At the end of a press conference this afternoon about something nobody cared about, President Obama took a question from the press and, in doing so, provided his first remarks on twin NSA programs that collect metadata on domestic phone calls and examine the content of online communications by foreigners, respectively. The programs are not exactly new — both began under President Bush. Indeed, on May 11, 2006, Bush appeared in the White House’s Diplomatic Reception Room to offer his own defense of the NSA’s phone-snooping efforts. Seven years apart, history appears to be repeating itself.
Bush: “After September the 11th, I vowed to the American people that our government would do everything within the law to protect them against another terrorist attack.”
Obama: "When I came into this office, I made two commitments that are more important than any that I make: number one, to keep the American people safe and, number two, to uphold the Constitution."
Bush: “The privacy of ordinary Americans is fiercely protected in all our activities.”
Obama: "That includes what I consider to be a constitutional right to privacy."
Bush: “The intelligence activities I authorized are lawful and have been briefed to appropriate members of Congress, both Republican and Democrat.”
Obama: "When it comes to telephone calls, every member of Congress has been briefed on this program. With respect to all these programs the relevant intelligence committees are fully briefed."
Bush: “The government does not listen to domestic phone calls without court approval.”
Obama: "Nobody is listening to your telephone calls … If the intelligence community actually wants to listen to a phone call, they’ve got to go back to a federal judge."
Bush: “So far we’ve been very successful in preventing another attack on our soil.”
Obama: "They make a difference in our capacity to anticipate and prevent possible terrorist activity."
Bush: “As a general matter, every time sensitive intelligence is leaked, it hurts our ability to defeat this enemy.”
Obama: “I don’t welcome leaks, because there’s a reason why these programs are classified.”