Obama seems to have found same answers as Bush on security
The news that Barack Obama continued the Bush administration's domestic telephone surveillance programme, then extended it to internet operators, is sparking new doubts about a president who campaigned as a champion of civil liberties and greater transparency.
"It's remarkable that the man who rode his way to the presidency by suggesting George Bush's anti-terrorism policies violated the constitution is emulating those policies himself," said Ari Fleischer, the former president's press secretary. "It's as if George Bush had gotten a fourth term."
Former US vice-president Al Gore took to Twitter to say: "Is it just me, or is secret blanket surveillance obscenely outrageous?"
The Guardian first reported on Wednesday that the FBI had obtained a secret court order compelling Verizon to hand over phone logs of all customers. Then The Guardian and The Washington Post revealed that the government was tapping directly into internet and computing firms to spy on customers. The reports, since confirmed by officials, said information is being collected directly from Facebook, Apple, Microsoft, Google, YouTube and Skype, among others.
The disclosures sent the White House into damage-control mode once again.
"It's just one event after another, each creating doubts and uncertainty about the core principles of this administration, and that's what's so dangerous about this," said Democratic pollster Peter Hart of the Washington-based Hart Research Associates. "It's a sense of government out of control."
Beyond the immediate furore, the episode was yet another indication that when it comes to national security and thwarting terrorist attacks, Obama has reached some of the same conclusions that Bush did.
"There isn't as much difference as the president originally suggested there would be - that's not right or wrong, it's just a fact," former Republican governor Tom Kean of New Jersey, who was co-chairman of the 9/11 Commission, said in an interview. For instance, he said neither Bush nor Obama followed through on the commission's recommendation to create a civil liberties panel at the White House that would weigh in on issues such as the Verizon order.
What has changed, Kean said, was that as a Democrat, Obama has faced less scrutiny for his counterterrorism policies than did his Republican predecessor.
"It's much easier for a Democratic president, because many of the civil libertarians are Democrats - although we have found some libertarians now on the Republican side who are willing to question these things," he said.
Obama's administration has acknowledged carrying out targeted killings with US drones and, although it has repeatedly promised to close the prison facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, it has yet to accomplish that goal.