tv MSNBC Live MSNBC January 17, 2014 8:00am-9:01am PST
you. president obama will wade into treacherous waters today. how tough is this? >> well, it is tough. on the one hand, you have the president who's charged with trying to protect the american people. on the other hand, the president is charged with upholding and defending the constitution and people's constitutional rights, individual liberty. it's a tough balance, and it's easier criticized than executed, but it's his job, and i think that i'm glad the president has began this process, we would review what the nsa is doing. i like some of the ideas that i've seen, but there's a whole lot more that needs to be decided. i'd like to know, for example, how does the fisa court come to these conclusions? without letting on the facts, we should have some idea about how the decision making process is going to go, how then could a privacy advocate intervene to sort of look out for the public interest and privacy interest? these are all questions that remain. >> one of the questions general hayden said this morning, chris, and i'm sure you heard it, he thinks he's going to make it
sound better, more palatable to the american people, but in the end, once you sit in that chair and start reading the intelligence reports, you tend to change your mind and become a little more for some of these programs than you were before you became president and the net effect won't be very significant. >> i think he's probably right about that. i remember seeing daniel elsburg speak, when you're brought into the sort of brotherhood of secrecy, you come to associate with it, right, all of a sudden you're given the secret knowledge and tell you this secret knowledge is the truth. everyone on the outside is just walking around in blindness. you know the truth, the severity of the threat. the problem is that we know about the way knowledge works is that when it's more and more tightly constrained, the worse it is, right? that is actually the fundamental problem. the people at the center think they know the most, but in some senses they know the least, and there has to be an open dialogue, the entire basis of
democracy and self governance and everything we stand for in this country is based about openness, the wisdom of the crowd, all of us having open arguments about things, so this is a very important part of this process, but by no means the end of it. >> he's the man responsible, the buck stops here for american national security, but he also is someone with the political reality of this does not go the way most of these issues go. this is divided people like pat leahy on one side of it and diane fieinstein on the other side of it. this is a very tricky political issue, and the question is, how much of this does he decide he's going to take care of and how much is going to go congress's way? >> it's a very tricky political issue. the history between executive and congress shows it's going to be congressman ellison and his colleagues. last time we had something like this was the church committee. it was about reclaiming some power back from an executive
that had taken a lot of it during the cold war. congress is going to have to take the lead on this. >> there's reason to believe that congress will act responsibly here, and the reason i say so is because jim sten n sensenbrenner and democrats agree we shouldn't be doing that, so i think there's reason we can move forward in a bipartisan way to balance the equities in a proper way. we just have seen the other day on voting rights, you know, reasonably, we could try to move the ball forward, particularly with the struck section that the supreme court took out. so, i'm optimistic, but i think we're going to have to have a lot of public engagement, people talking about this issue in shops, hair shops, community meetings, so that we can build a consensus around how much control should the government try to exercise over this information. >> i want to ask you both about
priorities and how the president might approach this, how congress might approach this, but let's go to kristen welker, who is at the white house for us. give us a preview of what we're expecting to hear. >> chris, here's what we know, the president is going to try to walk a fine line in this speech. he's going to say that the government should no longer hold on to the bulk meta data, but he's not going to answer the question of who should hold on to the meta data. you remember the panel came out and said it should go to a third party, perhaps phone companies. they balked at that suggestion, so that is what congress is going to have to figure out. the most immediate change, as far as i can tell, is the president is going to say the government now has to get judicial approval before they query any of that meta data. that's what's going to go into effect immediately, and that could be controversial. you will have some more hawkish members of congress question whether or not that's going to harm national security, but the
big question left unsaid, who's going to control this meta data, could congress decide to put it back in the hands of government? we'll wait to see if president obama answers that question, but, of course, chris, he's also answering a public that has been very skeptical of this program. they have said they want to see changes, so part of what he's trying to do is tamp down the concerns from the domestic side, but also the international side, the international community concerned about this program, as well. >> kristen welker, thank you. congressman, what should happen to this meta data? >> for me to tell you this is exactly what should happen to this data, i'm not prepared to do that, but i don't like the government collecting all of it. i don't think the government should be sweepg everybody, collecting all this data, but weave we've got to have hearings, what is the most efficient way to manage the data that protects the constitution and people's rights? that's not a sound byte answer, so we've got to do our work. it's going to be hard, laborious, and have a lot of
public engagement. >> one idea floated is this public advocate, closed hearing, court people don't know about, they are making these consequential decisions so you want to bring in somebody to make the other case, because unlike courts we're used to, there is no other side that's presented, but general hayden again this morning said here's why we should be worried about this idea. let me play that. >> if you put an advocate in there every time nsa wants to go to the court for an individualized specific warrant, you are now suddenly giving agents of a foreign power more constitutional protection than american citizens have when the fbi wants to come against them with a criminal warrant. >> chris? >> agents of a foreign power is a slightly ridiculous thing to say. what you have is a nonadversarial process. the difference between the fbi going to get a warrant in a regular court and the fisa court
is the fisa court is entirely secret, we don't know who sits on it, none of its proceedings are open, there's no appealability, right? if you have a bad warrant process that happens in a open court, the defendant later at trial has a whole set of appeals they could contest. that doesn't currently exist, so to compare the two is preposterous and i suspect michael hayden knows that. the other thing, the power of the advocate is going to depend on the institutional culture of the fisa court. remember, when the fisa court was created, the idea was that it wouldn't be a rubber stamp, but what has it become? entirely rubber stamped. we know they basically don't ever reject warrants in decades and decades, they never do. it's totally possible you have an advocate in there and the same kind of process ends up where the advocate gives token resistance. >> that said, i'd rather have an advocate. >> completely agree.
>> i want to see an advocate in there, because at least there's a chance somebody is going to say, wait a minute, this is a problem. so i think it's a good idea. i reject the opponents of it, and i also like the idea of a judicial finding before the databases query, because there is a legal threshold, but there's not a person who makes a decision, yes, this meets that. so those two things, i think, will give us a better shot of a more secure, more balanced program. >> let me ask you about the other thing that's been talked about it a lot and we were speaking about it earlier on the 10:00 hour, which is the argument is this wide sweep has never stopped a terrorist attack. there's no indication something has come out of this that's substantial, and when you ask members of the intelligence community who support it, they say this is our insurance policy. this is how -- >> let me say something, michael hayden said something earlier about i was there 9/11, and i
think one of the things that's useful is to go back to that, take a look back and read the report, 9/11 commission report, and sift back through that. there were memos by fbi agents saying there are people, foreign nationals, at flight schools, who are learning how to fly and not take off and land. there were numerous memos. it is entirely the case that with the capacity that existed at the time, it could have been caught. it wasn't. it was a massive screw-up, but the conclusion made by this country was it was some deep constraint that existed on them. as opposed to copping to the fact these agencies failed and they failed miserably and what happened was in the wake of their failure, everyone said we need more power, to know more information, but to go back to what happened at 9/11 and read it carefully, it is entirely the case the information existed at the time with the current legal constraints and technological constraints to put the case together. it was not done and that was a huge failure. >> there's a former fbi agent in
my state, she was on the cover -- >> wrote the memo. >> it's like, look, this is a problem, we got to do something about it, and yet, you know, she didn't get listened to the way she should have. the point is, it's easy to have this rationalization, easy to say, oh, we can't allow any due process or bad things will happen. that i don't buy, and i think we need to move forward. >> there's another real world consequence with these arguments, though, because the argument is, well, we have not had another attack since 9/11, so, obviously, what we're doing is working. you will hear people saying anything out there is public record anyway and if this could possibly even help keep america safe, i'm okay with that. i don't have anything to hide. >> and i intuitively understand that argument. i understand why people feel that all this stuff, someone is holding it anyway and if the government needs to look at it to make sure a terrorist doesn't
attack us, i understand why people feel that, but i would say two things. one, i think we focus more on privacy. privacy to me isn't the chief concern here, frankly. the chief concern is secrecy and the abuse that comes from secrecy. we know that massive secret apparatuses and secret laws, right, tend towards abuse. that's a fact about human history, a fact about democracies. when you have secrecy, massive secrecy and secrecy in the laws, you start to chip away about the fact we self govern, we know what we do to ourselves, that's the kind of social contract we're in. second of all, there's a real pragmatic concern, which is if you collect too much information, you cannot process it. there's a problem on the other end, too little information over here and certainly a thing as too much information and genuine practical concern we are headed towards the latter. >> when people say i have nothing to hide, that's actually the wrong point. the point is, we have a society where the government's supposed to have a reason to do what it
does and people supposed to be free. so it's not a matter of presuming the government can look where they want. the government has to have a reason. and we should never operate on the basis that when people want to be private and keep their own business, that they are hiding something. there shouldn't be a cost to wanting to hold your own business. the fact is, government information is abused oftentimes and misinterpreted when people don't have privacy. >> we should say we see eric holder there and is told the president's motorcade has made its way from the white house to the department of justice, so at some point we'll be interrupting, but let me go back to kristen welker and just talk about sort of the mood at the white house and the level of importance they feel that they are attaching to this speech today, kristen. there's been a lot of pressure. this was delayed, you know, in the decisions about what he was going to say and what he was going to accept and not accept from this voluminous report finally going to be revealed today.
>> i think there is an immense amount of pressure. the president feels the white house has been working on this speech and sort of poring over those reviews, the 46 recommendations that were issued by the review panel. we know that started when he was on vacation in hawaii. i was told as of just yesterday, he was not only finishing his speech, but making sure that he was sort of comfortable with what he's going to announce today, so there's certainly a lot riding on this politically for the president, for this administration. there was such a furrow over this that it consumed this administration, made it difficult for the president to focus on any other of his other second term priorities, so he wants to get this right, and i think politically, he feels as though he needs to. going back to the point that you were just discussing, though, chris, i think he's going to address issues of privacy and
abuse. i think you will likely hear him defend the program as it has been carried out. he signalled this in recent comments, but i also think he will talk about looking forward, the possibility that it could be abuse, so i think those are some of the broader themes he might address. that's certainly what he has signalled in addressing this issue in the past. chris? >> thank you, kristen. should he mention edward snowden, if so, what does he say about it? >> you know, i'm not sure edward snowden is the key point for him to mention. my thing is, it's often said this program has not been abused. how do we know? that's the problem i have with this. it all relies on what people tell us. i'll never forget the -- when mr. clapper was asked a pointed question at a senate hearing, he gave an answer that in my view directly contradicted the facts, and so if you're relying on what people say and there's assura e assurances there's been no
abuse -- >> as a member of congress, what are the assurances you want? what is the information you need that you're not getting, which is also a very different level from what we get. chris hayes and i get. >> well, i got to tell you, it's interesting you should ask me that, because when i went back and said how come we weren't told, they said we told you. i asked the folks at the white house to give me the time, date, location when i was supposed to have been told this, and i never got that information. and so it's really not clear at all. >> here he is, the president of the united states, at the department of justice. let's listen. >> thank you. thank you so much. please, have a seat. at the dawn of our republic, a small secret surveillance committee born out of the sons of liberty was established in boston. and the group's members included
paul revere. at night they would patrol the streets, reporting back any signs that the british were preparing raids against america's early patriots. throughout american history, intelligence has helped secure our country and our freedoms. in the civil war, union balloons, reconnaissance tracked the size of federal armies by counting the number of camp fires. world war ii, japanese war planes, and intercepted communications helped save the lives of his troops. after the war, the rise of the iron curtain and nuclear weapons only increased the need for sustained intelligence gathering, and so in the early days of the cold war, president truman created the national security agency, the nsa, to give us insights into the soviet
block and provide our leaders with information they needed to confront aggression and avert catastrophe. throughout this evolution, we've benefitted from both our constitution and our traditions of limited government. u.s. intelligence agencies were anchored in a system of checks and balances. with oversight from elected leaders and protections for ordinary citizens. meanwhile, totalitarian states like east germany offered a cautionary tale of what could happen when vast, unchecked surveillance turned citizens into informers and persecuted people for what they said in the privacy of their own homes. in fact, even the united states proved not to be immune to the abuse of surveillance in the 1960s, government spied on civil rights leaders and critics of the vietnam war. and partly in response to these
revelations, additional laws were established in the 1970s to ensure that our intelligence capabilities could not be misused against our citizens. in the long twilight struggle against communism, we have been reminded that the very liberties we fought to preserve could not be sacrificed at the altar of national security. if the fall of the soviet union left america without a competing super power, emerging threats from terrorist groups and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction placed new and in some ways more complicated demands on our intelligence agencies. globalization and the internet made these threats more acute as technology erased borders and empowered individuals to project great violence, as well as great good. moreover, these threats raised new legal and new policy questions. for while few doubted the legitimacy of spying on hostile
states, our framework of laws was not fully adapted to prevent terrorist attacks by individuals acting on their own, or acting in small ideologically driven groups on behalf of a foreign power. the horror of september 11th brought all these issues to the fore. across the political spectrum, americans recognized that we had to adapt to a world in which a bomb could be built in a basement, and our electric grid could be shut down by operators an ocean away. we were shaken by the signs we had missed leading up to the attacks. how the hijackers had made phone calls to known extremists and travelled to suspicious places. so we demanded that our intelligence community improve its capabilities and that law enforcement change practices to focus more on preventing attacks
before they happen and prosecuting terrorists after an attack. it is hard to overstate the transformation america's intelligence community had to go through after 9/11. our agencies suddenly needed to do far more than the traditional mission of monitoring hostile powers and gathering information for policy makers. instead, they were now asked to identify and target plotters in some of the most remote parts of the world and to anticipate the actions of networks that by their very nature cannot be easily penetrated with spies or informants. and it is a testimony to the hard work and dedication of the men and women of our intelligence community that over the past decade, we've made enormous strides in fulfilling this mission. today, new capabilities allow
intelligence agencies to track who a terrorist is in contact with and follow the trail of his travel or his funding. new laws allow information to be collected and shared more quickly and effectively between federal agencies and state and local law enforcement. relationships with foreign intelligence services have expanded and our capacity to repel cyber attacks have been strengthened. and taken together, these efforts have prevented multiple attacks and saved innocent lives, not just here in the united states, but around the globe. and yet, in our rush to respond to a very real and novel set of threats, the risk of government overreach, the possibility that we lose some of our core liberties in pursuit of security, also became more
pronounced. we saw in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 our government engaged in enhanced interrogation techniques that contradicted our values. as a senator, i was critical of several practices, such as warrantless wiretaps. and all too often, new authorities were instituted without adequate public debate. through a combination of action by the corps, increased congressional oversight, and adjustments by the previous administration, some of the worst excesses that happened after 9/11 were curbed by the time i took office, but a variety of factors have continued to complicate america's efforts to both defend our nation and uphold our civil liberties. first, the same technological advances that allow u.s. intelligence agencies to pinpoint an al qaeda cell in
yemen or an e-mail between two terrorists in the sahel also mean that many routine communications around the world are within our reach. and at a time when more and more of our lives are digital, that prospect is disquieting for all of us. second, the combination of increased digital information and powerful super computers offers intelligence agencies the possibility of sifting through massive amounts of bulk data to identify patterns or pursue leads that may thwart impending threats. it's a powerful tool. but the government collection and storage of such bulk data also creates a potential for abuse. third, the legal safeguards that restrict surveillance against u.s. persons without a warrant do not apply to foreign persons overseas.
this is not unique to america. few, if any, spy agencies around the world constrain their activities beyond their own borders. and the whole point of intelligence is to obtain information that is not publicly available. but america's capabilities are unique, and the power of new technologies means that there are fewer and fewer technical constraints on what we can do. that places a special obligation on us to ask tough questions about what we should do. and finally, intelligence agencies cannot function without secrecy, which makes their work less subject to public debate. yet there is an inevitable bias, not only within the intelligence community, but among all of us who are responsible for national security to collect more information about the world, not
less. so in the absence of institutional requirements for regular debate and oversight that is public, as well as private or classified, the dangerous of government overreach becomes more acute. and this is particularly true when surveillance technology and our reliance on digital information is evolving much faster than our loss. for all these reasons, i maintained a healthy skepticism toward our surveillance programs after i became president. i ordered that our programs be reviewed by my national security team and our lawyers, and in some cases, i ordered changes in how we did business. we increased oversight and auditing, including new structures aimed at compliance. improved rules were proposed by the government and approved by the intelligence surveillance court. and we sought to keep congress
continually updated on these activities. what i did not do is stop these programs wholesale. not only because i felt that they made us more secure, but also because nothing in that initial review and nothing that i have learned since, indicated that our intelligence community has sought to violate the law or is cavalier about the civil liberties of their fellow citizens. to the contrary, in an extraordinarily difficult job, one in which actions are second guessed, success is unreported, and failure can be catastrophic, the men and women of the intelligence community, including the nsa, consistently follow protocols designed to protect the privacy of ordinary people. they are not abusing authorities in order to listen to your
private phone calls or read your e-mails. when mistakes are made, which is inevitable in any large and complicated human enterprise, they correct those mistakes. laboring in obscurity, often unable to discuss their work even with family and friends, the men and women at the nsa know that if another 9/11 or massive cyber attack occurs, they will be asked by congress and the media why they failed to connect the dots. what sustains those who work at nsa and our other intelligence agencies through all these pressures is the knowledge that their professionalism and dedication play a central role in the defense of our nation. now, to say that our intelligence community follows the law and is staffed by patriots is not to suggest that
i or others in my administration felt complacent about the potential impact of these programs. those of us who hold office in america have a responsibility to our constitution, and while i was confident in the integrity of those who lead our intelligence community, it was clear to me in observing our intelligence operations on a regular basis that changes in our technological capabilities were raising new questions about the privacy safeguards currently in place. moreover, after an extended review of our use of drones in the fight against terrorist networks, i believed a fresh examination of our surveillance programs was a necessary next step in our effort to get off the open-ended war footing that we've maintained since 9/11. and for these reasons, i indicated in a speech at the national defense university last may that we needed a more robust public discussion about the
balance between security and liberty. of course, what i did not know at the time is within weeks of my speech, an avalanche of unauthorized disclosures would spark controversies at home and abroad that continue to this day. given the fact of an open investigation, i'm not going to dwell on mr. snowden's actions or his motivations, i will say that our nation's defense depends in part on the fidelity of those entrusted with our nation's secrets. if any individual who objects to government policy can take it into their own hands to publicly disclose classified information, then we will not be able to keep our people safe or conduct foreign policy. moreover, the sensational way these disclosures have come out have often shred more heat than
light, while impacting our operations in ways we may not fully understand for years to come. regardless of how we got here, though, the task before us now is greater than simply repairing the damage done to our operations or preventing more disclosures from taking place in the future. instead, we have to make some important decisions about how to protect ourselves and sustain our leadership in the world, while upholding the civil liberties and privacy protections that our ideals and constitution require. we need to do so not only because it is right, but because the challenges posed by threats like terrorism and proliferation and cyber attacks are not going away any time soon. they are going to continue to be a major problem. and for our intelligence community to be effective over the long haul, we must maintain
the trust of the american people and people around the world. this effort will not be completed overnight. and given the pace of technological change, we shouldn't expect this to be the last time america has this debate, but i want the american people to know that the work has begun. over the last six months, i've created an outside review group on intelligence and communications technologies to make recommendations for reform. i consulted with the privacy and civil liberties oversight board created by congress. i've listened to foreign partners, privacy advocates, and industry leaders. my administration has spent countless hours considering how to approach intelligence in this era of diffused threats and technological revolution. so before outlining specific changes that i've ordered, let
me make a few broad observations that have emerged from this process. first, everyone who has looked at these problems, including skeptics of existing programs, recognizes that we have real enemies and threats and that intelligence serves a vital role in confronting them. we cannot prevent terrorist attacks or cyber threats without some capability to penetrate digital communications. whether it's to unravel a terrorist plot, to intercept malware, to make sure air traffic control systems are not compromi compromised, or to ensure hackers do not empty your bank accounts, we are expected to protect the american people. that requires us to have capabilities in this field. moreover, we cannot unilaterally
disarm our intelligence agencies. there's a reason why black berries and iphones are not allowed in the white house situation room. we know that the intelligence services of other countries, including some who feign surprise over the snowden disclosures, are constantly probing our government and private sector networks and accelerating programs to listen to our conversations and intercept our e-mails and compromise our systems. we know that. meanwhile, the number of countries, including some who have loudly criticized the nsa, privately acknowledge that america has special responsibilities as the world's only super power, that our intelligence capabilities are critical to meeting these responsibilities and they, themselves have relied on the information we obtain to protect their own people. second, just as ardent civil
libertarians recognize the need for robust intelligence capabilities, those with responsibilities for our national security readily acknowledge the potential for abuse as intelligence capabilities advance and more and more private information is digitized. after all, the folks at nsa and other intelligence agencies are our neighbors, they are our friends and family. they've got electronic bank and medical records like everybody else. they have kids on facebook and instagram, and they know more than most of us the vulnerabilities of privacy that exist in a world where transactions are recorded and e-mail and texts are stored and even our movements can be tracked on the gps on our phones. third, there was a recognition by all who participated in these reviews that the challenges to our privacy do not come from
corporations alone. corporations track what you buy, store and analyze our data, and use it for commercial purposes. that's how the targeted ads pop up on your computer and smartphone periodically, but all of us understand that the standards for government surveillance must be higher. given the unique power of the state, it is not enough for leaders to say trust us, we won't abuse the data we collect, for history has too many examples when that trust has been breached. our system of government is built on the premise that our liberty cannot depend on the good intentions of those in power. it depends on the law to constrain those in power. i make these observations to underscore that the basic values of most americans when it comes to questions of surveillance and privacy converge a lot more than the crude characterizations that
emerged over the last several months. those who are troubled by our existing programs are not interested in repeating the tragedy of 9/11 and are not dismissive of civil liberties. the challenge is getting the details right, and that is not simple. during the course of our review, i've often reminded myself i will not be where i am today would it not be for the courage of dissidence by dr. king who were spied upon by their own government. and as president, a president who looks at intelligence every morning, i also can't help but be reminded that america must be vigilant in the face of threats. fortunately, by focusing on facts and specifics rather than speculation and hypotheticals, this review process has given me and hopefully the american
people, some clear direction for change. and today i can announce a series of concrete and substantial reforms that my administration intends to adopt administratively or will seek to codify with congress. first, i have approved a new presidential directive for our intelligence activities, both at home and abroad. this guidance will strengthen executive branch oversight of our intelligence activities. it will ensure that we take into account our security requirements, but also our alliances, our trade and investment relationships, including the concerns of american companies, and our commitment to privacy and basic liberties. and we will review decisions about intelligence priorities and sensitive targets on an annual basis, so our actions are regularly scrutinized by my senior national security team.
second, we will reform programs and procedures in place to provide greater transparency to our surveillance activities. and fortify the safeguards that protect the privacy of u.s. persons. since we began this review, including information being released today, we've declassified over 40 opinions and orders of the foreign intelligence surveillance court, which provides judicial review of some of our most sensitive intelligence activities, including the section protecting individuals overseas and the section 215 telephone meta data program. going forward, i'm directing the director of national intelligence, in consultation with the attorney general, to annually review for the purposes of declassification any future opinions of the court with broad privacy implications and to report to me and to congress on
these efforts. to ensure that the court hears a broader range of privacy perspectives, i'm also calling on congress to authorize the establishment of a panel of advocates from outside government to provide an independent voice in significant cases before the foreign intelligence surveillance court. third, we will provide additional protections for activities conducted under section 702, which allows the government to intercept the kmun communications of foreign targets overseas who has information important for our national security. specifically, i'm asking the attorney general and dni to institute reforms that place additional restrictions on government's ability to retain, search, and use in criminal cases communications between americans and foreign citizens incidentally collected under section 702.
fourth, in investigating threats, the fbi also relies on what's called national security letters, which can require companies to provide specific and limited information to the government without disclosing the orders to the subject of the investigation. now these are cases in which it's important that the subject in the investigation, such as a possible terrorist or spy, isn't tipped off. but we can and should be more transparent in how government uses this authority. i've, therefore, directed the attorney general to amend how we use national security letters so that this secrecy will not be indefinite, so that it will terminate within a fixed time, unless the government demonstrates a real need for further secrecy.
we will also enable communications providers to make public more information than ever before about the orders that they have received to provide data to the government. this brings me to the program that has generated the most controversy the last few months, the bulk collection of telephone records under section 215. let me repeat what i said when this story first broke, this program does not involve the content of phone calls or the names of people making calls. instead, it provides a record of phone numbers and the times and lengths of calls. meta data that can be queried if and when we have a reasonable suspicion that a particular number is linked to a terrorist organization.
why is this necessary? that the program grew out of the desire to address a gap identified after 9/11. one of the 9/11 hijackers, khalid almindar, made a phone call from san diego to a known al qaeda safe house in yemen. nsa saw that call, but it could not see that the call was coming from an individual already in the united states. the telephone meta data program under section 215 was designed to map the communications of terrorists so we can see who they may be in contact with as quickly as possible. and this capability could also prove valuable in a crisis. for example, if a bomb goes off in one of our cities and law enforcement is racing to determine whether a network is poised to conduct additional attacks, time is of the essence. being able to quickly review
phone connections to assess whether a network exists is critical to that effort. in sum, the program does not involve the nsa examining the phone records of ordinary americans, rather, it consolidates these records into a database that the government can query if it has a specific lead. a consolidation of phone records that the companies already retain for business purposes. the review group turned up no indication that this database has been intentionally abused, and i believe it is important that the capability that this program is designed to meet is preserved. having said that, i believe critics are right to point out that without proper safeguards,
this type of program could be used to yield more information about our private lives and open the door to more intrusive bulk collection programs in the future. they are also right to point out that although the telephone bulk collection program was subject to oversight by the foreign intelligence surveillance court and has been reauthorized repeatedly by congress, it has never been subject to vigorous public debate. for all these reasons, i believe we need a new approach. i am, therefore, ordering a transition that will end the section 215 bulk meta data program as it currently exists and establish a mechanism that preserves the capabilities we need without the government holding this bulk meta data. this will not be simple. the review group recommended
that our current approach be replaced by one in which the providers, or a third party, retain the bulk records with government accessing information as needed. both of these options pose difficult problems. relying solely on the records of multiple providers, for example, could require companies to alter their procedures in ways that could raise new privacy concerns. on the other hand, any third party maintaining a single consolidated database would be carrying out what's essentially a government function, but with more expense, more legal ambigui ambiguity, potentially less accountability, all of which would have a doubtful impact on increasing public confidence that their privacy is being protected. during the review process, some suggested that we may also be able to preserve the capabilities we need through a combination of existing
authorities, better information sharing, and recent technological advances, but more work needs to be done to determine exactly how this system might work. because of the challenges involved, i've ordered that the transition away from the existing program will proceed in two steps. effective immediately, we will only pursue phone calls that are two steps removed from a number associated from a terrorist organization, instead of the current three, and i have directed that the attorney general to work with the foreign intelligence surveillance court so that during this transition period, the database can be queried only after a judicial finding or in the case of a true emergency. next, step two, i've instructed the intelligence community and the attorney general to use this transition period to develop
options for a new approach that can match the capabilities and fill the gaps that the section 215 program was designed to address without the government holding this meta data itself. they will report back to me with options for alternative approaches before the program comes up for reauthorization on march 28th. during this period, i will consult with the relevant committees in congress to seek their views, and then seek congressional authorization for the new program as needed. now the reforms i'm proposing today should give the american people greater confidence that their rights are being protected, even as our intelligence and law enforcement agencies maintain the tools they need to keep us safe. i recognize that there are additional issues that require further debate. for example, some who participated in our review, as well as some members of
congress, would like to see more sweeping reforms to the use of national security letters. so that we have to go to a judge each time before issuing these requests. here i have concerns that we should not set a standard for terrorism investigations that is higher than those involved in investigating an ordinary crime. but i agree, that greater oversight on the use of these letters may be appropriate, and i'm prepared to work with congress on this issue. there are also those who would like to see different changes to the fisa court than the ones i have proposed. on all these issues, i'm open to working with congress to ensure we build a broad consensus for how we move forward, and i'm confident we can shape an approach that meets our security needs, while upholding the civil liberties of all american. let me now turn to the separate set of concerns that have been
raised overseas. and focus on america's approach to intelligence collection abroad. as i've indicated, the united states has unique responsibilities when it comes to intelligence collection. our capabilities help protect not only our nation, but our friends and our allies, as well. but our efforts will only be effective if ordinary citizens in other countries have confidence that the united states respects their privacy, too. and the leaders of our close friends and allies deserve to know that if i want to know what they think about an issue, i'll pick up the phone and call them, rather than turning to surveillance. in other words, just as we've balanced security and privacy at home, our global leadership demands that we balance our security requirements against our need to maintain the trust and cooperation among people and leaders around the world.
for that reason, the new presidential directive that i've issued today will clearly prescribe what we do and do not do when it comes not do when it overseas surveillance. to begin with, the directive makes clear that the united states only uses signals intelligence for legitimate national security purposes and not for the purpose of indiscriminately reviewing e-mails or phone calls of ordinary folks. i've also made it clear that the united states does not collect intelligence to suppress criticism or dissent, nor do we collect intelligence to disadvantage people on the basis of their ethnicity or race or sexual orientation or religious beliefs. we do not collect intelligence to provide a competitive advantage to u.s. companies or u.s. commercial sectors. in terms of our bulk collection
of signals intelligence, u.s. intelligence agencies will only use such data to meet specific security requirements, counterintelligence and counter terrorism, counter proliferation, cyber security, force protection for our troops and allies and combatting trans national crime including sanctions. in this directive, i have taken the unprecedented step of extending certain protections that we have for the american people to people overseas. i've directed the dni in consultation with the attorney general to develop these safeguards which will limit the duration we can hold personal information while also restricting the use of this information. the bottom line is that people around the world regardless of their nationality, should know that the united states is not spying on ordinary people who
don't threaten our national security. we take their privacy concerns into account in our policies and procedures. this applies to foreign leaders as well. given the understandable attention that this issue received, i made clear to the intelligence community that unless there is a compelling national security purpose, we will not monitor the communications of heads of state and government of our close friends and allies. and i've instructed my national security team as well as the intelligence community to work with foreign counterparts to deepen cooperation in ways that rebuild trust going forward. now let me be clear. our intelligence agencies will continue to gather information about the intentions of governments as opposed to ordinary citizens around the world. in the same way that the
intelligence services of every other nations. we will not apologize simply because our services may be more effective. but heads of state and government with whom we work closely and on whose cooperation we depend should feel confident we are treating them as real partners and the changes i've ordered do just that. finally, to make sure that we follow through on all of these refo reforms, i'm making important changes to how our government is organized. the state department will designate a senior officer to coordinate our diplomacy on issues related to technology and signals intelligence. we will appoint a senior official at the white house to implement the new privacy safeguards that i've announced today. i will devote the resources to centralize and improve the process that we use to handle
foreign requests for legal assistance keeping high standards for privacy while fighting crime and terrorism. i've also asked my counsel, john podesta to lead a comprehensive review of privacy. it will consist of government officials along with the president's counsel of science and technology will reach out to privacy experts and techologists and see how they are being confronted by both the private and public sectors. whether we can forge international norms on how to manage this data and how we can continue to promote the free flow of information in ways that are consistent with both privacy and security. for ultimately, what's at stake
in this debate goes far beyond a few months of headlines or passing tensions in our foreign policy. when you cut through the noise, what's really at stake is how we remain true to who we are in a world that is remaking itself at dizzying speed. whether it's the ability of individuals to communicate ideas, to access information that would have once filled every great library and every country in the world or to forge bonds with people on the other sides of the globe, technology is remaking what is possible for individuals and for institutions and for the international order. so all of the reforms i've announced will point us in a new direction, i am mindful that more work will be needed in the future. one thing i'm certain of, this debate will make us stronger.
and i also know that in this time of change, the united states of america will have to lead. it may seem sometimes that america is being held to a different standard. and i'll admit the readiness of some to assume the worst motives by our government can be frustrating. no one expects china to have an open debate about their surveillance programs or russia to take privacy concerns of citizens and other places into account. but let's remember, we are held to a different standard precisely because we have been at the forefront of defending personal privacy and human dignity. as the nation that developed the internet, the world expects us to ensure that the digital revolution works as a tool for
individual empowerment, not government control. having faced down the dangers of toe tal tear yanism, the word expects us to stand up for the principle that everyone has the right to think and write and form relationships freely because individual freedom is the wellspring of human progress. those values make us who we are. and because of the strength of our own democracy, we should not shy away from high expectations. for more than two centuries, our constitution has weathered every type of change because we've been willing to defend it. and because we've been willing to question the actions that have been taken in its defense.
today is no different. i believe we can meet high expectations. together let us chart a way forward that secures the life of our nation while preserving the liberties that make our nation worth fighting for. thank you, god bless you and may god bless the united states of america. [ applause ] >> president obama addresses, with a speech that went about 50 minutes, outlining changes he would like to see made at the nsa, good afternoon, i'm craig melvin. let's bring in our chief white house correspondent chuck todd there for that speech. also joining me in the studio, chris hayes and keith ellison stuck around. the president's political problem going into the speech, did he solve the problem with the speech we just heard? >> it's hard to imagine that he
did. i've always gone back to anybody that -- the people that care the most about this privacy issue and what the nsa was doing, i don't know there was anything the president could announce short of halting the program completely that was going to satisfy some folks there. the fact -- if you look at it through the idea of okay, is he open to more change, he made that clear. but this speech is not a definitive speech of anything. he announced a lot more steps of what they are going to do next than he did of actually reforms. let's have this review process and figure this out and have this review process and i'm going to point this person to look at how we do this with big data and do this overseas. we've got a long way to go. politically, craig, the goal was how can they get this into the the rearview mirror as a political problem and perhaps he
bought him some time on that front. >> will this be an issue to define the midterms? >> no, it's not going to be that. let's see what debate breaks out on capitol hill but this is not an easy -- this issue here is not a democratic party versus republican party issue. this really is sort of the national security hawks versus the libertarian wings of both party, individualist wings of both party, civil libertarians. i don't imagine it being a divisive issue between the two parties. >> i was surprised he mentioned edward snowden not once but twice but three times. and mass collection of data is not going to stop in this country. >> this was a speech that in some ways sought to