Catching up with Obama and Putin

Since the first disclosures based on documents provided by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, President Barack Obama has offered his own defenses of the programs. But not all of the president's claims have stood up to scrutiny.

Here are some of the misleading assertions he has made.

"There have not been actual instances where it's been alleged that the NSA in some ways acted inappropriately in the use of this data .There had not been evidence, and there continues not to be evidence that the particular program had been abused in how it was used."

In fact, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court has reprimanded the NSA for abuses both in warrantless surveillance targeting people abroad, and in bulk domestic phone records collection. In 2011, the Court found that for three years, the NSA had been collecting tens of thousands of domestic emails and other communications in violation of the 4th Amendment.

"We know of at least 50 threats that have been averted because of this information not just in the United States, but, in some cases, threats here in Germany. So lives have been saved."

The record is far less clear. Obama's own review group concluded that the sweeping phone records collection program has not prevented any terrorist attacks. At this point, the only suspect the NSA says it identified using the phone records collection program is a San Diego cab driver convicted of sending money to terrorist in Somalia.

"We don't have a domestic spying program. What we do have are some mechanisms where we can track a phone number or an e-mail address that we know is connected to some sort of terrorist threat, and that information is useful."

The privacy standards suggest there is a "backdoor loophole" that allows the NSA to search for American communications. NSA critic Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said, "Once Americans' communications are collected, a gap in the law that I call the 'back-door searches loophole' allows the government to potentially go through these communications and conduct warrantless searches for the phone calls or emails of law-abiding Americans." It's not clear whether the NSA has actually used this "backdoor."

"I signed an executive order well before Mr. Snowden leaked this information that provided whistleblower protection to the intelligence community - for the first time. So there were other avenues available for somebody whose conscience was stirred and thought that they needed to question government actions."

Obama's presidential directive forbids agencies from retaliating against intelligence personnel who report waste, fraud and abuse. But the measure mentions only "employees," not contractors. What's more, the directive was not yet in effect at the time Snowden came forward. Weeks before the Olympic games begin,

And then there's Putin ...

Russian President Vladimir Putin sought to quell fears that gay athletes, delegates or fans will be discriminated against.

"In Russia, all people are absolutely equal regardless of their religion, sex, ethnicity, or sexual orientation,as opposed to one third of the world's countries, there is no criminal liability for homosexuality," Putin said on ABC's This Week Sunday. "Seventy countries of the world have criminal liability for homosexuality, and seven countries out of these 70 enforce death penalty for homosexuality."

However, while homosexuality is not outright criminal in Russia, there are many elements of de facto criminalization. Employers are not banned from discriminating based on sexual orientation. Russia's crackdown on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals, has become decidedly more aggressive in the last 12 months. Actions by Putin and the ruling United Russia party have further restricted the rights of gays and lesbians to peacefully demonstrate.


Chip Tuthill, Mancos