Obama on the FISA Compromise

Following is Barack Obama’s statement on the FISA compromise:

“Given the grave threats that we face, our national security agencies must have the capability to gather intelligence and track down terrorists before they strike, while respecting the rule of law and the privacy and civil liberties of the American people. There is also little doubt that the Bush Administration, with the cooperation of major telecommunications companies, has abused that authority and undermined the Constitution by intercepting the communications of innocent Americans without their knowledge or the required court orders.

“That is why last year I opposed the so-called Protect America Act, which expanded the surveillance powers of the government without sufficient independent oversight to protect the privacy and civil liberties of innocent Americans. I have also opposed the granting of retroactive immunity to those who were allegedly complicit in acts of illegal spying in the past.

“After months of negotiation, the House today passed a compromise that, while far from perfect, is a marked improvement over last year’s Protect America Act.

“Under this compromise legislation, an important tool in the fight against terrorism will continue, but the President’s illegal program of warrantless surveillance will be over. It restores FISA and existing criminal wiretap statutes as the exclusive means to conduct surveillance – making it clear that the President cannot circumvent the law and disregard the civil liberties of the American people. It also firmly re-establishes basic judicial oversight over all domestic surveillance in the future. It does, however, grant retroactive immunity, and I will work in the Senate to remove this provision so that we can seek full accountability for past offenses. But this compromise guarantees a thorough review by the Inspectors General of our national security agencies to determine what took place in the past, and ensures that there will be accountability going forward. By demanding oversight and accountability, a grassroots movement of Americans has helped yield a bill that is far better than the Protect America Act.

“It is not all that I would want. But given the legitimate threats we face, providing effective intelligence collection tools with appropriate safeguards is too important to delay. So I support the compromise, but do so with a firm pledge that as President, I will carefully monitor the program, review the report by the Inspectors General, and work with the Congress to take any additional steps I deem necessary to protect the lives – and the liberty – of the American people.”

This was somewhat disappointing but not a terrible shock. One reason I supported Obama was because out of the choices available among viable candidates I believed he will do the best with regards to civil liberties. That has not changed.

I remain hopeful that Obama will do better when he is leading the country as president than in a situation such as now where he must vote upon legislation proposed by others. I remain hopeful that we will see a major improvement in civil liberties once Obama is elected. In any event, there is little doubt that he will be better than George Bush or John McCain.

Unlike the stereotype of Obama supporters spread by his opponents, I have never been under any illusions that either he will be right on all matters or that he is not a politician. You have to be a pretty sharp politician to get as far as Obama has. My suspicion is that this is Obama the politician speaking today, motivated by a reluctance to appear weak on fighting terrorism.

This might be understandable. It is also the same mistake that many made in voting for he Iraq war. Obama knew the right course then. At least, unlike those who voted for the war, he will hopefully get a chance to redeem himself for this vote by changing government policy after he is elected.

I have used variations on hope several times in this post. Supporting Obama is partially about hope. That is hope that he will do the right thing once in office, and that his knowledge of Constitutional law will lead to the changes we are hoping to see.


  1. 1
    Lynn says:

    The candidate has to get elected to truly change things.  “The Journey of A Thousand Miles Begins with one step.”

  2. 2
    miles says:

    you lost my vote,your just like all the rest in washington

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