• With: Matt Kaminski, Joe Rago, Dan Henninger, Bret Stephens

    This is a rush transcript from "Journal Editorial Report," January 18, 2014. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

    PAUL GIGOT, HOST: This week on the "Journal Editorial Report," President Obama moves to limit the NSA's surveillance powers. Will what he is proposing put America at risk?

    Plus, newly released health care enrollment numbers raise new concerns over just who is signing up and sending the administration scrambling to attract younger enrollees.

    And as the West gets set to implement the Iran Nuclear Accord, is the pact the surrender that Tehran claims it is or the window of opportunity President Obama hopes it will be.

    Welcome to the "Journal Editorial Report." I'm Paul Gigot.

    President Obama laid out his plan to curb the National Security Agency's once-secret surveillance programs on Friday, setting limits on the collection of foreign intelligence, appointing a public advocate for the FISA court, and making major changes to the agency's controversial collection of bulk telephone records. The president's speech comes after a months-long review of the agency's intelligence gathering practices, prompted by last year's leak of classified documents by former NSA analyst, Edward Snowden.

    Joining the panel this week, Wall Street Journal columnist and deputy editor, Dan Henninger; and editorial board members, Joe Rago and Matt Kaminski.

    So, Matt, what do you make of the proposals the president is making here?

    MATT KAMINSKI, EDITORIAL BOARD MEMBER: I think he's gone very far towards unilaterally disarming the U.S. --

    GIGOT: Really?

    KAMINSKI: -- on surveillance. Basically, since the Edward Snowden revelations six months ago, he's tried to straddle both lines, saying I want to satisfy the privacy concerns but I want keep our national security. I think the steps he's taken, especially on neutering this telephone collection program --

    GIGOT: Of metadata, which is not listening on phone calls.

    KAMINSKI: Not at all.

    GIGOT: But it's, if you call Joe, your number, his number, how long the call lasted, that sort of thing.

    KAMINSKI: Right. Right. He is also extending essentially constitutional protections to foreigners by saying their privacy concerns are as important as Americans' privacy concerns. The job of the spy agency is to spy on foreigners. Lastly, he's sort of complicating this already unwieldy judicial process of court oversight of the intelligence services, so there is more bureaucracy, more rules, and I think in the end U.S. is less safe.

    GIGOT: Joe, is there any precedent for providing privacy protections anywhere around the world to foreigners? Let me put it another way. Do the Chinese give you privacy protections when they are listening in on your e-mail?

    JOE RAGO, EDITORIAL BOARD MEMBER: Right. There's really --

    (LAUGHTER)

    GIGOT: I don't think so.

    RAGO: There is no precedent here. For all that Edward Snowden exposed, we haven't seen anything that violates international laws, international norms. These are core --

    GIGOT: Or the U.S. Constitution.

    RAGO: Right -- core Constitution national security powers that belong to the president. And it's just a remarkable extension here.

    DAN HENNINGER, COLUMNIST & DEPUTY EDITOR: When you think about it, Paul, it's gotten to the level of absurdity. We are talking about extending the privacy act to Vladimir Putin and the Chinese, which is laughable. But the problem is I think that the president has allowed it to get to this point. We have been having this argument for nearly a year since Edward Snowden made these revelations. The Snowden revelations have continued. The president --

    (CROSSTALK)

    GIGOT: And they are going to continue and continue.

    (CROSSTALK)

    HENNINGER: But President Obama has never stepped forward to make an argument on behalf of these surveillance techniques, why we do it. Instead, he allowed the problem to fester. It has gotten to this point. Then he appoints this commission --

    GIGOT: Right.

    HENNINGER: -- to make recommendations to him, at which point both sides are totally dug in on this issue. He's just made kind of a botch of it and come up with this set of solutions that aren't going to satisfy anyone.

    GIGOT: But if the White House were here, they would say, what are we going to do? The politics are such that we have to make these concessions in order to forestall even worse, a worse route on Capitol Hill. So we've got to do this. We are making tactical concessions. They're not that great. In fact, the left is going to still dislike them and criticize them, and even some Libertarians. So, but we are trying to thread the political needle here. Give me a break.

    HENNINGER: He's leading from behind. He's on defense. He should have been on offense much earlier than this. And I think we could have had a more productive outcome if he had been on offense.

    GIGOT: Matt, what is going to happen on Capitol Hill? You've got the chairman of the Intelligence Committee, Senate and House, Dianne Feinstein and Mr. Rogers, Joe Rogers (sic), that both say and defend these programs, say we need them. On the other hand, you've got other people who are much more critical. Who is going to win?

    KAMINSKI: I think just you wait until Congress gets involved. Because if a president signs executive orders, those can be reversed easily either by him or by a future president. But the Congress has really shown that we want to get in this game, too, politically.

    GIGOT: Right.

    KAMINSKI: They came close last summer to killing the NSA program and they will try again.

    GIGOT: But what is going to happen?

    KAMINSKI: I think they are very close to having -- because the president is being pinched by both sides. You have the traditional left and the kind of right fringe Libertarian --

    GIGOT: Right.

    KAMINSKI: -- who are coming together, and together they might be very close to a majority.