By Courtney Coren
President Barack Obama is more worried about protecting the American people “from hypothetical abuses than from present dangers,” says former Attorney General Michael Mukasey in response to Obama’s speech Friday on intelligence gathering reforms.
Writing in The Wall Street Journal Monday, Mukasey derided the president for offering “no recommendations” on how to stop leaks like those exposed by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden.
Instead, he said, Obama is trying to change a NSA system of phone and Internet data collection when “there is no evidence it has been abused” while at the same time acknowledging that the surveillance programs need to be preserved.
“To impose such a burden on the NSA as the price of simply running a number through a database that includes neither the content of calls nor the identity of callers is perverse,” Mukasey wrote, of the president’s order that the NSA can no longer query the database unless it seeks permission from the special Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.
The problem, Mukasey observed, is that such a request will end up becoming a long legal process before a request even reaches the court.
“The president said that this step may be dispensed with only in a ‘true emergency,'” he noted, all but calling it absurd to think that “events unfold to a musical score with a crescendo to tell us when a ‘true emergency’ is at hand.”
The former attorney general also argued that Obama’s long-term goal of having the database monitored by a private entity would simply make the United States even more vulnerable to a data breach.
“Telephone carriers sensibly do not wish to be compelled to undertake the risks of storing the data, and could not as readily provide it to the NSA as the agency’s own storage,” Mukasey said. “A private entity is likely to be far less secure than the NSA and staffed by less reliable personnel. The paradoxical result is that the Chinese and the Russians could wind up with easier access to the data than those trying to protect us.”
Mukasey also took issue with the president’s promise to “offer the same privacy protections to citizens of other countries as we do to our own,” something he said “no other nation does.”
“Many people whose job it is to decide how aggressively we will fight our enemies watched President Obama’s speech from the Justice Department and got the message . . . that when it comes to intelligence-gathering, the president would rather protect us from hypothetical abuses than from present dangers,” Mukasey concluded.
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