Obama Follows Bush’s Footsteps on Counterterrorism

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
June 9 2013 11:52 AM

On Counterterrorism, Obama is Following Bush’s Footsteps

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Director of National Intelligence James Clapper has said the leaks revealing details on the country's surveillance programs are "literally gut-wrenching"

Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images

President Obama’s eagerness to use drones and commando teams to pursue alleged terrorists has long been a hallmark of his controversial counterterrorism campaign that made Democrats a little nervous, suggesting the constitutional scholar they elected under the mantle of hope wasn’t so different from his predecessor. Now, the latest revelations showing the massive scale of surveillance of both phone records and electronic communications shows just how much he has embraced “a position that in some ways resembles the second-term posture of his predecessor, George W. Bush,” writes the Washington Post’s Greg Miller. Obama may have tried to mark a break with the past in his speeches, but his actions speak louder.

Some Bush allies have been quick to highlight the similarities between the man whose popularity was once compared to a celebrity’s and the former president who left office with low approval ratings. “Drone strikes. Wiretaps. Gitmo. O is carrying out Bush’s 4th term,” former Bush administration spokesman Ari Fleischer recently wrote on Twitter.

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On Saturday, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper declassified some details of the PRISM program as part of an effort by the White House to defend the controversial efforts to collect Internet data. It marked the second time in three days that Clapper declassified details on a program to respond to media leaks, notes the Associated Press. For the White House, PRISM is nothing more than an “internal government computer system” designed to sort through data obtained through court orders. In addition, Congress has authorized the program with Clapper claiming lawmakers have been briefed 13 times on the issues since 2009. The program “has proven vital to keeping the nation and our allies safe,” Clapper said.

The rare declassification seemed to be a way for the government to contradict early claims that the government had direct access to servers of some of the country’s biggest technology companies. Yet the statement was also “notable for what it omitted: any description of other means the government may use to intercept Internet information directly from fiber optic cables or satellite systems even before or after it reaches those Internet companies,” notes the New York Times. A new report published in the Guardian shows how the NSA has been able to improve its capabilities of analyzing huge amounts of data. A datamining tool called Boundless Informant details and maps out just how much information the NSA gathers around the world. Just in March 2013, for example, 97 billion pieces of data from across the world were collected, around 14 billion of which came from Iran.

Now the administration’s priority is to find the leaker. In an interview with NBC News Saturday night, Clapper said that the NSA has requested a criminal investigation. "For me, it is literally—not figuratively—literally gut-wrenching to see this happen because of the huge, grave damage it does to our intelligence capabilities." Clapper wasn’t alone. On Sunday, Rep. Mike Rogers and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the head of the House and Senate intelligence committees, respectively, both called for an investigation to find out the source of the leak, reports the Washington Post.

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Daniel Politi has been contributing to Slate since 2004 and wrote the "Today's Papers" column from 2006 to 2009. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoliti.