Massenbach-Letter: NEWS 24/01/14

Massenbach-Letter

Udo von Massenbach

“A stronger relationship between the US and Europe, “an Atlantic perspective, not just a European or an American perspective.”

Guten Morgen.* Transcript of President Obama’s Jan. 17 speech on NSA reforms *WSJ: Obama’s Political Surveillance *

Defense Industry Daily: US Army to Institutionalize Human Domain into Its Doctrine *

The Hill: WH works to convince Dems to give Obama ‘fast track’ on trade *

Massenbach* Italy Warns of Continued Security Threat

WASHINGTON AND ROME — Italy’s defense minister has warned that criminal groups with potential links to terrorism are profiting from running migrant vessels across the Mediterranean to European shores and is calling on the US to keep focused on resurgent Islamic terrorism in the region.

Mario Mauro told a small group of reporters that Italy is using drones and submarines to counter the profitable trafficking of migrants from North Africa, which was potentially bankrolling terrorism.

“European governments and public opinion see this as a problem of illegal immigration — this is not my vision,” Mauro said during a trip to Washington last week to see US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel.

“My thinking is that the situation is linked to the problem of international security and the security of the Mediterranean,” he said.

Mauro and Hagel — who also discussed Afghanistan and the Joint Strike Fighter program — agreed to raise the Mediterranean refugee issue at the upcoming NATO Military Committee meeting in Brussels this month.

The traditional flow of migrants from Africa to Italy, usually on ramshackle boats that head for the Italian island of Lampedusa, has stepped up in recent years, initially boosted by an outpouring of migrants from Tunisia, and more recently from Syria. Migrants also make the arduous desert crossing from Sub-Saharan Africa through Libya, where they have often been jailed and tortured before being allowed to board boats.

After hundreds of migrants drowned last year when their boats sank, the Italian Navy mounted regular patrols to pull people off unseaworthy, overcrowded vessels.

Mauro said the normal flow of boats from Libya is being augmented by sailings from Egypt organized by “criminal multinational organizations,” which had handled 25,000 paying passengers in the past year, the majority fleeing the war in Syria.

Traffickers are using mother ships, he said, which would tow smaller and less seaworthy vessels to within about 200 kilometers of the Italian coast, at which point about 1,000 passengers would be loaded onto the smaller vessels and released.

On one occasion, an Italian submarine surfaced 100 meters from a mother ship, allowing Italian special operations forces to board it and arrest the traffickers, he said.

With each passenger paying around $3,000, each sailing was netting about $3 million, he said, with proceeds heading to international criminal organizations, not excluding some possible links with terrorist groups in Syria and Somalia.

“The problem is not just illegal migration but international security,” Mauro said. “It’s important that the US understands better what is going on in the Mediterranean.” In Libya, he added, it is hard to tell the difference between criminal and terrorist groups involved in trafficking.

“There are 28 brigades that call themselves jihadists, but they are often criminals,” he said. South of the Libyan border, he added, “chaos” reigns, with thousands of terrorists at large. Mauro said he believes the ships could also have been used to ferry terrorists into Europe.

“I was in Kosovo where I learned that about 500 Kosovars who had been involved in the Syrian war were coming home. How can we discover if they are in these boats?” he said. Right now, he added, the Italian Navy is receiving assistance in its patrols from the Navy of Slovenia.

“Lampedusa is the border of Europe, not just Italy,” he said. “We are convinced that Europe has to do more to guarantee security in the Mediterranean.”

Robert Fox, an independent UK defense analyst, said “Libya left a conduit open which will be a channel for al-Qaida into Europe, and this means Afghan veterans, not just a loose alliance of African groups. If the US is still interested in security, it needs to stay focused on the Mediterranean.”

Mauro also warned of the potential of the Syrian war to spill over into Lebanon, stating, “Hezbollah is now fighting an offensive war for the first time, which is very dangerous,” while in Syria, “there are Chechen and Yemeni brigades as well as Saudi fighters, as well as Sunni rebels fighting each other due to different backers and different visions of Islam. And with the jihadists losing, there is the problem of a spill over into Iraq.”

During their meeting, Hagel and Mauro discussed the Middle East and Italy’s offer of the Calabrian port of Gioia Tauro for the switching of Syria’s chemical weapon stockpile from Danish and Norwegian vessels to a US ship configured to neutralize the weapons at sea.

Tension and violence in the Middle East will not vanish, Mauro said.

“The results of the last 10 years suggest we will live with this situation for a long time,” he said. “I am determined to convince our allies to share a long-term common vision, and we probably need a new strategy for the area and one crucial element is the role of the US.”

That, he said, requires a stronger relationship between the US and Europe, “an Atlantic perspective, not just a European or an American perspective.”

And that, in turn, requires a stronger Europe, he said. “We need more Europe, and that means we can guarantee the US it will be less alone facing an international crisis. A more united Europe is a good opportunity for the US,” he said.

But that requires more coordination of fractured defense spending — Europe’s apparently unresolvable problem.

“This was discussed at the EU summit in December for the first time in five years,” Mauro said. “Without a common strategy of defense, there is no guarantee for the political project which is the European Union.” ■

http://www.defensenews.com/article/20140120/DEFREG01/301200031

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Senate report faults State Dept for not thwarting Benghazi attack

DEBKAfile January 15, 2014, 7:13 PM (IST)

A bipartisan US Senate panel takes the State Department and US intelligence community to task for tailing to thwart the Sept. 11, 2012 attacks on US outposts in Benghazi, saying that the attacks were “preventable.”

Four Americans were killed in the raid, including Ambassador Chris Stevens. The Senate Intelligence Committee reported that security should have been – and was not – upgraded, despite extensive intelligence reporting on terrorist activity in Libya threatening Western targets, and given the known security shortfalls at the UN mission. The panel’s findings mirror the report made by an independent review board in Dec. 2012. Nevertheless, the Obama administration to this day declines to discuss details of the episode. It occurred when Hillary Clinton served as Secretary of State.

http://www.debka.com/newsupdate/6942/

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Policy= res publica

Freudenberg-Pilster* Migrants are different from the average – but does it matter?

Posted on January 20, 2014 by IZA Press

US-Mexican border

Migrant self-selection – the question who migrates and who does not – is one of the most fundamental issues in the study of migration and often appears in the political discussion on skill-selective migration policies. But despite the vast evidence of the existence of migrant self-selection, its consequences are far from clear. Does it really matter who leaves a country? And if so, who is most affected? A new IZA Discussion Paper by Costanza Biavaschi and Benjamin Elsner answers these questions by estimating the impact of migrant self-selection on welfare in the sending and receiving countries. The authors compare GDP per capita under the observed migration pattern to a simulated scenario, in which the skills of the migrants resemble those of the home population, while the number of migrants remains constant.

Two episodes of mass migration to the US serve as examples: the migration from Norway in the 1880s and the migration from Mexico in the 2000s. Norwegian emigrants were positively selected – they had higher skills than people who stayed in Norway – whereas Mexican emigrants were negatively selected. In both periods, the authors find virtually no aggregate effect in the US, while the effects are large in the sending countries: migrant selection decreases Norwegian GDP by 0.3%, and increases Mexican GDP by almost 1%. 1% may not seem like a large impact at first, but the authors show that it is as large as the difference in GDP per capita between zero migration and the current level of migration.

Yet, self-selection only matters if a number of conditions are met. The migration flow has to significantly change the population size, and the skills of migrants have to be sufficiently different from those of stayers. This was the case in Mexico, but not in Norway. In the US, the effect is zero due to the low transferability of migrant skills. Mexican immigrants are so heavily concentrated at the lower end of the US skill distribution that an improvement of their skills due to a more positive skill selection would not have any aggregate effect in the US.

Overall, the results suggest that it matters who migrates, but only for the sending countries, and only under certain conditions. Unless the level of immigration is much larger than it is today, migrant selection has no impact on GDP per capita in the receiving countries.

Read abstract or download discussion paper.

http://newsroom.iza.org/en/2014/01/20/does-the-selection-of-migrants-matter/

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Politics: From Vision to Action

Barandat* US Army to Institutionalize Human Domain into Its Doctrine

General Robert Cone, commanding general of US Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC), wants the fact that US troops were not exactly greeted with rose petals in Iraq to sink in. The integration of “engagement” and consideration for “human terrain” skills into Strategic Landpower doctrinal work should counterbalance a natural American tendency to see everything through the prism of technology.

http://www.defenseindustrydaily.com/?utm_campaign=newsletter&utm_medium=textlink&utm_term=header

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Suter* First up, then down: life satisfaction of young adults

Posted on January 17, 2014 by IZA Press

Early adulthood is a time of important transitions that shape the future of young adults. How do these transitions affect well-being, and to what degree can they account for the life satisfaction path followed during young adulthood? To answer these questions, Malgorzata Switek analyzes data on Swedish young adults between 22 and 40 years of age and relates the observed changes in well-being to the main life transitions undergone during that period. She finds that life satisfaction increases in the 20s, peaks at age 30 to 32 and declines thereafter. The paper shows that common transitions can explain this life satisfaction pattern, which looks like the inverted letter U: Between ages 22 through 30, most young adults form partnerships – either by marriage or cohabitation – start their first jobs and become parents. All these events are associated with increasing life satisfaction – especially with respect to the financial and family situation. Yet, after age 30 partnerships are more and more under strain: monetary burdens increase, and parenting older children seems to be more exhausting, which leads to an overall decline in life satisfaction.

Read abstract or download discussion paper.

http://newsroom.iza.org/en/2014/01/17/first-up-then-down-life-satisfaction-of-young-adults/

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Middle East

Middle East and Public Opinion.

How the Press shapes Opinions.

The Case of Syria.

American German Business Club Berlin * President Udo von Massenbach

Monday, 20th January 2014, 7 pm

Hotel Aquino – Tagungszentrum – Hannoversche Str. 5 b, 10115 Berlin

Keynote Speaker’": Dr. Rainer Hermann, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung – Middle East Desk

C:UsersUdo von MassenbachDocumentsAGBC EventsEvents 2014FestvortragHermann2014_0120.pdf

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Comment by STRATFOR: The Geopolitics of the Syrian Civil War

International diplomats will gather Jan. 22 in the Swiss town of Montreux to hammer out a settlement designed to end Syria’s three-year civil war. The conference, however, will be far removed from the reality on the Syrian battleground. Only days before the conference was scheduled to begin, a controversy threatened to engulf the proceedings after the United Nations invited Iran to participate, and Syrian rebel representatives successfully pushed for the offer to be rescinded. The inability to agree upon even who would be attending the negotiations is an inauspicious sign for a diplomatic effort that was never likely to prove very fruitful.

There are good reasons for deep skepticism. As Syrian President Bashar al Assad’s forces continue their fight to recover ground against the increasingly fratricidal rebel forces, there is little incentive for the regime, heavily backed by Iran and Russia, to concede power to its sectarian rivals at the behest of Washington, especially when the United States is already negotiating with Iran. Ali Haidar, an old classmate of al Assad’s from ophthalmology school and a long-standing member of Syria’s loyal opposition, now serving somewhat fittingly as Syria’s National Reconciliation Minister, captured the mood of the days leading up to the conference in saying "Don’t expect anything from Geneva II. Neither Geneva II, not Geneva III nor Geneva X will solve the Syrian crisis. The solution has begun and will continue through the military triumph of the state."

Widespread pessimism over a functional power-sharing agreement to end the fighting has led to dramatic speculation that Syria is doomed either to break into sectarian statelets or, as Haidar articulated, revert to the status quo, with the Alawites regaining full control and the Sunnis forced back into submission. Both scenarios are flawed. Just as international mediators will fail to produce a power-sharing agreement at this stage of the crisis, and just as Syria’s ruling Alawite minority will face extraordinary difficulty in gluing the state back together, there is also no easy way to carve up Syria along sectarian lines. A closer inspection of the land reveals why.

The Geopolitics of Syria

Before the 1916 Sykes-Picot agreement traced out an awkward assortment of nation-states in the Middle East, the name Syria was used by merchants, politicians and warriors alike to describe a stretch of land enclosed by the Taurus Mountains to the north, the Mediterranean to the west, the Sinai Peninsula to the south and the desert to the east. If you were sitting in 18th-century Paris contemplating the abundance of cotton and spices on the other side of the Mediterranean, you would know this region as the Levant — its Latin root "levare" meaning "to raise," from where the sun would rise in the east. If you were an Arab merchant traveling the ancient caravan routes in the Hejaz, or modern-day Saudi Arabia, facing the sunrise to the east, you would have referred to this territory in Arabic as Bilad al-Sham, or the "land to the left" of Islam’s holy sites on the Arabian Peninsula.

Whether viewed from the east or the west, the north or the south, Syria will always find itself in an unfortunate position surrounded by much stronger powers. The rich, fertile lands straddling Asia Minor and Europe around the Sea of Marmara to the north, the Nile River Valley to the south and the land nestled between the Tigris and the Euphrates rivers to the east give rise to larger and more cohesive populations. When a power in control of these lands went roaming for riches farther afield, they inevitably came through Syria, where blood was spilled, races were intermixed, religions were negotiated and goods were traded at a frenzied and violent pace.

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Consequently, only twice in Syria’s pre-modern history could this region claim to be a sovereign and independent state: during the Hellenistic Seleucid dynasty, based out of Antioch (the city of Antakya in modern-day Turkey) from 301 to 141 B.C., and during the Umayyad Caliphate, based out of Damascus, from A.D. 661 to 749. Syria was often divided or subsumed by its neighbors, too weak, internally fragmented and geographically vulnerable to stand its own ground. Such is the fate of a borderland.

Unlike the Nile Valley, Syria’s geography lacks a strong, natural binding element to overcome its internal fissures. An aspiring Syrian state not only needs a coastline to participate in sea trade and guard against sea powers, but also a cohesive hinterland to provide food and security. Syria’s rugged geography and patchwork of minority sects have generally been a major hindrance to this imperative.

Syria’s long and extremely narrow coastline abruptly transforms into a chain of mountains and plateaus. Throughout this western belt, pockets of minorities, including Alawites, Christians and Druze, have sequestered themselves, equally distrustful of outsiders from the west as they are of local rulers to the east, but ready to collaborate with whomever is most likely to guarantee their survival. The long mountain barrier then descends into broad plains along the Orontes River Valley and the Bekaa Valley before rising sharply once again along the Anti-Lebanon range, the Hawran plateau and the Jabal al-Druze mountains, providing more rugged terrain for persecuted sects to hunker down and arm themselves.

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Just west of the Anti-Lebanon mountains, the Barada river flows eastward, giving rise to a desert oasis also known as Damascus. Protected from the coast by two mountain chains and long stretches of desert to the east, Damascus is essentially a fortress city and a logical place to make the capital. But for this fortress to be a capital worthy of regional respect, it needs a corridor running westward across the mountains to Mediterranean ports along the ancient Phoenician (or modern-day Lebanese) coast, as well as a northward route across the semi-arid steppes, through Homs, Hama and Idlib, to Aleppo.

The saddle of land from Damascus to the north is relatively fluid territory, making it an easier place for a homogenous population to coalesce than the rugged and often recalcitrant coastline. Aleppo sits alongside the mouth of the Fertile Crescent, a natural trade corridor between Anatolia to the north, the Mediterranean (via the Homs Gap) to the west and Damascus to the south. While Aleppo has historically been vulnerable to dominant Anatolian powers and can use its relative distance to rebel against Damascus from time to time, it remains a vital economic hub for any Damascene power.

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Finally, jutting east from the Damascus core lie vast stretches of desert, forming a wasteland between Syria and Mesopotamia. This sparsely populated route has long been traveled by small, nomadic bands of men — from caravan traders to Bedouin tribesmen to contemporary jihadists — with few attachments and big ambitions.

Demography by Design

The demographics of this land have fluctuated greatly, depending on the prevailing power of the time. Christians, mostly Eastern Orthodox, formed the majority in Byzantine Syria. The Muslim conquests that followed led to a more diverse blend of religious sects, including a substantial Shiite population. Over time, a series of Sunni dynasties emanating from Mesopotamia, the Nile Valley and Asia Minor made Syria the Sunni-majority region that it is today. While Sunnis came to heavily populate the Arabian Desert and the saddle of land stretching from Damascus to Aleppo, the more protective coastal mountains were meanwhile peppered with a mosaic of minorities. The typically cult-like minorities forged fickle alliances and were always on the lookout for a more distant sea power they could align with to balance against the dominant Sunni forces of the hinterland.

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The French, who had the strongest colonial links to the Levant, were masters of the minority manipulation strategy, but that approach also came with severe consequences that endure to this day. In Lebanon, the French favored Maronite Christians, who came to dominate Mediterranean sea trade out of bustling port cities such as Beirut at the expense of poorer Sunni Damascene merchants. France also plucked out a group known as the Nusayris living along the rugged Syrian coast, rebranded them as Alawites to give them religious credibility and stacked them in the Syrian military during the French mandate.

When the French mandate ended in 1943, the ingredients were already in place for major demographic and sectarian upheaval, culminating in the bloodless coup by Hafiz al Assad in 1970 that began the highly irregular Alawite reign over Syria. With the sectarian balance now tilting toward Iran and its sectarian allies, France’s current policy of supporting the Sunnis alongside Saudi Arabia against the mostly Alawite regime that the French helped create has a tinge of irony to it, but it fits within a classic balance-of-power mentality toward the region.

Setting Realistic Expectations

The delegates discussing Syria this week in Switzerland face a series of irreconcilable truths that stem from the geopolitics that have governed this land since antiquity.

The anomaly of a powerful Alawite minority ruling Syria is unlikely to be reversed anytime soon. Alawite forces are holding their ground in Damascus and steadily regaining territory in the suburbs. Lebanese militant group Hezbollah is meanwhile following its sectarian imperative to ensure the Alawites hold onto power by defending the traditional route from Damascus through the Bekaa Valley to the Lebanese coast, as well as the route through the Orontes River Valley to the Alawite Syrian coast. So long as the Alawites can hold Damascus, there is no chance of them sacrificing the economic heartland.

It is thus little wonder that Syrian forces loyal to al Assad have been on a northward offensive to retake control of Aleppo. Realizing the limits to their own military offensive, the regime will manipulate Western appeals for localized cease-fires, using a respite in the fighting to conserve its resources and make the delivery of food supplies to Aleppo contingent on rebel cooperation with the regime. In the far north and east, Kurdish forces are meanwhile busy trying to carve out their own autonomous zone against mounting constraints, but the Alawite regime is quite comfortable knowing that Kurdish separatism is more of a threat to Turkey than it is to Damascus at this point.

The fate of Lebanon and Syria remain deeply intertwined. In the mid-19th century, a bloody civil war between Druze and Maronites in the densely populated coastal mountains rapidly spread from Mount Lebanon to Damascus. This time around, the current is flowing in reverse, with the civil war in Syria now flooding Lebanon. As the Alawites continue to gain ground in Syria with aid from Iran and Hezbollah, a shadowy amalgam of Sunni jihadists backed by Saudi Arabia will become more active in Lebanon, leading to a steady stream of Sunni-Shiite attacks that will keep Mount Lebanon on edge.

The United States may be leading the ill-fated peace conference to reconstruct Syria, but it doesn’t really have any strong interests there. The depravity of the civil war itself compels the United States to show that it is doing something constructive, but Washington’s core interest for the region at the moment is to preserve and advance a negotiation with Iran. This goal sits at odds with a publicly stated U.S. goal to ensure al Assad is not part of a Syrian transition, and this point may well be one of many pieces in the developing bargain between Washington and Tehran. However, al Assad holds greater leverage so long as his main patron is in talks with the United States, the only sea power currently capable of projecting significant force in the eastern Mediterranean.

Egypt, the Nile Valley power to the south, is wholly ensnared in its own internal problems. So is Turkey, the main power to the north, which is now gripped in a public and vicious power struggle that leaves little room for Turkish adventurism in the Arab world. That leaves Saudi Arabia and Iran as the main regional powers able to directly manipulate the Syrian sectarian battleground. Iran, along with Russia, which shares an interest in preserving relations with the Alawites and thus its access to the Mediterranean, will hold the upper hand in this conflict, but the desert wasteland linking Syria to Mesopotamia is filled with bands of Sunni militants eager for Saudi backing to tie down their sectarian rivals.

And so the fighting will go on. Neither side of the sectarian divide is capable of overwhelming the other on the battlefield and both have regional backers that will fuel the fight. Iran will try to use its relative advantage to draw the Saudi royals into a negotiation, but a deeply unnerved Saudi Arabia will continue to resist as long as Sunni rebels still have enough fight in them to keep going. Fighters on the ground will regularly manipulate appeals for cease-fires spearheaded by largely disinterested outsiders, all while the war spreads deeper into Lebanon. The Syrian state will neither fragment and formalize into sectarian statelets nor reunify into a single nation under a political settlement imposed by a conference in Geneva. A mosaic of clan loyalties and the imperative to keep Damascus linked to its coastline and economic heartland — no matter what type of regime is in power in Syria — will hold this seething borderland together, however tenuously.

http://www.stratfor.com/weekly/geopolitics-syrian-civil-war?utm_source=freelist-f&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=20140121&utm_term=Gweekly&utm_content=readmore

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*Massenbach’s

Recommendation*

WSJ: Obama’s Political Surveillance

He proposes to change antiterror programs that he admits are necessary and haven’t been abused.

Jan. 17, 2014 6:38 p.m. ET

President Obama finally joined the surveillance debate on Friday with a conflicted address, and perhaps it would have been better had he stayed out. His new antiterror proposals will do little to secure American privacy but they might make the country less safe.

Rhetorically Mr. Obama tried to satisfy all sides, meaning he fishtailed between irreconcilable positions. There’s what the President knows to be the reality that these programs are valuable and haven’t been abused. Then there are the critics that he is attempting to appease lest they succeed at turning Congress and the public against the programs.

Mr. Obama could rally enough support on Capitol Hill to retain the programs if he wanted, and such an appeal would include some of his Friday highlights: The world is more dangerous than ever due to "threats like terrorism, proliferation and cyber-attacks," and post-9/11 surveillance has "prevented multiple attacks and saved innocent lives, not just here but around the globe as well." Nothing suggests that "our intelligence community has sought to violate the law or is cavalier about the civil liberties of their fellow citizens." All of this is true.

But Mr. Obama then argues that the National Security Agency must be more constrained because of "the danger of government overreach." The most state-aggrandizing President since LBJ, and man who won’t discipline the IRS for its abuses, also invoked America’s "traditions of limited government." This is doubly ironic given that the White House widely leaked to reporters that Mr. Obama believes he can be trusted with the surveillance status quo but a future Republican can’t.

Thus Mr. Obama announced that he will pursue or impose changes to NSA practice that he implicitly concedes are unnecessary. Rarely has national defense been so needlessly politicized.

Mr. Obama asked Congress to end the bulk collection of telephone metadata by government, even as he explained that the program would be vital "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." Some third party will do the job instead, and the NSA will only conduct individual searches with court approval.

Mr. Obama never explained why a nonprofit consortium would be more trustworthy, secure or less prone to political spying than the NSA, nor why privacy would be any more protected. Let’s hope the folks behind Target’s cyber security aren’t hired to do the job. The result of these changes could be that Chinese hackers will have better access to U.S. metadata than the NSA.

The Attorney General will also ask the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to start reviewing all metadata queries during the "transition" to this third-party system. Come again? The judiciary is vested with the power to arbitrate cases under laws passed by Congress, not create ad hoc policy with the executive, so this is one more example of presidential buckpassing.

The President says the NSA will abandon its standard practice of following suspicious phone call patterns over three "hops," or phone calls of separation, and instead go with merely two. He offered no rationale for not following as far as the data lead, so this is also a win for politics and terror cells three steps removed from a tip.

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President Barack Obama Associated Press

The worst idea is what he called "the unprecedented step" of extending privacy rights to foreigners, and he’s right about unprecedented. Heads of state deemed friendly will enjoy immunity from U.S. eavesdropping as their spooks continue to spy on the U.S., while other still-to-be-devised protections like those that used to apply only domestically will flow overseas to non-U.S. nationals. This will have no reciprocal benefit since no other intelligence service will believe the U.S. would be so dumb as to hamstring itself this way.

Even when he defended the NSA, Mr. Obama couldn’t resist his moralizing impulses. He observed that "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."

To say that an evil communist dictatorship explains anything about a self-governing, politically accountable democracy is insulting to Americans. No wonder our intelligence personnel are increasingly demoralized. Such rhetoric merely empowers the paranoids and incendiaries, who still say his reforms are inadequate because they don’t kill surveillance altogether.

The saving grace will have to be Congress, believe it or not. Speaker John Boehner responded with a 115-word statement that was far more eloquent than Mr. Obama’s 43-minute speech, declaring that the House "will not erode the operational integrity of critical programs that have helped keep America safe." His fellow Republicans should follow that lead.

http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702304603704579326461550904766?mg=reno64-wsj&url=http%3A%2F%2Fonline.wsj.com%2Farticle%2FSB10001424052702304603704579326461550904766.html

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Transcript of President Obama’s Jan. 17 speech on NSA reforms

Updated: Friday, January 17, 6:19 PM

President Obama delivered the following remarks on changes to National Security Agency programs Jan. 17 at the Justice Department in Washington. Transcript courtesy of Federal News Service.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Thank you very much. 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 Confederate armies by counting the number of campfires. In World War II, codebreakers gave us insights into Japanese war plans. And when Patton marched across Europe, intercepted communications helped save the lives of his troops.

After the war, the rise of 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, or NSA, to give us insights into the Soviet Bloc and provide our leaders with information they needed to confront aggression and avert catastrophe.

Throughout this evolution, we benefited 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 probably 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 had been reminded that the very liberties that we sought to preserve could not be sacrificed at the altar of national security.

Now, if the fall of the Soviet Union left America without a competing superpower, emerging threats from terrorist groups and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction place 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 new 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 ideological — 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 traveled 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 than 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 policymakers.

Instead, they were now asked to identify and target plotters is some of the most remote parts of the world and to anticipate the actions of networks that, by their very nature, could not be easily penetrated by 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 engage 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 courts, increased congressional oversight and adjustments by the previous administration, some of the worst excesses that emerged 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-Qaida (sale ?) in Yemen or an email 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 supercomputers 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 danger 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 laws.

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 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. And we’ve 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’re not abusing authorities in order to listen to your private phone calls or read your emails.

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 in the use of drones in the fight against terrorist networks, I believe 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 that within weeks of my speech an avalanche of unauthorized disclosures would spark controversies at home and abroad that have continued 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 in which these disclosures have come out has often shed more heat than light, while revealing methods to our adversaries that could impact our operations in ways that we might 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 our ideals and our 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 cyberattacks 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 America 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 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 diffuse 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 cyberthreats without some capability to penetrate digital communications, whether it’s to unravel a terrorist plot, to intercept malware that targets a stock exchange, to make sure air traffic control systems are not compromised or to ensure that 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 is a reason why BlackBerrys and iPhones are not allowed in the White House Situation Room. We know that the intelligence services of other countries, including some who feigned 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 emails and compromise our systems. We know that. Meanwhile, a number of countries, including some who have loudly criticized the NSA, privately acknowledge that America has special responsibilities as the world’s only superpower, that our intelligence capabilities are critical to meeting these responsibilities and that they themselves have relied on the information we obtained to protect their own people.

Second, just as our civil libertarians recognized 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’re 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 to privacy that exist in a world where transactions are recorded and email and text and messages are stored and even our movements can increasingly be tracked through 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 government alone. Corporations of all shapes and sizes track what you buy, store and analyze our data and use it for commercial purposes. That’s how those targeted ads pop up on your computer and your 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 have emerged over the last several months. Those who are troubled by our existing programs not interested in repeating the tragedy of 9/11. And those who defend these programs are not dismissive of civil liberties. The challenge is getting the details right. And that is not simple.

In fact, during the course of our review, I’ve often reminded myself I would not be where I am today were it not for the courage of dissidents like 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.

Now, fortunately, by focusing on facts and specifics rather than speculating 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 signals 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 that 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 702 program targeting foreign individuals overseas and the Section 215 telephone metadata program.

And 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 communications of foreign targets overseas who have information that’s 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 of 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 these past 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 provide a record of phone numbers and the times and length of calls, metadata 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? The program grew out of a desire to address a gap identified after 9/11. One of the 9/11 hijackers, Khalid al-Mihdhar, made a phone call from San Diego to a known al- Qaida safehouse 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 metadata program under Section 215 was designed to map the communications of terrorists so we could 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’re 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 metadata program as it currently exists and establish a mechanism that preserves the capabilities we need without the government holding this bulk metadata.

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 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 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 with a terrorist organization, instead of the current three, and I have directed 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 have 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 metadata itself. They will report back to me with options for alternative approaches before the program comes up for reauthorization on March 28th. And 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. And 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 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’ve proposed. On all these issues, I’m open to working with Congress to ensure that we build a broad consensus for how to move forward. And I’m confident that we can shape an approach that meets our security needs while upholding the civil liberties of every 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 balance 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 to our 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 the emails 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 gender 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.

And in terms of our bulk collection of signals intelligence, U.S. intelligence agencies will only use such data to meet specific security requirements: counterintelligence; counterterrorism; counterproliferation; cybersecurity; force protection for our troops and our allies; and combating transnational crime, including sanctions evasion.

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 that 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 and that 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 has received, I’ve 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 our coordination and 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 nation does. 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 that 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 these reforms, I’m making some 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 we use to handle foreign requests for legal assistance, keeping our high standards for privacy while helping foreign partners fight crime and terrorism.

I’ve also asked my counselor, John Podesta, to lead a comprehensive review of big data and privacy. And this group will consist of government officials who, along with the President’s Council of Advisers on Science and Technology, will reach out to privacy experts, technologists and business leaders and look how the challenges inherent in big data are being confronted by both the public and private 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 in every country in the world, or to forge bonds with people on the other side of the globe, technology is remaking what is possible for individuals and for institutions and for the international order. So while the reforms that I’ve announced will point us in a new direction, I am mindful that more work will be needed in the future. On 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 in 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 totalitarianism and fascism and communism, the world expects us to stand up for the principle that every person 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. May God bless the United States of America. Thank you. (Applause.) Thank you. Thank you.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/full-text-of-president-obamas-jan-17-speech-on-nsa-reforms/2014/01/17/fa33590a-7f8c-11e3-9556-4a4bf7bcbd84_print.html

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WH works to convince Dems to give Obama ‘fast track’ on trade

The White House is making a major push to convince Congress to give the president trade promotion authority, which would make it easier for President Obama to negotiate pacts with other countries.

A flurry of meetings has taken place in recent days since legislation was introduced to give the president the authority, with U.S. Trade Representative Mike Froman meeting with approximately 70 lawmakers on both sides of the aisle in the House and Senate.

White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough has also been placing calls and meeting with key Democratic lawmakers in recent days to discuss trade and other issues.

Republicans have noticed a change in the administration’s interest in the issue, which is expected to be a part of Obama’s State of the Union address in one week.

While there was “a lack of engagement,” as one senior Republican aide put it, there is now a new energy from the White House since the bill dropped.

The effort to get Congress to grant Obama trade promotion authority comes as the White House seeks to complete trade deals with the European Union and a group of Asian and Latin American countries as part of the Trans-Pacific Partnership or TPP.

The authority would put time limits on congressional consideration of those deals, and prevent the deals from being amended by Congress. That would give the administration more leverage with trading partners in its negotiations.

The trade push dovetails with the administration’s efforts to raise the issue of income inequality ahead of the 2014 midterm elections. The White House is pressing Republicans to raise the minimum wage and to extend federal unemployment benefits.

The difference is that on the minimum wage hike and unemployment issue, Obama has willing partners in congressional Democrats and unions, who are more skeptical of free trade. Republicans are more the willing partner on backing trade promotion authority.

Legislation introduced last week to give Obama trade promotion authority was sponsored by Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.), as well as Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), the ranking member on Finance.

No House Democrats are co-sponsoring the bill, however, and Rep. Sander Levin (D-Mich.), the Ways and Means ranking member, and Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.), the panel’s former chairman, have both criticized it. They said the legislation doesn’t give enough leverage and power to Congress during trade negotiations.

Getting TPA passed would be a major victory for the administration and one that would please business groups, but the White House will first have to convince Democrats to go along with it.

One senior administration official said the White House has been in dialogue with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle “with a real focus on Democrats” to explain TPA and take into account their concerns.

“Any trade matter presents challenges,” the senior administration official said, adding that the White House officials are “devoted” to working with members on the issue.

The Democratic opposition makes it highly unlikely that the trade promotion authority bill, in its current form at least, will go anywhere.

One big problem is that it was negotiated by Baucus, who is about to leave the Senate to become ambassador to China.

Baucus will be replaced by Sen. Ron Wyden (Ore.), who is said to disagree with the approach taken by his predecessor. Democratic aides predict that the legislation, which Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) called “controversial” last week, will have to be completely redone to gain traction among lawmakers in their party.

Some Democrats may see a disconnect between the White House’s push for trade, and it’s separate push on income inequality, which has been embraced by the party.

But that doesn’t mean the White House won’t ramp up their focus on trade in the coming weeks and months.

Senior congressional aides expect trade to be a part of Obama’s upcoming State of the Union address since the White House has made clear that the trade bill is a priority and that the TPP trade pact is a key part of the administration’s overall jobs agenda, in terms of increasing exports and opening markets.

“This is a priority of the president’s,” White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters last week. “It’s part of a broad approach to expanding exports and, you know, creating more opportunities for our businesses to grow. And we’re going to continue to push for it.”

In the same vein, House Republicans will continue to increase pressure on the administration to get Democrats on board.

“The White House carries the weight on this,” one senior House aide said.

http://thehill.com/homenews/administration/195858-white-house-works-to-convince-dems-to-give-obama-fast-track-on-trade

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