While I do not have any personal insights regarding the President’s speech on NSA activities, I thought I’d share the opinions of others that might prove interesting or helpful in understanding the issues involved.
On Fox News Sunday, former NSA and CIA Director Michael Hayden gave what I thought was a concise and helpful 30,000-foot analysis of the President’s speech (though at the end of the segment on the subject of Iran he thread the needle of staying on the “right” side of Iranian hawks while not committing himself to supporting the current Senate sanctions bill, IMHO because he understands it does nothing to help the situation but doesn’t want to go on record…but that’s another topic).
On the afternoon of the President’s speech, several Brookings Institute experts provided their expert analysis on the various issues that are tied to the overall topic. Panelists that participated brought legal, privacy, counter-terrorism, and cyber defense points of view. [Note: Apologies for the technical difficulties, but I was unable to crop the video to start at the beginning of the panel. So you will either have to forward the video below to the 1:10:00 mark or go here directly to the Brookings page: http://www.brookings.edu/events/2014/01/17-obama-nsa-reforms-speech-privacy-commerce-national-security]
On a final, somewhat worrisome, note, here is a short blog post from noted security technologist Bruce Schneier on his briefing members of Congress on NSA activities:
This morning I spent an hour in a closed room with six Members of Congress: Rep. Lofgren, Rep. Sensenbrenner, Rep. Scott, Rep. Goodlate, Rep Thompson, and Rep. Amash. No staffers, no public: just them. Lofgren asked me to brief her and a few Representatives on the NSA. She said that the NSA wasn’t forthcoming about their activities, and they wanted me — as someone with access to the Snowden documents — to explain to them what the NSA was doing.
While it’s always a good idea for members of Congress to seek expert opinion outside of government, in this case it seems that they weren’t seeking context or subject matter expertise on a particular subject but rather a description of the activities of a particular government agency. This can’t be a good thing…