The following is my transcription of remarks made by Barack Obama at a news conference in the late afternoon of Wednesday, June 25, 2008, regarding the content of H.R. 6304, his decision to support that bill (also known as the FISA Amendments Act), and his acknowledged pledge to support the filibuster of such a bill during the presidential primary season.
Reporter: Senator, last January, you pledged to support a filibuster of a warrantless surveillance bill if it included retroactive immunity for telecommunications…
Senator Barack Obama: Right.
Reporter: Last week, the House passed a bill that effectively gives the telecoms that immunity. You said you would support it.
Reporter: And explaining the change, you said it was in light of the security threats facing the country. Could you explain how the security threats facing the country are any different than they were in January when you said you would support a filibuster?
Obama: Well, the bill has changed. So I don’t think the security threats have changed. I think the security threats are similar. My view on FISA has always been that the issue of the phone companies per se is not one that overrides the security interests of the American people. I do want accountability and making sure that, as I’ve said before, somebody’s watching the watchers. That you don’t have an administration that feels it can make its own determination about when warrantless wiretaps are applicable without going through a FISA court. And that’s what we had, that’s the system that we had previously.
If you look at why people were concerned about the original bill, it wasn’t that we wouldn’t be able to sue the phone companies. I would be happy with a system that discloses what happened and makes sure that we prevent violations of the American people’s privacy even if the phone companies are held harmless. The issue was, can we get to the bottom of what’s been taking place and most importantly do we have safeguards in place going into the future so that American civil liberties are not being violated.
It is a close call for me, but I think that the current legislation with the exclusivity provision that says that a president, whether it’s George Bush or myself or John McCain, can’t make up rationales for getting around the FISA court, can’t suggest that somehow there’s some law that stands above the laws passed by Congress in engaging in warrantless wiretaps. The fact that that provision is in there I think is very important and provides us protection going forward. The fact that that provision is in there I think is very important and provides us protection going forward.
I would like to follow up this transcript with two pieces of information that you will not see in the newspapers tomorrow, since the newspapers are largely ignoring the existence of H.R. 6304:
1. The text of the pledge given by the Obama campaign in October of 2007:
To be clear: Barack will support a filibuster of any bill that includes retroactive immunity for telecommunications companies.
This bill includes retroactive immunity for telecommunications companies. Despite Senator Obama’s protestations that “the bill has changed,” it has not changed in the very quality that the Obama campaign declared would trigger a filibuster on Obama’s part.
2. Despite Senator Obama’s protestations to the contrary, if you actually read H.R. 6304 you will find that there are provisions that supercede all other language in their sections. These provisions permit a president’s administration to engage in unlimited, warrantless electronic surveillance and physical searches of anyone for a seven day period, and for that administration to keep the results of such surveillance and search if the president’s administration decides that it is necessary, even if a FISA court declares that the surveillance or search was inappropriate. The FISA court is not given power to demand that the results of inappropriate surveillance and searches be deleted.
These two pieces of information render the content of Barack Obama’s statement today highly dubious.