‘‘When you wake up every morning and get a PDB that outlines all the threats to the United States, it’s a daily reminder of the things we need to do to protect the United States,’’ Tommy Vietor, Obama’s former National Security Council spokesman, said referring to the President’s Daily Brief of intelligence data.
Politically, Obama has benefited from his counterterrorism policies, particularly the 2011 killing of Osama bin Laden. During his re-election campaign last year, Obama got high approval ratings in public opinion polls for his record on national security.
And despite the stir caused by the NSA’s acquisition of phone records, members of Congress, particularly those who serve on the House and Senate Intelligence committees, have been regularly apprised of the program in secret briefings. Many Democrats and Republicans defended the practice.
‘‘This is a program that’s been in effect for seven years, as I recall,’’ Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said. ‘‘It’s a program that has worked to prevent not all terrorism but certainly the vast, vast majority. Now is the program perfect? Of course not.’’
The Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Mike Rogers of Michigan, said the program within the last few years stopped a terrorist attack in the U.S. He did not elaborate, but added: ‘‘It is a very valuable thing. It’s legal. It’s been authorized by Congress, judicial oversight and review.’’
Indeed, only a handful of lawmakers have raised public objections, but until now they had been couched because briefings on the matter are classified.
One of those critics, Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., said the public should know whether the Patriot Act is being interpreted narrowly or broadly by the administration and by the secret courts authorized by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
‘‘The document publicized yesterday certainly suggests that the secret interpretation of the law is much more like a barn door,’’ Merkley said in an interview.
Merkley said he asked the Justice Department in December to declassify the opinions of the FISA court so Congress could debate whether to narrow the standards used to gather information. He said he has not received a reply.
‘‘The response is totally inadequate,’’ he said.
Follow Jim Kuhnhenn on Twitter: http://twitter.com/jkuhnhenn