The Conversation

More on 'US persons'

I didn't see any way to bump yesterday's post about President Obama using the term "US persons" repeatedly during an interview on the NSA scandals, and I added an update that I didn't want to get lost in the shuffle, so here's a new post to get it to the top:

I've been told by a source with knowledge of intelligence-community lingo that "US person" is a term used within that community as a broad umbrella to cover both American citizens and, I gather, non-citizens within the United States who might be affected by intel-gathering efforts.  So the term is not a recent invention, and it could well be the term of choice used by people in the intelligence community while discussing a subject such as NSA surveillance.  President Obama has probably been spending a lot of time in meetings with such people lately.

So, to play a little good-cop, bad-cop with this information:

Good cop: "US persons" is a technically meaningful term that Obama has probably been hearing a lot lately, if he's been huddled in briefings with intel officers and agency lawyers.  Even he didn't personally use the term a lot before now, he might emerge from such meetings using it more frequently.  The same thing could happen to anyone who receives a heavy dose of professional or legal jargon.  Or he might be deliberately using the term for legal reasons.  He throws it out five times in as many minutes during the Charlie Rose interview, with the consistency of a rehearsed talking point; he never fails to use it, even at points in the conversation where most people might "slip up" and just say "Americans" or "the American people" - a term Obama, and every other politician, loves to use.  That takes some discipline.

Bad cop: The term "US persons" is so clunky and grating to the ear that Obama really should have explained its meaning, or at least casually referred to its importance.  If he is saying that for a very specific reason, it would seem polite to share the reason with his audience.  Particularly since the topic on everyone's mind is, specifically, surveillance of the American people, not some umbrella term of art covering all other affected parties.  (Sure, that's a bit self-centered of us, given that plenty of foreign authorities have expressed concerns about the NSA programs, but it's understandably self-centered, isn't it?)  Most of us, being unfamiliar with the terminology, hear the President use it over and over again, and wonder "Why does he keep saying that?"

What a remarkable journey President Obama has undertaken: from the candidate who energetically criticized every step George Bush took in the War on Terror... to the President who adopted every one of them, cranked up to 11, but famously could not be troubled to attend intel briefings prior to the Benghazi attack... to a man who tosses out intelligence community lingo with the casual ease of a professional analyst.


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