Boehner: Obama ‘Must Not Allow Politics to Cloud His Judgment’ on NSA

Posted January 17, 2014 at 4:08pm

While President Barack Obama is proposing a series of changes to the National Security Agency’s surveillance programs, Speaker John A. Boehner gave the suggestions a frosty reception and isn’t convinced they are needed.

“The House will review any legislative reforms proposed by the administration,” Boehner said, “but we will not erode the operational integrity of critical programs that have helped keep America safe.”

Certain practices have come under fire after former NSA contractor Edward Snowden leaked classified information regarding the extent of mass data collection by the government. Some argue that such collection of meta data it constitutes a serious infringement on privacy and civil liberties.

“Our national security programs exist to root out terrorist threats and save American lives — and they have,” Boehner said. “Because the president has failed to adequately explain the necessity of these programs, the privacy concerns of some Americans are understandable.

“When considering any reforms, however, keeping Americans safe must remain our top priority,” Boehner continued. “When lives are at stake, the president must not allow politics to cloud his judgment. I look forward to learning more about how the new procedure for accessing data will not put Americans at greater risk.”

Obama’s announced his proposed changes on Friday morning, though the actual details — such as a plan to privatize the holding of telephone metadata, require judicial oversight of metadata searches, establish a new privacy advocate on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, reduced spying on foreign leaders, and other measures — don’t seem to radically change the NSA’s reach.

Some of the pieces of Obama’s plan would require congressional action, including creating the architecture for having private companies keep telephone data for the government to mine and setting up the privacy advocate for the secret court.

Other House members on both sides of the aisle have weighed in on Obama’s announced changes, the scale and scope of which are not yet immediately known.

A theme was clear, however: As Boehner said, the House must be engaged.

“The president deserves credit for undertaking a thoughtful review of the National Security Agency’s intelligence gathering programs to strengthen both of those efforts,” said House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md. “Congress must continue to play an important oversight role to verify that the rights of our citizens are not infringed upon.”

“President Obama says he’s listened to and consulted with experts and legislators and intends to enact reforms and expand executive oversight,” said Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis. “Some of his proposals I agree with, others I don’t. But the bottom line is real reform cannot be done by presidential fiat.”

Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., who has introduced legislation to declassify the so-called Black Budget, doesn’t think Obama’s directives go nearly far enough.

“While I appreciate the president’s effort to strike a better balance between the twin imperatives of protecting Americans from harm and ensuring their civil liberties, the steps he announced today fall short of reigning in the NSA,” he said.

Steven T. Dennis contributed to this report.