The NSA Report: Another Step Toward Ending the War on Terrorism

A quiet but profound second-term shift on terrorism

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NSA / Reuters

The National Security Agency headquarters building in Fort Meade, Md.

“We’re not saying that the struggle against terrorism is over.”

Those were the words of the former Clinton and Bush White House counterterrorism adviser Richard Clarke. He was speaking to reporters about Wednesday’s report by a presidential panel — of which he is a member — calling for major reforms to the National Security Agency (NSA).

The panel may not have declared the war on terrorism over. But the Review Group on Intelligence and Communications did make a compelling case for considering its costs and benefits:

Because we were acting in a moment of crisis [after Sept. 11, 2001], there was always the risk that the new rules — and the new authorities granted to the intelligence community — might have gone too far.

It is now time to step back and take stock … We conclude that some of the authorities that were expanded or created in the aftermath of Sept. 11 unduly sacrifice fundamental interests in individual liberty, personal privacy and democratic governance.

(MORE: White House Group Calls for Limits on NSA Surveillance)

It remains to be seen which of the panel’s recommendations President Obama might adopt — and how much change a Congress where the NSA has powerful allies will enact. But if the NSA’s wings are clipped, it will be another step in America’s steady march away from its post-2001 wartime footing, one that has accelerated dramatically, if quietly, in Obama’s second term.

Most of Obama’s first term was about perpetuating — even accelerating — the war on terrorism. Obama surged more troops into Afghanistan. He dramatically expanded drone strikes against al-Qaeda operatives in Pakistan, Yemen and North Africa. He spent no political capital on closing the Guantánamo Bay prison camp. He let the NSA carry on with the advanced snooping he’d inveighed against as a Senator.

On every front, however, Obama is now pulling back. Without much fanfare, his renewed push to close the Guantánamo Bay prison camp has gained momentum. The pace of drone strikes has plunged, and the U.S. appears to be trying harder to capture and try terrorists rather than simply kill them. American combat troops will finally leave Afghanistan in 12 months. And despite growing al-Qaeda activity in Syria and Iraq, Obama refuses to intervene in either place.

This is all possible because the terrorist wolf is no longer quite so visible at the door. Even in his first term, remember, the threat felt near: the failed Christmas Day underwear bomber of 2009, the fizzled Times Square SUV bomb, the foiled FedEx-package bomb plot, just to name a few.

(MORE: NSA Takes a Hit in Fight for American Public Opinion)

Now Osama bin Laden is dead, along with most of his lieutenants. The Boston Marathon bombing was horrific, but relatively small in scale — and the work of unstable misfits without foreign support or encouragement. The terrorist threat feels more distant, on a daily basis, than it has since before 2001. We now worry more about Call of Duty–addicted teenagers in America’s suburbs than about jihadist fanatics in Pakistan’s tribal areas.

And increasingly, a zero-risk mentality that has prevailed for more than a decade is giving way to the question of costs and benefits. Does the blowback from drone strikes make us less safe? Is closing Gitmo worth the risk of releasing some potentially dangerous inmates? And is protecting privacy more important than giving the government one more tool to fight terrorism?

Our growing sense of security may well be a false one. An evil-genius al-Qaeda bombmaker remains loose in Yemen. A kind of Qaedastan may be forming across eastern Syria and western Iraq. The awful effectiveness of chemical weapons in Syria may have given some people dangerous ideas. Another major attack could swing back the pendulum overnight.

No doubt haunted by visions of an attack on his watch, Obama has defended core elements of the NSA program against growing political pressure — including public doubt that the privacy costs of NSA surveillance are justified by the threat. But Wednesday’s report, coupled with Monday’s court ruling that the NSA is violating the Constitution, could push Obama toward — or at least give him political cover for — an embrace of real NSA reform.

“We’re not saying that the struggle against terrorism is over,” Clarke said.

“But this war, like all wars, must end,” Obama declared in May.

That end, whatever it looks like, has drawn just a little nearer.

VIDEO: Snowden Offers Brazil Help Investigating U.S. Spying

66 comments
MoeshaBlack
MoeshaBlack

The NSA program is enormous, and the data storage is huge, including the NSA mainframe storage capacity, and the 18 acre underground computer facility at Fort Meade, and the new NSA-Utah Data Center, code-named “Bumblehive”, and the potentially even larger, and continually growing, sub-contracted offsite server farms.From the Internet alone, the NSA’s automated programs are “touching” millions of terabytes everyday in Internet traffic, and actively collecting, logging, and analyzing approximately 7.43 terabytes per day.(That is just from the Internet open page sources...)Then there is telephone traffic, VoIP packets, Skype, all social media, all searches, all banking telex records, the SWIFT and IBAN systems, all mobile phone traffic, and all SMS text messages.Read about it - - http://kvisit.com/S38ScAw- - "America at the Tipping Point".

outsider
outsider

The US needs to get out of the middle east. That would help with the terrorism. 


Not eliminate it, of course - because there are just some crazy people out there, and the hatred of the US will never abide, regardless of any actions the US might take. But there is a lot of money being spent over there, and it's causing a lot of resentment. 


Yeah, Afghanistan might not do well, among others - but how long is the US expected to protect these gov'ts? At what point do they stand up on their own?

jmac
jmac

Richard Clarke:   Said the report would give more reason for the skeptics in the public to believe their civil liberties are being protected.


Let's hope it's mainly a PR stunt to calm the extreme left and the nut-case right who are just after Obama (Larry Klayman).  Of the six recommendations the one that seems the most reasonable in this day and age is the sixth - high-level security clearances need to be evaluated more often.   The others can be tweaked, but anyone who thinks we are safe from terrorists (that would be Snowden per his letter to Brazil)  is ignoring today's news in Africa, ignoring Yemen, and deluding themselves.  We're not in the 70's anymore; the world has changed.  

Fastgirl
Fastgirl

Why would Oama heed these recommendations? He didn't heed the recommendations of the Simpson Bowles committee. A committee he insisted on putting together.

RobertNguyen
RobertNguyen

The cost benefits to the nation in terms of our Freedom, Economic Security against these programs much be weight and policies must be carefully made...


mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

Its about time we start cleaning up the Orwellian State left behind by the previous administration. A little jail time for the creators of all these abuses, would also go a long way to restoring our credibility with the rest of the world. I'm looking at you Cheney, Yoo, Card, Gonzalez and the rest of GWB's criminal enablers.

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

@FastgirlBecause he isn't a lying criminal like his predecessor for starters. You do remember who tried to force an ailing John Ashcroft on his sickbed to authorize the wire taps in the first place?

jmac
jmac

@Fastgirl He didn't ignore Simpson Bowles; Congress ignored Simpson Bowles because Simpson agreed with a tax increase and agreed that Social Security should be off the table.  (It doesn't increase the deficit).   The Republican right was never going to agree with the Republican Simpson.


Let's hope Congress and Obama keep a skeptical eye on what is recommended.   Cypersecurity is important - just ask China.    

ReneDemonteverde
ReneDemonteverde

@mantisdragon91 Hello Mantis. Good to hear from you today. By the way restoring credibility ? Have you notice lately how the rest of the world is treating us ? Saudi Arabia warned us they will go on their own, Israel too, if Iran continues its nuclear build up, China expanding its muscle on the Asian South China Sea, bullying our allies Japan and South Korea, Putin viewing our version of Dear Leader with open contempt in front of cameras, Snowden openly appearing in interviews with no fear of retribution, Manning openly professing his/her desire for transgender operation to be paid by tax dollars from suckers like you presumably, Iran still holding American hostages in spite of being in a BFF status with an Idiot posing as our Commander in Chief, North Korea expanding its nuclear producing capacity, the spread of al Qaeda type terrorists in Africa ? Those are only the few that comes off top of the head. 

ReneDemonteverde
ReneDemonteverde

@mantisdragon91 @Fastgirl Looks like you are making up stories again, Mantis. Dubya needed Ashcroft`s signature but he was sick. It was Ashcroft who offered to come over to sign but they have to send somebody to fetch him because of time constraint.

Fastgirl
Fastgirl

@mantisdragon91 @Fastgirl I didn't support the policies of Bush and I don't support those same policies made worse by Obama. Unlike you. You only seem to have a problem with these policies if the guy doing the spying on Americans doesn't have a D after his name. 

Fastgirl
Fastgirl

@jmac @Fastgirl Nice try at rewriting history. The majority of Americans think that spying on Americans is wrong no matter who does it. You and Obama obviously don't. In fact Obama has publicly lied about the fact that this was being done. I guess we can just add these lies to the ever growing list of Obama's lies.

jmac
jmac

@Fastgirl @mantisdragon91 We wouldn't know about what, mantis?   That NSA keeps our records for five years and then destroys them?   That they look for patterns in overseas phone calls?   That we collect vast info on overseas telecommunications networks?  That we spy on foreign leaders?  That NSA can get "zero days" flaws in computer programs  and solve the code?  


If Snowden had a case he could have brought it to light.  A case against an AMerican.    He didn't.  He dumped and he hurt us.  Larry Klayman doesn't have a case.   Just like Snowden, Larry Klayman is a right wing nut.    

Fastgirl
Fastgirl

@mantisdragon91 If it wasn't for Snowden we would never know about this. One isn't trying to make it less intrusive. Obama is being forced to by us, the American people to do this. After he went on TV and lied about it being done in the first place.I guess we can add this to Obama's every growing list of lies. You are conveniently forgetting that Obama went to a secret court and exapnded the program to what it is today. The author of the Patriot Act is on record as saying that his bill was never meant to be used this way. To spy on Americans. BTW you can go after terroists without having to spy on every American.

jmac
jmac

@ReneDemonteverde @mantisdragon91 Roberts ruled because he knew he was going to have to answer to history!   He wasn't going to let his court be the one that said the last progressive country in world not to have universal health care was going to happen under his court!  


The fact that you're lining up with left, left, left wing kooks on NSA  puts you right in their ballpark - with a tinfoil hat on.  

ReneDemonteverde
ReneDemonteverde

@mantisdragon91 I agree with you Mantis. Obama pushed this program on us while when Dubya was in charge you never hear any abuses that is going on. If ever there was it was not on this scale. You know what, just a nagging suspicion but have a feeling the Idiot you call your President have something on each  and every opposition leader or recalcitrant politician or judge that will not kowtow to him. Look Chief Justice Roberts flip flop decision on Obama Care.

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

@Fastgirl@mantisdragon91 

Actually if you look at my post below you will see that I have a problem with the program regardless of who the president is. And yet one president pushed this program on us and one is trying to make it less intrusive. Even more telling when the program is modified, care to guess how many GOP politicians will be crying about how Obama is soft on terrorists and making America less safe?

jmac
jmac

@Fastgirl @mantisdragon91 If either Bush or Obama has gone after an American citizen, you have to have proof.   Republican or Democrat = you can't yell just because you think someone in NSA is sending fake emails in your name.   (Larry Klayman - that's exactly how we got the ridiculous Citizen's United.   In that case it was the right wing Supreme Court yelling book banning; don't count on the left wing Supreme Court ruling with you on this.)    

jmac
jmac

@DJS @mantisdragon91 @Fastgirl @jmac DJS - "We have a choice as to whether to participate in google . . . "


For that matter, you have a choice as to whether you use a cell phone.   Or shop in a store.  

Fastgirl
Fastgirl

@mantisdragon91 @Fastgirl @jmac If this was a Republican president these companies would be outraged and wouldn't be spying on us for the government. All of these companies are big Obama supporters and donors.

Fastgirl
Fastgirl

@jmac @Fastgirl So....... what's evolution got to do with this? Talk about tin foil hats. I don't think the government should have access to any Americans phone, internet records etc. with out a specific warrant. If you are Ok with that let them have all of  your records, Facebook postings and comments you have made on sites like this.

jmac
jmac

@ReneDemonteverde @jmac @Fastgirl "With Obama you never know.'


You're not too bright, are you Rene?    So far, the only proof Obama has "snooped" is Larry Klayman saying NSA is writing emails for him.   If you think Bush was an angel on this, you missed the outing of a CIA agent by his VP.   History isn't on your side on this.   

jmac
jmac

@Fastgirl @jmac Most AMerican don't believe in evolution.  


We are going to keep phone records for five years.   That's not hurting you Fastgirl.   The solution now is to PAY the phone companies and others to keep the records for a certain amount of time.   Does that make you happy?   We the taxpayers will shell out for the phone companies to keep records.   I'm okay with that.   But I'm also okay with NSA keeping them that long.  


They keep  a trace on the phone calls and target the ones that are an anomaly going overseas.    You'd better hope someone keeps it up.  

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

@ReneDemonteverde@jmac@FastgirlYou didn't? Perhaps I need to remind you about the time the AG and the head of the FBI offered to resign because GWB's minions tried to force them to authorize illegal wiretaps?

ReneDemonteverde
ReneDemonteverde

@jmac @Fastgirl With Obama you would never know. NSA spying was going under Bush but you never hear anything about snooping into citizen`s lives. Where there is smoke there is fire. With Obama you never know where his culpability stop since he makes a lie a minute.

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

@Fastgirl@jmacYou know who else is spying on Americans. Every major corporation like Google, Yahoo and Facebook. When will we have a conversation about restricting that as well.

Fastgirl
Fastgirl

@jmac @Fastgirl  Most Americns would consider what the NSA is doing spying on Americans. If the NSA is not spying on Americans why the need to collect every phone call that is made in this country?

jmac
jmac

@Fastgirl @jmac No one is spying  on Americans.    NSA is tracking phone records for five years; then destroying them.   They can't count on numerous phone companies or other companies in keeping the records.  If you don't like personal date about noncitizens abroad and think they should be treated the same as Americans under the Privacy Act - then call your congressmen and tell them you want those non-citizens protected - per the new recommendations.   


Or you can always join Snowden in Russia.  

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

@ReneDemonteverde@mantisdragon91So who do you think authorized the deletion of the 28 pages in the Congressional report? Who authorized for the Saudi Nationals mentioned in that report to be assisted out of the country and out of the reach of congressional investigators?

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

@ReneDemonteverde@mantisdragon91Yet again why was that fact hidden from us? Why was there no action taken against them? Iran and Iraq never financed attacks on the US, except possibly in Beirut in 81. Saudi Arabia did. So who is our real enemy?

ReneDemonteverde
ReneDemonteverde

@mantisdragon91 @ReneDemonteverde There was a part of the Saudi monarchy but the majority backed us,  that financed and abetted al Qaeda, I agree with you. Part Mantis, part. Hezbollah, Hamas is officially, Mantis, officially backed by the government of Iran and openly. With the big possibility of a nuclear capacity. Think Mantis, think.

ReneDemonteverde
ReneDemonteverde

@mantisdragon91 @ReneDemonteverde Mantis,Mantis, Hillary Clinton John Kerry have read those reports made by George Tenet Bill Clinton CIA Director and they gave the go signal on the invasion of Iraq. Please. Bush would not have invaded Iraq if they did not gave their approval. Dont tell me they are not smart enough.

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

@ReneDemonteverde  

After the 9/11 attacks, the public was told al Qaeda acted alone, with no state sponsors.

But the White House never let it see an entire section of Congress’ investigative report on 9/11 dealing with “specific sources of foreign support” for the 19 hijackers, 15 of whom were Saudi nationals.

It was kept secret and remains so today.

President Bush inexplicably censored 28 full pages of the 800-page report. Text isn’t just blacked-out here and there in this critical-yet-missing middle section. The pages are completely blank, except for dotted lines where an estimated 7,200 words once stood (this story by comparison is about 1,000 words).

 http://nypost.com/2013/12/15/inside-the-saudi-911-coverup/

ReneDemonteverde
ReneDemonteverde

@mantisdragon91 @ReneDemonteverde Yes, that Saudi Arabia. But having said that with our new BFF ally Iran with its subsidiaries like Hezbollah do you honestly think you would get a better deal ? As for Bush and Cheney cover up can you cite proof. I know Bama did the Benghazi cover up. Now about Cheny and Bush ?