Privacy SOS

Why is Obama reluctant to do anything that will cause a “backlash” from the spy agencies?

'Members of the Warren Commission present their report on the assassination of President John F. Kennedy to President Lyndon Johnson.' L-R: John McCloy, J. Lee Rankin (General Counsel), Senator Richard Russell, Congressman Gerald Ford, Chief Justice Earl Warren, President Lyndon B. Johnson, Allen Dulles, Senator John Sherman Cooper, and Congressman Hale Boggs. Source.

President Obama is set to deliver a major speech on Friday, laying out his administration's response to the ongoing scandal about NSA dragnet surveillance. The New York Times reports that the President wants to both "leave in place many current programs, but embrace[] the spirit of reform…" Unfortunately, the Times says, Obama will advocate retaining the NSA/FBI bulk records surveillance program, as well as leaving in place the FBI's warrantless National Security Letter regime.

The Constitutional-Law-Professor-In-Chief's reluctance to do anything that will cause a "backlash from national security agencies" reminds me of this passage from Tim Weiner's famous history of the CIA, Legacy of Ashes:

[Upon election,] President-elect Kennedy immediately announced the re-appointments of J. Edgar Hoover [as FBI director] and Allen Dulles [as director of the CIA]. That decision came from his father, and it was made for political and personal protection. Hoover knew some of the deeper secrets in the Kennedy family—including the president-elect’s sexual dalliances during World War II with a suspected Nazi spy—and he had shared that knowledge with Dulles. Kennedy knew all this because his father, a former member of Eisenhower’s board of foreign intelligence consultants, had told him on good authority.

When the President of the United States—supposedly the most powerful person in the country—is reluctant to buck the desires of the spy agencies he commands, is the tail wagging the dog?

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