The White House on Monday reiterated President Obama’s claims that Americans are not being spied on by the federal government, even though a new report showed the National Security Agency was violating privacy laws thousands of times each year.
Earlier this month, Obama said the White House was not monitoring ordinary Americans, hoping to lessen the backlash against his administration’s controversial surveillance tactics. Just a week later, it was revealed that the NSA had in fact intercepted Americans’ phone calls and emails, including those not connected to terrorism investigations.
Still, the White House is not backing down from the president’s claims.
“Yes, the president does stand by that statement,” White House Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest said of Obama’s insistence that Americans’ records had not been seized.
The White House said the latest disclosures were produced thanks to an internal NSA audit, citing the report as proof that the programs had adequate oversight. Monday marked the first time the White House publicly responded to the latest damning disclosures about NSA practices.
And in one of the strangest examples of political bedfellows, the White House cited Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y. — one of Obama’s most vocal critics — as part of its defense of the NSA surveillance techniques.
“This was a conclusion reached by a Republican member of Congress who has quite a bit of experience with these issues, indicating his confidence with the oversight of these NSA programs,” Earnest said of King’s rare words of support for the Obama administration.
According to the NSA’s internal audit, there were 2,776 incidents of unauthorized collection, storage, access to or distribution of legally protected communications during a recent 12-month period. Administration officials claim those instances were almost exclusively the result of human error.
Obama recently announced that he would work with Congress to improve openness surrounding the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court and the Patriot Act provision that allows federal officials to seize Americans’ phone data. He also called for the creation of a new panel of “outside experts” to review the programs.
However, critics ripped those proposals as merely cosmetic changes that would do little to alter the NSA programs.