Read Obama's Entire Speech Defending NSA Spying

White House Flickr FeedWhite House Flickr FeedPres. Obama defended the NSA's request for Verizon customer data earlier this afternoon. As Scott Shackford noted earlier, the president used straw men and false choices to do so. Now you can read Obama's remarks in full, thanks to the Federal News Service.

See anything noteworthy or in need of further harping on? Feel free to tell us in the comments.

I’m going to take one question. And then remember, people are going to have opportunity to — I’ll also answer questions when I’m with the Chinese president today. So I don’t want the whole day to just be a bleeding press conference. But I’m going to take Jackie Calmes’s question.

Q: Mr. President, could you please react to the reports of secret government surveillance of phones and Internet? And can you also assure Americans that the government — your government doesn’t have some massive secret database of all their personal online information and activity?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Yeah. You know, when I came into this office, I made two commitments that are more than any commitment I make: number one, to keep the American people safe; and number two, to uphold the Constitution. And that includes what I consider to be a constitutional right to privacy and an observance of civil liberties.

Now, the programs that have been discussed over the last couple days in the press are secret in the sense that they’re classified, but they’re not secret in the sense that 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 on these programs. These are programs that have been authorized by broad, bipartisan majorities repeatedly since 2006. And so I think at the outset, it’s important to understand that your duly elected representatives have been consistently informed on exactly what we’re doing.

Now, let — let me take the two issues separately. When it comes to telephone calls, nobody is listening to your telephone calls. That’s not what this program’s about. As was indicated, what the intelligence community is doing is looking at phone numbers and durations of calls. They are not looking at people’s names, and they’re not looking at content. But by sifting through this so-called metadata, they may identify potential leads with respect to folks who might engage in terrorism. If these folks — if the intelligence community then actually wants to listen to a phone call, they’ve got to go back to a federal judge, just like they would in a criminal investigation. So I want to be very clear. Some of the hype that we’ve been hearing over the last day or so — nobody’s listening to the content of people’s phone calls.

This program, by the way, is fully overseen not just by Congress but by the FISA Court, a court specially put together to evaluate classified programs to make sure that the executive branch, or government generally, is not abusing them and that they’re — it’s being out consistent with the Constitution and rule of law.

And so not only does that court authorize the initial gathering of data, but I want to repeat, if anybody in government wanted to go further than just that top-line data and wanted to, for example, listen to Jackie Calmes’s phone call, they’d have to go back to a federal judge and — and — and indicate why, in fact, they were doing further — further probing.

Now, with respect to the Internet and emails, this does not apply to U.S. citizens, and it does not apply to people living in the United States. And again, in this instance, not only is Congress fully apprised of it, but what is also true is that the FISA Court has to authorize it.

So in summary, what you’ve got is two programs that were originally authorized by Congress, have been repeatedly authorized by Congress. Bipartisan majorities have approved (on them ?). Congress is continually briefed on how these are conducted. There are a whole range of safeguards involved. And federal judges are overseeing the entire program throughout. And we’re also setting up — we’ve also set up an audit process when I came into office to make sure that we’re, after the fact, making absolutely certain that all the safeguards are being properly observed.

Now, having said all that, you’ll remember when I made that speech a couple of weeks ago about the need for us to shift out of a perpetual war mindset. I specifically said that one of the things that we’re going to have to discuss and debate is how were we striking this balance between the need to keep the American people safe and our concerns about privacy, because there are some trade-offs involved.

And I welcome this debate. And I think it’s healthy for our democracy. I think it’s a sign of maturity, because probably five years ago, six years ago, we might not have been having this debate. And I think it’s interesting that there are some folks on the left, but also some folks on the right who are now worried about it who weren’t very worried about it when it was a Republican president. I think that’s good that we’re having this discussion.

But I think it’s important for everybody to understand, and I think the American people understand, that there are some trade-offs involved. You know, I came in with a health skepticism about these programs. My team evaluated them. We scrubbed them thoroughly. We actually expanded some of the oversight, increased some of the safeguards. But my assessment and my team’s assessment was that they help us prevent terrorist attacks. And the modest encroachments on privacy that are involved in getting phone numbers or duration without a name attached and not looking at content — that on, you know, net, it was worth us doing.

That’s — some other folks may have a different assessment of that. But I think it’s important to recognize that you can’t have a hundred percent security and also then have a hundred percent privacy and zero inconvenience. You know, we’re going to have to make some choices as a society.

And — (audio break) — I can say is, is that in evaluating these programs, they make a difference — (audio break) — to anticipate and prevent possible terrorist activity. And the fact that they’re under very strict supervision by all three branches of government and that they do not involve listening to people’s phone calls, do not involve reading the emails of U.S. citizens or U.S. residents, absent further action by a federal court, that is entirely consistent with what we would do, for example, in a criminal investigation.

I think, on balance, we — you know, we have established a process and a procedure that the American people should feel comfortable about. But again, this — these programs are subject to congressional oversight and congressional reauthorization and congressional debate. And if there are members of Congress who feel differently, then they should speak up.

And we’re happy to have that debate. OK.

Q: Sir –

PRESIDENT OBAMA: All right. Then we’ll have — we’ll have a chance to talk further during the course of the next couple days.

Thank you, guys. Thank –

Q: Do you welcome the leak, sir? Do you welcome the leak if you welcome the debate?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: I don’t — I don’t welcome leaks, because there’s a reason why these programs are classified. You know, I think — I think that there is a suggestion that somehow any classified program is a quote-unquote “secret” program, which means it’s somehow suspicious. But the fact of the matter is, in our modern history there are a whole range of programs that have been classified because, when it comes to, for example, fighting terror, our goal is to stop folks from doing us harm, and if every step that we’re taking to try to prevent a terrorist act is on the front page of the newspapers or on television, then presumably the people who are trying to do us harm are going to be able to get around our preventive measures. That’s why these things are classified.

But that’s also why we’ve set up congressional oversight. These are the folks you all vote for as your representative in Congress, and they’re being fully briefed on these programs.

And if in fact there was — there were abuses taking place, presumably, those members of Congress could raise those issues very aggressively. They’re empowered to do so.

We also have federal judges that we put in place who are not subject to political pressure.

They’ve got lifetime tenure as federal judges, and they’re empowered to look over our shoulder at the executive branch to make sure that these programs aren’t being abused.

So — so we have a system in which some information is classified, and we have a system of checks and balances to make sure that it’s not abused. And if, in fact, this information ends up just being dumped out willy-nilly without regard to risks to the program, risks to the people involved, in some cases on other leaks, risks to personnel in very dangerous situations, then it’s very hard for us to be as effective in — in protecting the American people.

That’s not to suggest that, you know, you just say, trust me, we’re doing the right thing, we know who the bad guys are. And the reason that’s not how it works is because we’ve got congressional oversight and judicial oversight. And if people can’t trust not only the executive branch but also don’t trust Congress and don’t trust federal judges to make sure that we’re abiding by the Constitution, due process and rule of law, then we’re going to have some problems here.

But my observation is, is that the people who are involved in America’s national security, they take this work very seriously. They cherish our Constitution. The last thing they’d be doing is taking programs like this to listen to somebody’s phone calls.

And by the way, with respect to my concerns about privacy issues, I will leave this office at some point, sometime in the last — next 3 1/2 years, and after that, I will be a private citizen. And I suspect that, you know, on — on a list of people who might be targeted, you know, so that somebody could read their emails or — or listen to their phone calls, I’d probably be pretty high on that list. So it’s not as if I don’t have a personal interest in making sure my privacy is protected.

But I know that the people who are involved in these programs — they operate like professionals. And these things are very narrowly circumscribed. They’re very focused. And in the abstract, you can complain about Big Brother and how this is a potential, you know — you know, program run amok. But when you actually look at the details, then I think we’ve struck the right balance.

All right? Thank you very much, guys. That’s it — I — (cross talk) — thank you. (Cross talk.)

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  • BakedPenguin||

    Read Obama's Entire Speech Defending NSA Spying

    Or, don't.

  • RBS||

    Listening to him speak just pisses me off. I don't need to hear his voice in my head while I'm reading .

  • Tman||

    I read this to the first "I want to be very clear" and then I can't take anymore.

    Nothing pisses me off more than than the "let me be clear" phrase he fellates with every speech.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    My entire speech would have been:

    "So all you people rooted for Avon Barksdale? I didn't think so. Peace out, bitches."

  • ||

    What if I rooted for String?

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    And how did that turn out for you?

  • ||

    What if I rooted for Omar?

  • RBS||

    Omar was one of my least favorite characters. I hate thieves.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    EVERYONE EXCEPT FOR HOMOPHOBES ROOTED FOR OMAR.

  • Killazontherun||

    Oh, yeah? Well, maybe I prefer Chris to Omar because Chris was one sexy motherfucker and Omar was ugly as sheep shit pouring out during a herder fucking.

  • Killazontherun||

    Too many people thought his ethos was commendable because he only went after drug dealers. That is not commendable, that is contemptible, in that he was nothing but a tool of the state to press its boot on the neck of the people through the drug wars.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Everyone rooted for Omar. You're a real asshole, McEpisiarch.

  • ||

    What the fuck did I do?

  • Killazontherun||

    I rooted for Chris Partlow. He outsmarted and got the jump on Omar every time.

  • ||

    I rooted for the Greek, and he wasn't even Greek!!

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Did no one go for Bunny?

  • Hugh Akston||

    And by the way, with respect to my concerns about privacy issues, I will leave this office at some point, sometime in the last — next 3 1/2 years, and after that, I will be a private citizen. And I suspect that, you know, on — on a list of people who might be targeted, you know, so that somebody could read their emails or — or listen to their phone calls, I’d probably be pretty high on that list. So it’s not as if I don’t have a personal interest in making sure my privacy is protected.

    Uh no, see, once you leave office you will become the least relevant person in the universe. Nobody gives a shit what former presidents say or do. You will be this nation's doddering and incontinent old relative that we only invite to events because our mom makes us.

  • Mike Riggs||

    Bill Clinton thinks you are hilarious.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    No one puts Bubba in the corner. He's the exception that proves the rule. He and Grover Cleveland.

  • Hugh Akston||

    The only person who gives a shit what Bill Clinton thinks is Bill Clinton. He endorsed Obama's candidacy? Super. That didn't persuade anybody who wasn't already going to vote for him.

  • ||

    Clinton was actually interesting. Love him or hate him, he was a character that made an impression. Obama seems hollow; his public persona is more a receptacle for projection than as a real human being.

  • Killazontherun||

    Clinton is political Elvis. Hate him for one thing (Waco), hate him for another (Reno), like him for a few others (supported free trade better than Bush did, not an out right anti-free market bigot like most in his party, breaking his leg while being drunk with Greg Norman), but you got to acknowledge he's pretty larger than life.

  • ||

    Uh no, see, peddling the idea that someone who will have Secret Service protection for life is once again a "private citizen" is risible, and it's even more ridiculous to imply that he's going to be subject to the same data-gathering that we will.

  • Hash Brown||

    Some animals are more equal than others.

  • Hugh Akston||

    Actually, Epi, he only gets ten years of Secret Service protection after he leaves office.

  • Hugh Akston||

    Don't you ever get tired of being retarded?

  • ||

    Not really. Do you have any cake?

  • Killazontherun||

    Ever since reading about how the Secret Service stabbed Nixon in the back* I've wondered whom that protection really benefits. A formerly very powerful man, or those who fear what he might have to say once outside the constraints of office.

    *they were the keepers of the tapes, the court ruled against the reporters concerning what could be released. The reporters needed to designate a time markers where they expected conversations to be. None were knew to exist, a few days later the reporters got there time markers and found what they wanted. The only way that was possible is if the Secret Service had been transcribing and indexing what was on the tapes.

  • ||

    So it’s not as if I don’t have a personal interest in making sure my privacy is protected.

    If he gave even the tiniest shit about his own privacy or that of his family, he would never have run for any public office. That's just an insane statement.

  • ||

    That's just an insane statement.

    Considering the source, I don't think you're far from the mark.

  • Overt||

    By the way, I think its awesome that once again Obama has to personalize this issue.

    He always wants us to know just how this stuff would make him feel if he were in our shoes. As if the fact that he would have been all busted up about Newtown or not at all concerned about the NSA should somehow change our opinion.

  • ||

    To be fair, Tony doesn't know which opinions to hold until Obama tells him.

  • ||

    To be fair, Tony doesn't know which opinions to hold until Obama tells him.

  • sarcasmic||

    Really smart people watch the Daily Show. Tony watches the Daily Show. Tony must be really smart.

    /derpalogic

  • Killazontherun||

    Hey, Trayvon Martin could have been his very own son. Except, if Michelle and her two little clones had to live with anyone that ghetto, they would have snuffed him out to avoid the embarrassment.

  • RBS||

    If 24 taught me anything it's that ex-presidents are even more dangerous than sitting presidents.

  • creech||

    Except there will be no shortage of groups willing to pay him $100K a pop to speak to them and blabber about nothing.

  • Michael||

    "Yeah. You know, when I came into this office, I made two commitments that are more than any commitment I make: number one, to keep the American people safe; and number two, to uphold the Constitution."

    He really could use a refresher course on horse/cart ordering protocol.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    When it comes to telephone calls, nobody is listening to your telephone calls. That’s not what this program’s about.

    We have another program for that.

  • Hash Brown||

    I'd laugh, but it only makes the pain worse.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Wince into your phone; Obamacare technicians will be automatically dispatched to assist your discomfort. And by Obamacare technicians of course I mean IRS agents.

  • Corneliusm||

    And by "assist", you mean "contribute extra".

  • crashland||

    "But I know that the people who are involved in these programs — they operate like professionals. And these things are very narrowly circumscribed. They’re very focused. And in the abstract, you can complain about Big Brother and how this is a potential, you know — you know, program run amok. But when you actually look at the details, then I think we’ve struck the right balance."

    Are they every bit as professional as say... the IRS?

  • Live Free or Diet||

    All this focus on abuse -- as appropriate as it is -- irritates me. It took me a while to figure out why. The abuse isn't the real problem. The power itself is the problem.

  • ||

    Which is why we need to keep pointing out that it doesn't matter who's in charge, the bureaucracies themselves are unmanageable. There are actual repercussions when real people harm others. There are no repercussions when the government does it.

  • ||

    "The NEW New Professionalism"

  • JWS||

    How does he do this crap with a straight face?

    Probably just spends a few seconds contemplating the Wookie. That would do it.

  • Live Free or Diet||

    How does he do this crap with a straight face?

    I dated an actress once. Biggest mistake ever. She knew just how to get under your skin. Play you like a sock puppet and make you love it. Lie like a rug without a twitch or quaver.

    Professional liars are like that.

  • sarcasmic||

    Dilbert's take on professional liars.
    http://dilbert.com/strips/comic/2011-02-20/

  • robc||

    Was the speech 4 words long?

    "Fuck you, thats why."

  • Hash Brown||

    In plain English, yes.

  • Gadianton||

    This program, by the way, is fully overseen not just by Congress but by the FISA Court...

    How, precisely, is this supposed to make me feel better?

  • ChrisO||

    And that's assuming the NSA actually bothers to inform the FISA court about what it's doing, or that the FISA court actually follows the law when it is informed. Since it's all secret, there's no enforcement mechanism.

  • Anonymous Coward||

    And that includes what I consider to be a constitutional right to privacy...

    It sounds as if Obama believes his will supersedes judicial review where the two are in conflict.

    every member of Congress has been briefed on this program.

    Briefed? Does that mean that they knew of the program's existence? That the members of Congress knew who was in charge of the program? That they knew how the program was funded? That they read the secret FISA orders demanding phone records from Verizon and whoever else?

    These are programs that have been authorized by broad, bipartisan majorities repeatedly since 2006.

    Majoritarianism and Bush's Fault? What can't Obama do?

    Now, let — let me take the two issues separately. When it comes to telephone calls, nobody is listening to your telephone calls.

    No one suggested the NSA was, dishonest fuckwit.

    They are not looking at people’s names, and they’re not looking at content. But by sifting through this so-called metadata,


    Names are a part of metadata unless someone purposefully erases them.

    Metadata (metacontent) are defined as the data providing information about one or more aspects of the data, such as:

    Means of creation of the data
    Purpose of the data
    Time and date of creation
    Creator or author of the data
    Location on a computer network where the data were created
    Standards used

  • Killazontherun||

    That was a pretty first rate take down.

  • Sevo||

    "What can't Obama do?"
    Take responsibility for anything that happens in his administration.
    Just not possible.

  • The Last American Hero||

    He took responsibility for killing Bin Laden. Pretty much with his bare hands, although it would have been cooler if he used bear hands.

  • Ken Shultz||

    "This program, by the way, is fully overseen not just by Congress but by the FISA Court, a court specially put together to evaluate classified programs to make sure that the executive branch, or government generally, is not abusing them and that they’re — it’s being out consistent with the Constitution and rule of law."

    In all of 2012, the Obama Administration submitted less than 2,000 cases for approval to the FISA Court--not 350 million.

    Oh, and how is obtaining a blanket search warrant without any cause whatsoever consistent with the Constitution?

    "no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."

    Barack Obama used to teach this stuff in college. He's so full of shit. He's a willful liar, and he's responsible for overseeing the most methodical, intentional, wholesale abuse of Americans' civil rights ever.

  • Enough About Palin||

    "Barack Obama used to teach this stuff in college."

    No he didn't.

  • Ken Shultz||

    Was he or was he not a Constitutional law professor?

  • Ken Shultz||

    My non-libertarian friends and family sometimes ask me why I bother sticking up for terrorists getting tortured, or the rights of drug dealers and gang members, why I stick up for the rights of pornographers--stuff that doesn't have anything to do with me...

    I always point out that although I'm not a terrorist, drug dealer, gang member, or pornographer, the right not to be tortured, the right to choose my own intoxicants (or not), freedom of association, and freedom of speech...those are all my rights, too.

    Non-libertarians always seem to forget that, and maybe that's why our case is so hard to make to the general public.

    But this time it's different. Making people hate on Obama for this should be easy...

    We don't have to convince people to stand up for some unsavory character this time. Every single American who used a phone over the last couple of years has had his or her constitutional rights violated--personally--and Barack Obama is glad about that. Now we just have to convince people to stand up for themselves.

  • Sevo||

    "Making people hate on Obama for this should be easy..."

    Disagreed, and I offer shreek and shithead as examples.
    Both have simply spent more time coming up with excuses and new ways to blame Bush.
    Neither questions Obozo's actions whatsoever.

  • itsnotmeitsyou||

    Yeah, when you have pundits and commentators making excuses for Obama that directly contradict what Obama says himself, you know it's hopeless. Those types would gladly dance onto boxcars that they had specifically and explicitly been told were taking them to death camps if they were from this administration. They would sing songs and tell tales on the way about how THEY wouldn't be killed because they didn't do anything wrong, and it's just politicization of the happy safe places Obama has set up for all his followers.

    The best we can hope for is that some middle of the road people who have been asleep will finally wake up and stop accepting the master's whip.

  • Ken Shultz||

    Like I said, this time, it's not about Obama coming down on someone else--he bent you over and screwed you.

    Yeah, I mean first person singular, you!

    We've got people out there who hate the Westboro Baptist Church, NASCAR, and Ronald Reagan so bad--that they'll support anything Barack Obama does up to and including using the NSA to track their personal phone calls...

    But most Americans aren't like that.

    The New York Times says Obama has no credibility left.

    That's like the Pope denouncing Jesus as a fraud. If the New York Times editorial board can see the light, so can the average American.

    And I don't think the ObamaBots here on autoplay at H&R are by any means typical.

  • Ken Shultz||

    "Yeah, I mean first person singular, you!"

    Actually, that's second person singular--but you knew what meant!

  • Ken Shultz||

    "Neither questions Obozo's actions whatsoever."

    Yeah, but they're basically like in a cult.

    I don't think most Americans are like that.

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