Obama: Spilling Secrets Is Bad When It Scares People, Good When It Reassures Them

Charlie RoseCharlie RoseIn an interview with Charlie Rose that aired last night, President Obama said that despite his defense of the NSA's recently revealed surveillance programs, he continues to believe "we don't have to sacrifice our freedom in order to achieve security," which he called "a false choice." Still, he said, "that doesn't mean that there are not tradeoffs involved in any given program or any given action that we take." The first example he gave was telling:

All of us make a decision that we go through a whole bunch of security at airports....When we were growing up, that wasn't the case, right? You ran up to the gate five minutes [before your flight]. It's been a while since I went through commercial flying, but I gather the experience is not the same. That's a tradeoff we make....

To say there's a tradeoff doesn't mean somehow that we've abandoned freedom. I don't think anyone says we're no longer free because we have checkpoints at airports. 

I don't know about you, but I never made a decision to "go through a whole bunch of security at airports." I do not arrive early, wait in line, repeatedly display my government-issued ID, empty my pockets, take my computer out, cram my toiletries into a Ziploc bag, remove my shoes and belt, and stand with my arms held up in a gesture of surrender while a scanner looks under my clothing becase I like doing those things, or even because I see them as a reasonable price to pay for the extra protection these rituals of obeisance allegedly provide. I do these things because the government makes me do them. I would welcome the option of flying without all the security theater, despite the extra risk that supposedly would entail, and I suspect I am not alone. Maybe if Obama flew commercial once in a while he would understand that travelers do not necessarily comply with the TSA's arbitrary edicts because they view them as sensible precautions well worth the inconvenience and humiliation.

While I would not say "we're no longer free because we have checkpoints at airports," we certainly are less free than we were before. Otherwise it would make no sense to describe this change as a "tradeoff." The government took some of our freedom, and in return it gave us the illusion of security. Many of us doubt the value of this deal. Are we not allowed to complain about a loss of freedom as long as we have some left? Is that what Obama has in mind when he says "we don't have to sacrifice our freedom in order to achieve security"?

Obama's other example of a tradeoff between freedom and security is equally troubling:

We make a tradeoff about drunk driving. We say occasionally there are going to be checkpoints. They may be intrusive.

Again, you and I did not invent DUI checkpoints. Cops did, and the Supreme Court upheld these suspicionless seizures based on the premise that they aim mainly to protect public safety rather than catch criminals (even though they do result in arrests, frequently on charges that have nothing to do with drunk driving). Since I wish the Court had not carved out this exception to the Fourth Amendment and continue to find such roadblocks objectionable, Obama's analogy does not reassure me.

But at least in both of these cases, there was a public debate that weighed the cost in privacy against the benefit in safety. People could lobby Congress to change the rules governing airport security procedures, and they could lobby their state legislators to restrict or ban the use of DUI checkpoints, because—and this point is crucial—they knew these policies existed. That was not true of the NSA's massive phone-record database or its online surveillance until a couple of weeks ago, and the details of how these programs work remain sketchy. Hence this exchange between Charlie Rose and the president:

Rose: Should this be transparent in some way?

Obama: It is transparent. That's why we set up the FISA court.

That would be the secret court established by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, the decisions of which are shielded from public view. Perhaps sensing the inadequacy of this answer, Obama allowed that "because these are classified programs...the public may not fully know, and that can make the public kinda nervous." To address that problem, Obama said, "I've asked the intelligence committee[s] to...see how much of this we can declassify without further compromising the program[s]." Rose asked Obama in what sense the programs had been compromised by the revelation that they exist, which led to this exchange:

Obama: We could not have carried out the Bin Laden raid if it was on the front page of the papers. I think everybody understands that.

Rose: Of course not, but I don't see what the relevance of that is.

Neither do I, but never mind. Here is the real point:

We're gonna have to find ways where the public has an assurance that there are checks and balances in place, that they have enough information about how we operate that they know their phone calls are not being listened in to, their text messages aren't being monitored, their emails are not being read by some Big Brother somewhere. They've got to feel that confidence...while still preserving our capacity to act against folks who are trying to do us harm.

In other words, as long as these programs were secret, there was no need for the public to know anything about them. But now that people know these programs exist, thanks to an utterly reckless leak that endangered national security in unspecified ways, the government needs to reveal enough additional classified information so that people realize how fanciful their concerns are. Spilling those secrets, since it works to the government's advantage, will not endanger national security.

To give you a sense of the details that Obama thinks the public will find reassuring, he concedes that the NSA's comprehensive collection of Americans' phone records has "enormous potential for abuse," given the sensitive information that can be gleaned from it. Not to worry, however: Before delving into those data, the NSA needs "reasonable, articulable suspicion" that a number is connected to international terrorist activity. The "reasonable suspicion" standard, which allegedly is met every time a New York cop stops and frisks someone, is pretty malleable. In any case, how do we know the NSA is even that careful with our phone records? As Deputy Attorney General David Cole conceded to the House Intelligence Committee today, "We do not have to get separate court approval for each query." So in practice, isn't the NSA free to peruse our phone records at will? No way, says the president: "To do that right now under the program...would be illegal. We would not be allowed to do that."

Ed Krayewski noted the Charlie Rose interview earlier today.

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  • Stormy Dragon||

    It's been a while since I went through commercial flying, but I gather the experience is not the same.

    Now, my caddie's chauffeur informs me that an airport terminal is a place where people go when they don't own private jets...

  • Archduke Pantsfan||

    I've heard about these places. I'm also told they have stores which carry items for a "duty free" price.

  • Tman||

    Obama: We could not have carried out the Bin Laden raid if it was on the front page of the papers. I think everybody understands that

    Sure didn't stop Obumbles from doing the Icky Shuffle after they eliminated that degenerate. Or leaking most of the details to Hollywood so they could rush out a movie about it.

    This guy, this guy right here, what an asshole.

    (Yes, NSA you read that correctly.)

  • Night Elf Mohawk||

    I can't tell if this prick believes that's a fair analogy or just expects us to. My initial reaction is that he really is that stupid.

  • Tman||

    I don't think he gives a flying fuck whether or not anyone believes him.

    What I find hilarious is watching all those Hope n Changers suddenly come to grips that he was bullshitting them the whole time.

    It's.......it's beautiful, really.

  • Night Elf Mohawk||

    I think he's too thin-skinned not to care whether people agree with him. Also, if he didn't care he wouldn't keep speaking on the topic.

  • Tman||

    That may be true, but he only cares about what certain types of people think about him, such as when he used to break out his ebonics for the black crowds.

    He wants those people to believe him, but he cares not a whiff of what others do.

  • Pro Libertate||

    It bothers me that Bush got four terms. I thought that was illegal.

  • Hugh Akston||

    It never ceases to amaze me how callow and insecure people in political office are.

  • ||

    I think I've finally reached the point where I am no longer surprised. Because now when I watch a show like Veep and they portray them as incredibly mendacious and self-involved, I don't think "they're going over the top because this is comedy", I think "this isn't even over the top, they're probably worse".

  • NoVAHockey||

    Veep is spot on. I'd bet other dc-based commenters would agree.

  • Hash Brown||

    It goes with the narcissism.

  • califernian||

    My initial reaction is that he really is that stupid.

    You are correct sir.

  • ||

    Not just stupid, but the boy king seems to have become disconnected from reality in the fashion of a roman emperor.

  • Pro Libertate||

    "I killed bin Laden!!!!"

  • Pro Libertate||

    Harry Fucking Truman did fewer victory dances at the end of WWII than this guy.

  • Palin's Buttplug||

    Too bad he didn't do something real rednecky after killing OBL like hang a MISSION ACCOMPLISHED sign over an aircraft carrier so you guys could salute the presidential codpiece in unison.

  • Tman||

    Hey PB, go fuck yourself.

  • Palin's Buttplug||

    No way. I love fucking with rednecks too much.

  • Tman||

    So you like fucking rednecks?

    Well I guess Soros's dick gets boring after a while.

  • fish||

    C'mon shreeky has the snaggleteeth...I imagine the old man wants some time away from his most adoring "fan".

    PS: CHRISTFAG!

  • Sevo||

    Tman| 6.18.13 @ 7:09PM |#
    "So you like fucking rednecks?"

    That's his dad; he has daddy issues.

  • Tejicano||

    "So you like fucking rednecks?"

    Tman, he didn't say he liked to do it, he said he likes doing it with them. As in "squeeling like a pig".

  • Brandon||

    No, he just made a movie about it. This is worse than your usual "BUT BUSH!!" trolling.

  • Palin's Buttplug||

    Obama made a movie? WTF? 'Zero Dark Thirty' is all I can recall and that was made by Academy Award winning pros.

    You guys can't do anything without lying or exaggerating.

  • Brandon||

    Right. The head of the CIA totally went on his own and gave the "Academy Award winning pros" all the classified information they wanted to include in their movie for no reason other than...what, exactly, is the reason they are giving? FYTW? He leaked classified information to make Obama look good. Period.

  • Palin's Buttplug||

    Petraeus? The super patriotic GOP war general? Obama must be good to keep winning converts like that.

  • General Butt Naked||

    Patraeus is a shit eating bureaucrat that insinuates himself with those in power. He ain't politically rabid, you stoopid egg-licking dog.

    You should like him, he bobs the knobs of those in power regardless of party, he's independent like you.

  • ||

    Except Petraeus had no need to "convert", Obama does a pretty good job of copying the neocons.

  • Brandon||

    It was Panetta who leaked the classified information, but it's good to see your knowledge is on the same level as your reasoning.

  • Tejicano||

    Da fuq?

    Obama was the one who gave Petraeus the "surge" he wanted in A'stan.

    Who converted who?

  • Jordan||

    Aww, did someone insult your messiah? The butthurt is palpable.

  • Loki||

    BOOOOOOOOOSSSSSSSSHHHHHHHHHH!!!1111!!!!!

  • ||

    We could never do better than you at "saluting" the presidential codpiece. Try not to speak with your mouth full, OB.

  • OldMexican||

    Re: Palin's Buttwipe,

    Too bad he didn't do something real rednecky after killing OBL


    He kind of did, Buttwipe: He said that "Al Qaeda is on the run, we won" just before Al Qaeda affiliates murdered a goddamned ambassador in Benghazi. In the redneck's neck of the woods, that's called "Imperial Hubris."

  • ||

    lol... Bush was all sorts of awesome

  • Bryan C||

    Thank goodness! No, Obama showed his restraint by going on TV right away to crow to bin Laden's business associates about this awesome treasure trove of inside information he (and good pals on Seal Team 6) just got from bin Laden's computers and filing cabinets. We totally captured your flag, guys! Suck it!

  • Rrabbit||

    We can expect that quite frequently somebody with access to these NSA databases runs illegal queries. Queries on the ex-spouse, queries on the ex-spouse's new SO, queries on celebrities, queries on candidates for a political office, queries on that cutie from yesterday at the bar.

    How many of these NSA employees and contractors have been charged for that crime?

  • Bryan C||

    How many IRS employees have been charged for that crime?

  • Loki||

    "we don't have to sacrifice our freedom in order to achieve security," which he called "a false choice." Still, he said, "that doesn't mean that there are not tradeoffs involved in any given program or any given action that we take."

    *facepalm*

    I think that's got to be some kind of record for the fastest a president has ever contradicted himself. Someone should time how long it took from "we don't have to sacrifice our freedom in order to achieve security" to "that doesn't mean that there are not tradeoffs involved in any given program or any given action that we take" just to make sure. I'd do it but everytime I hear that cocksucker speak I risk flying into a Hulk-like rage.

    The only other explanation is that he honestly doesn't know what the word "tradeoff" means in this context, or that he thinks as long as people aren't being actively rounded up and herded into concentration happy fun-time camps they're still free. Either he's a complete moron or he has a very warped interpretation of the word "freedom." Or both... Probably both... Definitely both.

  • Brandon||

    No, he means that *He* doesn't have to sacrifice any of *His* freedom for security. Obama can still do whatever he wants, whenever he wants, without having to suffer any consequences. The rest of you? Fuck the rest of you, you should've been smart enough to get into politics.

  • Loki||

    Ahh, I see, he was useing the royal we in that statement. It actually does make a lot more sense if you replace "we" with "I" and "our" with "my."

  • crashland||

    No he didn't contradict himself at all. When he said "we don't have to sacrifice our freedom" he's talking about himself and Chewie, however, everybody else gets stuck with the tradeoffs. As long as you know that all he cares about is himself, you'll be able to pierce the veil and fully ken WTF he is really saying.

  • Brian D||

    I think that's got to be some kind of record for the fastest a president has ever contradicted himself. Someone should time how long it took from "we don't have to sacrifice our freedom in order to achieve security" to "that doesn't mean that there are not tradeoffs involved in any given program or any given action that we take" just to make sure.

    Accoring to the transcript of the interview, it was a matter of a couple of seconds. The sentences were consecutive.

    BARACK OBAMA: Well and what I’ve said and I continue to believe is that we don’t have to sacrifice our freedom in order to achieve security. That’s a false choice. That doesn’t mean that there are not trade-offs involved in any given program, any given action that we take.

    That's our President, preserving and defending the Constitution for you.

  • Brian D||

    Almost consecutive, I meant.

  • Loki||

    Yeah but you have to account for all the "uhs" and "uhms" and awkward pauses when he speaks without a telepromter that get left out of official transcripts. Or was there a teleprompter just out of view?

  • Bryan C||

    I think they just had Charlie hold up cue cards.

  • General Butt Naked||

    I hear that cocksucker speak...

    Let's be fair here, man. Geeze.

    Everyone knows that shrike is the cocksucker, and Dear Leader is the cocksuckee.

  • ||

    All of us make a decision that we go through a whole bunch of security at airports.

    No, we don't all make that decision. A few people made that decision for everyone. Our only other option is not to fly.

    To say there's a tradeoff doesn't mean somehow that we've abandoned freedom. I don't think anyone says we're no longer free because we have checkpoints at airports.

    If Obama has seriously never heard anyone say that, he's a fucking moron. But I'll just assume he's a lying asshole instead.

  • Hugh Akston||

    Hopefully this is his Giuliani Blowback moment.

  • fish||

    Nahh....the shreeks and T o n y s of this world will go to their graves chanting his praises.

  • Pro Libertate||

    I had a lot more freedoms when the Soviet Union was pointing nukes at me than I do today when a few morons are willing to suicide bomb some U.S. targets every few years.

  • Loki||

    +1 Nuclear tipped ICBM.

    And I'm nominating this for comment of the day. Although admittedly I wasn't on much today.

  • Tejicano||

    But that was in an era when you would routinely hear people say "it's a free country" to cover all kinds of unusual behavior.

    When's the last time you heard that? (stick to any given decade to make it simple)

  • All-Seeing Monocle||

    Obviously, he meant that no "reasonable" person says that. It's a common-sense trade-off that all reasonable people agree to, etc.

  • ||

    I don't know, nicole. Think of the fishbowl environment this douchebag lives in. He might really have never heard it. And he doesn't strike me as, uh, intellectually curious enough to go look into what people are saying, either. Oh wait, am I talking about Bush?

  • ||

    I was thinking that too. And it's actually scarier. What if he really never has heard that?!?

  • ||

    Dude, think about the intellectual bubble and cognitive dissonance you see demonstrated every fucking day on TEAM BLUE websites and comment sections. Now think what it must be like around the most powerful person in the world who also seems to be a megalomaniac.

    Yeah, that is scarier.

  • ||

    At least the morons on TEAM BLUE websites have heard of some caricature of libertarianism though. I dunno.

  • ||

    Well, they don't have Secret Service details and assistants and political handlers and the Wookie, now do they?

  • Ted S.||

    If Obama has seriously never heard anyone say that, he's a fucking moron. But I'll just assume he's a lying asshole instead.

    Why can't he be both?

  • ||

    OT: Jonathan Chait obsesses over Ayn Rand Paul, general idiocy
    [I]n Julia Ioffe’s highly interesting profile of Rand Paul is Paul’s confession, "I'm not a firm believer in democracy. It gave us Jim Crow." Of course, that’s an awfully strange way to condemn Jim Crow, which arose in the distinctly undemocratic Apartheid South (it was no coincidence that the dismantling of Jim Crow and the granting of democratic rights to African-Americans happened simultaneously).

    In Paul’s defense, one could imagine a scenario in which white Americans imposed segregation through entirely democratic channels, and that such a scenario might give you pause about the virtues of democracy.

    (Which is...exactly what happened...)

    But horror at segregation isn’t really what drives Paul’s distrust of democracy. It’s the idea that democracy allows the majority to vote away the property of the minority.

    (Which is conceptually different from segregation how?)

    [Ayn] Rand’s philosophy is a kind of inverted Marxism, imagining politics as a struggle between a virtuous producer class that creates all wealth and the parasites who exploit them. ...Also like Marx, Rand considered conventional democratic government as a cover for this kind of exploitation. If the majority could tax the rich to benefit itself, this was tyranny.

    Even more cognitive dissonance at the link.

  • fish||

    Chait: the spot between my balls and asshole.

  • All-Seeing Monocle||

    Huh, I didn't even know fish had balls.

  • Brandon||

    They're on the inside. Close to the asshole, right on the other side of the chait.

  • Tejicano||

    I know they do because I've seen them on the menu at a lot of Chinese restaurants.

  • All-Seeing Monocle||

    It's OK because the only minority that will EVER be targeted is the rich, and they deserve it anyway.

  • Brandon||

    Chait's obsession with the Paul family is unhealthy.

  • An0nB0t||

    If the majority could tax the rich to benefit itself, this was tyranny.

    Thank God that redistributive democratic republics and central banks lead to the poor getting richer and the rich getting poorer. Just look at all of those relatively wealthy old people complaining about Obamacare, SS, and Medicare givebacks to the relatively impoverished young.

    This guy comes so, so close to understanding that Rand was right--that the parasites really do screw over the producers, but that the biggest parasites aren't the poor, but the rent-seekers with political power, but then veers straight into the ditch.

  • ||

    This guy comes so, so close to understanding that Rand was right...but then veers straight into the ditch.

    It's almost impressive, isn't it?

  • ||

    That's because he already knows what his conclusion is, and he's going to get there even if he has to veer into a ditch to do it.

  • Ted S.||

    But horror at segregation isn’t really what drives Paul’s distrust of democracy. It’s the idea that democracy allows the majority to vote away the property of the minority.

    Chait is apparently an omniscient psychic.

  • Hash Brown||

    That's not a good reason for distrusting democracy?

  • An0nB0t||

    You must not have gotten the memo: For the past hundred years or so Americans have been taught that being American means waving a flag and shouting DEMOCRACY in basically the same spirit with which Islamists pronounce death to America.

    Wonder what percentage of voting-aging Murricans know that the U.S. is a constitutional (what?) republic and not a democracy.

  • SIV||

    Progtards are always attacking the Constitution as un-Democratic for giving low-population redneck flyover states 2 senators and actually counting their presidential votes in the Electoral College. "It's not fair!"

  • Guillotined||

    To be fair, our system has increasingly become more democratic. Especially in the 100 years since the institution of direct election of senators.

    And unfortunately they are right as democracy is incorrectly deemed to be synonymous with liberty. On a long enough timeline democracy will lead to either a socialist, nationalist and religious dictatorship rather than more freedom, as the electorate demands that the State take action to grant the wishes of a majority.

  • General Butt Naked||

    It's funny that people read Rand, and see it as a battle between the rich and the poor, or think that producers are necessarily industrial titans.

    If you actually read the books, they'd realize that a slimy billionaire crony capitalist is a parasite and the proud, hard working janitor that provides for his family and asks for nothing gotten by force is part of the producer class.

    It's a fundamental misunderstanding that I can't help to think is deliberate.

    Am I wrong here? Is this some derivative interpretation that isn't at all obvious from the reading?

  • Fatty Bolger||

    I think that most of those people have never actually read Rand, they just talk as if they have.

  • ||

    I think your first problem is assuming most of these people have actually read Rand.

  • #||

    ^^ What she said.

  • Hash Brown||

    Somebody needs to come up with a "Rand for Dummies" so that at least the critiques will be slightly comprehensible.

  • ||

    Even if they had read Rand that fundamental misunderstanding would still be there. When you put social justice colored glasses on you can only see the greedy rich and the exploited poor. The crony capitalist is a knight in shining armor in an epic struggle with the greedy rich sounding the battle cry
    "Make the rich pay their fair share!"

  • BiMonSciFiCon||

    Support for Arnold Kling's three axes model?

  • BiMonSciFiCon||

    This is even more clear in The Fountainhead. The hero is a dirt poor, failed (for most of the book) architect. One of the two main "villains" is a rich, successful architect (for most of the book). It's not rich vs. poor, unless you've never read Rand. Which they haven't.

  • Calidissident||

    Does this idiot not understand what the word "democracy" means? Blacks had their voting rights restricted by laws enacted by democratic majorities. Was Athens not a democracy, despite the fact that only a small portion of the population could vote? And even if they had their voting rights, they were outnumbered in every Southern state except Mississippi, South Carolina, and Louisiana (which was almost exactly 50/50) after the Civil War and by the time of the Civil Rights Movement, they were significantly outnumbered in every Southern state, due to the Great Migration. And this doesn't even account for segregationist policies outside the South.

  • Ken Shultz||

    "I would welcome the option of flying without all the security theater, despite the extra risk that supposedly would entail"

    There's the rub.

    Libertarianism is all about individuals being free to make choices for themselves, and Barack Obama is all about forcing individuals to sacrifice their freedom of choice for the common good.

    The problem with libertarians--according to him--is that we're so selfish, we're not willing to sacrifice our freedom of choice for the common good (or what he sees as the common good).

    Incidentally, he doesn't equate freedom of choice with freedom, either. When he's talking about freedom, he doesn't mean the same thing you're talking about, Mr. Sullum, when you're talking about freedom. That's for sure.

  • Hash Brown||

    As long as we're not herded into labor camps, we're "free."

  • Ken Shultz||

    Sullum still has the freedom to fly.

    Pretty much anywhere he wants to.

    If he's not willing to sacrifice his freedom of choice--choice to fly without being subjected to all sorts of government intrusion--so that other people can be safer? Then he's just selfish...according to Obama.

    And that's no bother to Obama anyway since Sullum's still free to fly.

    Ultimately, libertarianism always boils down to the fact that some of us prefer freedom generally--on a qualitative basis. Unfortunately, we live in an age when people's qualitative preferences are given short shrift, especially if they conflict with anything quantifiable. And yet, Barack Obama making quality of life choices for Jacob Sullum is what this all boils down to.

    I don't want Barack Obama making my quality of life choices for me, either. It Obama's world, I guess that makes me selfish, too.

  • sarcasmic||

    Freedom means being allowed to ask permission and to take orders.

  • RBS||

  • Archduke Pantsfan||

    is there any other kind?

  • Mr Whipple||

    Touchy feely, hippie dippy, artsy fartsy, hopey changey.

  • Sevo||

    Over at 27/4 (or something like that), regarding the IRS targeting conservatives:
    "Investigators have found no evidence suggesting the Obama administration was in any way involved,"
    So are we to assume he's just flat incompetent? How else could his administration *not* be involved?

  • Ken Shultz||

    It's like how the Obama Administration likes secrets being spilled when it reassures people...

    The news is that nothing that happened reflects badly on Obama, and the facts are anything that supports that news.

  • Mr Whipple||

    His advisers built a wall around him. That's what the yellow tape on the floor of the Oval Office is.....WALLS!

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