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POLITICS: PennAve

Former NSA director says Obama not making major surveillance changes

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Retired Gen. Michael Hayden, the former director of the National Security Agency and CIA, said Sunday that President Obama’s proposals for greater oversight of controversial surveillance tactics would not lead to drastic changes to the programs.

“To me, the most telling thing he said is something he didn’t quite say. He didn’t suggest that he was going to operationally change this program,” Hayden said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.” “He also suggested that the oversight regime for this was already quite good. He pointed out that there have been no abuses under him or under his predecessor.”

Obama announced Friday that he would work with Congress to improve transparency surrounding the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court and the Patriot Act provision that allows federal officials to seize Americans’ phone data. He also outlined a new task force of outside experts to study the surveillance programs. And the Justice Department released a document outlining its legal rationale for the programs.

Hayden said Obama suggested the tweaks to the programs, which became a political lightning rod after disclosures from government contractor Edward Snowden, to shift public perception of the controversial tactics.

“He does have this issue of confidence, this issue of transparency, so the president is trying to take some steps to make the American people more comfortable about what we’re doing,” said Hayden, who led the NSA under Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. “That’s going to be hard, because frankly some steps to make Americans more comfortable will make Americans less safe.”

However, some Republicans accused Obama of waiting too long to defend the NSA’s methods.

“There are so many misconceptions, so many misperceptions out there,” said Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., on the CBS program. “And I think that’s partly because the president, who has the bully pulpit, did not use it during the last several months.”

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Brian Hughes

White House Correspondent
The Washington Examiner