U.S. editorial excerpts -2-.
Selected editorial excerpts from the U.S. press:
OBAMA'S SECURITY RETREAT (The Wall Street Journal, New York)
Edward Snowden must be smiling. Fresh from gaining asylum from Vladimir Putin, the self-admitted stealer of U.S. security secrets can now boast that he has caused an American President to retreat on his core powers as Commander in Chief.
That's the import of President Obama's announcement late Friday, before he left for Martha's Vineyard, that he wants to overhaul the intelligence and data collection programs he inherited from George W. Bush and has used since he took office. Mr. Obama invited Congress to tie him and future Presidents down with new oversight and limits on a surveillance program that no one has found to have been abused in a single instance.
Mr. Obama's overture is dangerous politically and as policy. A President should explain to the American people why these programs are necessary against a terrorist threat that is far from defeated. Surveillance saves American lives.
The President compounded the retreat by saying he wants a new adversarial advocate added to the current surveillance review done by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, or FISC. Even if the advocate's mandate is supposedly only for "privacy," this is a bad idea.
Such an advocate compounds the problems with the FISC, which is already a judicial intrusion on the executive that diffuses political accountability. This problem was predicted when Jimmy Carter created the FISC process during the last political panic over intelligence, in the 1970s.
Laurence Silberman, a former deputy Attorney General who is now a federal judge, warned in Congressional testimony in 1978 after having inspected the files of J. Edgar Hoover and others that "I am convinced that the single most important deterrent to executive branch malfeasance is the prospect of subsequent disclosure." The introduction of judicial approval into such war powers as surveillance for national security, he said by contrast, makes the executive less accountable because it offers an excuse for bad decisions or abuse: The judges said it was OK.
This is precisely what we have seen in the wake of Mr. Snowden's betrayals, with leaks and liberals blaming the FISC for being too much of a rubber stamp and even blaming Chief Justice John Roberts for naming too many Republicans and prosecutors to the FISC. So the same liberals who created the FISC as a cure-all now blame it for not constraining the President enough. Mr. Obama is also dodging responsibility by now proposing a fix for the FISC, in large part as a way to shield himself from liberal criticism.
Not that Mr. Obama's pre-emptive FISC concession will appease the anti-antiterror left and right. They're already pocketing this offer and calling it inadequate. This is because their real goal is to build in so many caveats and burdens on surveillance that it will cease to be a useful antiterror tool.
It's hard to believe a President as politically attuned as Mr. Obama doesn't understand this. He certainly knows how to resist Congressional pressure when he wants to. Yet the passion and argument he brings to bear on domestic issues seems to vanish when he addresses national security.
It's enough to make us wonder if he is reverting in his second term to the Senator who became the darling of the left to outflank Hillary Clinton and win the Democratic nomination. Perhaps the real Barack Obama isn't the President of the first term who used the Bush antiterror policies to pound al Qaeda. Maybe he really believes that he is the only President who can be trusted with such security powers, and so now he is going to use the controversy inspired by Mr. Snowden to hamstring his successors.
Especially if that is true, but even if he is merely trying to appease his left wing, wiser figures in both parties in Congress will need to protect the office of the Presidency and the country from his security retreat.