President Barack Obama’s speech on Friday on intelligence reform marked a bullish shift in his approach to the National Security Agency.
The president dropped the pretense that there was “nothing to see here” — which his administration has offered since former government contractor Edward Snowden first revealed the NSA.’s expanding surveillance. Obama now acknowledges that there are problems to be solved. Yet his reforms boiled down to “trust me.”
While Obama did announce several new ways to increase accountability at the NSA, most were limited to executive actions. So the president basically changed his mind about the limits that he wants to place on his own powers. That means he can just as easily change his mind again and reverse course. So can the next president.
You can see why this kind of unitary “reform” is so attractive to the executive branch.
It offers self-control where our Constitution typically requires separation of powers. The president pledges that he will simply hold back — without the intrusion of new federal laws.