In a State of the Union speech that was top-heavy with domestic concerns, President Obama on January 28 touched upon the Intelligence Community and its vital role in defending the United States only fleetingly.
He cited “intelligence” in only two short paragraphs, and in each instance broke no new ground in terms of U.S. policy prescriptions.
Rather than dwell on the controversial NSA signals intelligence issue — which he explored in depth at a much-publicized speech at the Department of Justice on January 17 — Obama treated that hot topic somewhat off-handedly.
“Working with this Congress,” said the president, “I will reform surveillance programs because the vital work of our intelligence community depends on public confidence, here and abroad, that the privacy of ordinary people is not being violated.” He did not get into the thorny policy questions, which he has essentially passed along to Congress to debate.
In another reference to the role that intelligence-gathering plays in national security, the president again brought up one of his long-standing policy recommendations — to close the U.S. military’s prison for terrorism suspects at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba — and tried to put that subject in a broader context.
“With the Afghan war ending,” Obama told the assembled lawmakers, “this needs to be the year Congress lifts the remaining restrictions on detainee transfers and we close the prison at Guantanamo Bay — because we counter terrorism not just through intelligence and military actions, but by remaining true to our constitutional ideals and setting an example for the rest of the world.”