- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 16, 2014

If the skeptics are correct, President Obama is about to embrace and endorse many of the controversial national-security tools and tactics introduced by his predecessor, despite railing against those policies while campaigning for the Oval Office in 2008.

Expectations for Friday’s long-awaited address, in which Mr. Obama will outline changes to U.S. spying, surveillance and data-collection efforts, are exceedingly low among privacy advocates and others.

They expect the president, while paying lip service to the notion of privacy protections and limited government power, to continue the practices first established by the Bush administration in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Mr. Obama’s shift shouldn’t come as a surprise, political analysts say, and can be partly attributed to the fact that it’s simply difficult for a president to ever give up authority, especially if that authority is meant to protect American lives. It also may come from the fact that the president fears being viewed by history as the commander in chief who curtailed intelligence-gathering only to see a terrorist attack occur, said William Howell, a politics professor at the University of Chicago who has written extensively on presidential power.

“When you’re running for office, you may espouse the benefits of a limited executive, but when you assume office, there are profound pressures to claim and nurture and exercise authority at every turn and not to relinquish the powers available to you,” Mr. Howell said.

Leading up to and during his 2008 presidential campaign, Mr. Obama made it a point to separate himself from Mr. Bush on the national security front, but there remain many notable similarities.


SEE ALSO: Under pressure, White House to unveil key surveillance report


Guantanamo Bay still is operational, despite repeated pledges from the president that he’d close the U.S. detentional facility in Cuba and house enemy combatants elsewhere.

Mr. Obama has dramatically increased the use of drones to target terrorists abroad — a step the administration vehemently defends as being quicker, more effective and far less dangerous to American personnel than sending in ground troops.

U.S. surveillance efforts, rather than having been reined in, have in some ways expanded. In the process, they have caused Mr. Obama significant foreign policy headaches.

After campaigning on the notion that he would repair America’s standing in the world, Mr. Obama has found himself putting out fires with other global leaders.

Figures such as Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff have condemned U.S. surveillance programs, and Mr. Obama personally spoke to German Chancellor Angela Merkel after reports surfaced that the NSA had tapped her cellphone.

The White House never denied that it took place, but promised such bugging isn’t happening now and will not take place in the future.

That revelation, and seemingly never-ending reports of previously unknown NSA spying efforts, have led privacy advocates — who had expected dramatic changes under this president — to turn their fire on Mr. Obama.

“President Obama’s trajectory on these issues, from reformer to supporter of these programs, has been very dispiriting to those of us who are concerned about these programs and would like to see them reined in,” said Kevin Bankston, policy director for the Open Technology Institute at the New America Foundation. Mr. Bankston and other privacy advocates hosted a conference call in advance of the president’s Friday remarks.

Other organizations are eyeing Feb. 11 as a day of action, where websites such as Mozilla, Reddit and others will host banners asking visitors to call or email Congress and demand true reforms to the NSA.

“This is not a debate the president wanted. This is a debate that was thrust on him by public outcry when the extent of the global spying regime was revealed,” said David Segal, executive director of the civil liberties advocacy group Demand Progress, which is organizing the Feb. 11 event, dubbed “the day we fight back.”

That event, Mr. Segal said Thursday, won’t target Mr. Obama if he outlines real, substantive reforms in his Friday address.

The speech, which Mr. Obama will deliver from the Justice Department, comes as a direct response to recommendations put forth by a hand-picked White House panel. The five-member group was formed following the bombshell leaks of former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden and was charged with reviewing all aspects of U.S. surveillance and data-collection efforts.

Last month, the panel released a comprehensive report including 46 specific recommendations for how the U.S. should overhaul its policies. Just one of those recommendations — to decouple the NSA and the Pentagon’s cyberwarfare arm and put a civilian atop the NSA for the first time — has been rejected outright.

The White House maintains the president is open to the remaining 45 points, though press secretary Jay Carney refused to give any previews of what the president may say Friday.

“I think the best thing to do for us and for lawmakers is to wait and see what the president has to say tomorrow about the reviews that have been conducted and the recommendations he’s analyzed,” Mr. Carney told reporters after repeatedly being pressed for a sneak peek of which reforms the president is likely to pursue.

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