst sales pitch in history, President Obama says, “”If people don’t trust the executive branch, and also congress and the judicial branch, then we’re going to have some problems here.”

National Journal (“President Obama: If You Trust Your Congress, Trust in the NSA Data Collection“):

On Friday afternoon, President Obama responded for the first time to the revelations of various National Security Agency data gathering programs—from recording all call records in and outside of the United States, to the PRISM program, which reportedly taps into the data streams of some of the largest data hosting companies in the country.

Here’s the gist: Although you, the citizens, have not heard of this, we have substantial oversight on these programs involving every branch of government. Legislators have been briefed (in regards to the telephone data, he said all members knew), and “if anybody in government wanted to go further than that top-line data … they would have to go back to a federal judge,” Obama said.

Basically, if you trust the system, you should trust us.

“In the abstract you can complain about Big Brother and how this is a potential program run amok,” the president said. “But if you look at the details … I think we have struck a nice balance.” The president also reassured that “no one is listening to your telephone calls” and that although he came into office with “a healthy skepticism about these programs,” he is reassured that they don’t overreach. “The modest encroachments on privacy that are involved … it was worth us doing,” he said.

TIME (“President Obama Defends NSA Surveillance Programs As ‘Right Balance”“):

President Barack Obama issued a strong statement in support Friday for the controversial National Security Agency surveillance programs that have been disclosed to the press in recent days.


“You can’t have 100 percent security and also have 100 percent privacy and zero inconvenience,” he continued. “We’re going to have to make some choices as a society. On balance we have established a process and a procedure that the American people should be comfortable about.”


“If people don’t trust the executive branch, and also congress and the judicial branch, then we’re going to have some problems here,” Obama admitted.

Presumably, the man hasn’t seen the polls. Approval of Congress in particular is in the single digits.

Snark aside, I tend to side with the president here, albeit with a lot of caveats. But if he’s banking on people’s trust in Congress, he’s barking up the wrong tree.

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About James Joyner
James Joyner is the publisher of Outside the Beltway, an associate professor of security studies at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He earned a PhD in political science from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter.


  1. tps says:

    As the Atlantic blog put it, How can congress raise objections to something they aren’t allow to talk about because its top secret?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  2. stonetools says:

    Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

    The problem has been with us from Roman times. There is no way to set up a national surveillance system that will please the Glenn Greenwalds, who don’t believe that there is such a thing as a threat to national security. There is always going to be balance between civil liberties and public’s need to know on the one hand and the need for secret methods of surveillance and investigation on the other.
    As far as the public is concerned, IMO the general public doesn’t trust the government that much, but also doesn’t care about the invasion of privacy. Thanks to movies like “Enemy of the State” and shows like “Person of Interest” , I think the public takes it for granted that the government can at will read our emails, listen to our phone calls, and track our every move through surveillance cameras. They are OK with that, because they haven’t done anything wrong.
    Civil Libertarians tear their hair out when they hear this, but this is how the public thinks.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  3. […] any, permanent records are being created based upon it. It simply isn’t enough for them, or President Obama, to say “Trust us” and expect everything to be okay. The bonds of that trust have, […]

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  4. Phillip says:

    I doubt anyone questions if Bin Laden got what he wanted.

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  5. Ben Wolf says:

    Washington is a corrput sleaze-pit to rival NAMBLA’s 100th anniversary celebration. No one with two intact brain cells would trust a politician, who by definition is a professional hustler looking for power, fame and money.

    Furthermore I reject the notion of the people making these decisions as being wiser than I. Their ability to make sound decisions is no better or worse than the public at large..

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  6. @tps:

    How can congress raise objections to something they aren’t allow to talk about because its top secret?

    Mark Udall’s been harping on this for a while.

    For what it’s worth….this is Obama politely blaming the American people for this debacle. And hate to say it, he’s got a point……

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 1

  7. […] Lee points out why President Obama’s assertion that we can trust Congress to properly oversee the actions of organizations like the National Security Agency is completely […]

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  8. John D'Geek says:

    I’ve been reading Dirty Wars, and I have to tell you … my paranoia level about this kind of thing is ratcheting up.

    Do not like what’s been happening. In both administrations …

    After all, sometimes 2 + 2 does equal 5 (for sufficiently large values of 2).

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