Out: 'American citizens'. In: 'U.S. persons'

President Obama rolls out a bizarre new verbal tic during an interview with Charlie Rose of PBS, as excerpted by Buzzfeed.  It pops up when Obama extols the “bigger and better” intelligence gathering capabilities of the NSA:

What I can say unequivocally is that if you are a U.S. person, the NSA cannot listen to your telephone calls, and the NSA cannot target your emails … and have not. They cannot and have not, by law and by rule, and unless they — and usually it wouldn’t be “they,” it’d be the FBI — go to a court, and obtain a warrant, and seek probable cause, the same way it’s always been, the same way when we were growing up and we were watching movies, you want to go set up a wiretap, you got to go to a judge, show probable cause…. So point number one, if you’re a U.S. person, then NSA is not listening to your phone calls and it’s not targeting your emails unless it’s getting an individualized court order. That’s the existing rule.

He goes on to use this weird new “U.S. person” formulation a total of five times during the portion of the interview Buzzfeed excerpted.

This grates like fingernails on a blackboard.  “U.S. person?”  Who the hell says that?  The correct term, Mr. Obama, is American citizen.  But you can’t bring yourself to say that any more, can you?  Because you’re playing to an audience that includes plenty of persons standing on U.S. soil who aren’t American citizens.

Update: I can only think of one previous noteworthy instance where a phrase similar to “U.S. persons” was employed:

Update: 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.

It still seems odd that he used the term so frequently during this interview segment, but that’s obviously a subjective judgment.  Given that it sounds so strange to the casual listener, it would have been polite for the President to briefly define the term or explain its significance.


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