Opinion

David Rohde

Obama’s overdue reckoning on secrecy

David Rohde
Jun 7, 2013 17:01 UTC

President Barack Obama on the White House South Lawn in Washington, June 6, 2013. REUTERS/Larry Downing

All day Thursday, officials from across the political spectrum scrambled to explain reports in the Guardian and Washington Post of unprecedented government collection of phone and Internet records.

James R. Clapper, director of National Intelligence, issued a rare public statement confirming the existence of a classified phone program but said it did not involve the surveillance of American citizens. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), chairwoman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Committee, asserted that the government needed the information to catch those who might become a terrorist.

Senator Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), the ranking member and vice chairman of the intelligence committee, described the program as “meritorious” because it allows government to collect information about “bad guys.”

On Friday, President Barack Obama defended the effort as well. Obama said that he and his aides had concluded that “modest encroachments on privacy” were “worth us doing” to protect the country.

How Obama’s drone war is backfiring

David Rohde
Mar 1, 2012 17:16 UTC

This essay was originally published in the March/April issue of Foreign Policy.

When Barack Obama took the oath of office three years ago, no one associated the phrase “targeted killing” with his optimistic young presidency. In his inaugural address, the 47-year-old former constitutional law professor uttered the word “terror” only once. Instead, he promised to use technology to “harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories.”

Oddly, technology has enabled Obama to become something few expected: a president who has dramatically expanded the executive branch’s ability to wage high-tech clandestine war. With a determination that has surprised many, Obama has embraced the CIA, expanded its powers and approved more targeted killings than any modern president. Over the last three years, the Obama administration has carried out at least 239 covert drone strikes, more than five times the 44 approved under George W. Bush. And after promising to make counterterrorism operations more transparent and rein in executive power, Obama has arguably done the opposite, maintaining secrecy and expanding presidential authority.

Just as importantly, the administration’s excessive use of drone attacks undercuts one of its most laudable policies: a promising new post-9/11 approach to the use of lethal American force, one of multilateralism, transparency and narrow focus.

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