The Note: Through A PRISM Darkly

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper testifies before the Senate Armed Services Committee April 18, 2013 in Washington, DC. Image credit: Win McNamee/Getty Images

By MICHAEL FALCONE ( @michaelpfalcone )


  • SPIES LIKE US: The National Security Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation have been tapping into the servers of major Internet companies to collect audio, video, photographs, e-mails and other documents under a program code-named PRISM, the Washington Post reported. ABC's ABBY PHILLIP, LUIS MARTINEZ and JOANNA STERN write that according to the Post, intelligence analysts use PRISM to collect information on the movement and contacts of "targets" that they have at least 51 percent confidence are foreign, but it "accidentally" collects U.S. content. "An internal presentation on the Silicon Valley operation, intended for senior analysts in the NSA's Signals Intelligence Directorate, described the new tool as the most prolific contributor to the President's Daily Brief, which cited PRISM data in 1,477 articles last year," according to the report. "According to the briefing slides, obtained by The Washington Post, 'NSA reporting increasingly relies on PRISM' as its leading source of raw material, accounting for nearly 1 in 7 intelligence reports."
  • 'NUMEROUS INACCURACIES': James R. Clapper, the director of national intelligence, said in a written statement that the Post report and another on phone surveillance by The Guardian contained "numerous inaccuracies," and that the data collection only targets non-Americans outside the United States. Clapper defended the "collection of communication" referred to in the Washington Post and Guardian reports, and added, "The unauthorized disclosure of information about this important and entirely legal program is reprehensible and risks important protections for the security of Americans."
  • COMPANIES PUSH BACK: Companies reportedly tied to PRISM told ABC News they did not routinely give the government direct access to private data. "We have never heard of PRISM," read an emailed statement from Apple. "We do not provide any government agency with direct access to our servers, and any government agency requesting customer data must get a court order." Besides Apple, according to the WashingtonPost, PRISM also sweeps up data from companies including Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Yahoo, PalTalk, Skype, YouTube and AOL.
  • THIS WEEK ON 'THIS WEEK': In a "This Week" Sunday exclusive, Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and House Intelligence Committee Chair Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., answer questions about the newly disclosed government programs to collect data on phone calls and internet activity. And the powerhouse roundtable debates all the week's politics, with ABC News' George Will and Matthew Dowd, Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., The New York Times' Paul Krugman, and Fox News anchor Greta Van Susteren. Be sure to use #ThisWeek when you tweet about the program. Tune in Sunday:


ABC's RICK KLEIN: What a great time to talk about snooping… The twin revelations about government surveillance efforts suggests a scope of data collection about private citizens that is difficult to comprehend. President Obama, of course, is at the center of it all - only in part because of the nagging sense that a second-term Senator Obama would have been among those likely to be on guard for government overreach. We're entering what could be a prolonged period of debate and examination over the balance between national security and civil liberties. It's not a particularly comfortable one for the Obama White House, with today's meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping to bring an immediate awkward moment or two. More analysis:

ABC's DEVIN DWYER: Good news and bad news from the Leader of the Free World. President Obama told a group of deep-pocket Democratic donors last night that he's "starting to see glimmers of functionality in Washington," alluding to bipartisan progress on immigration reform. But he also conceded that D.C. politics still haven't changed much since he first set out to "make government cool again" four and a half years ago. "Washington is a problem," Obama said bluntly, "not because government generically is the problem; the reason Washington is a problem is right now it's broken." Still broken in spite of two campaigns that promised to fix it. Obama insisted it's not his fault, but Republicans'. "On too many areas, we're not getting the kind of cooperation that we need - not because the Democrats are particularly ideological or left-wing right now," he said. "It turns out we're pretty common-sense folks."


RNC CHIEF: GOP HURT BY 'DUMB' COMMENTS. Reince Priebus says the GOP needs to work harder to be competitive in the next presidential election in 2016. But those efforts aren't aided by "hurtful" comments from some in the GOP that have alienated women voters. "I don't think any party has a monopoly on dumb things that are said, so I'm not going to sit here and defend those comments," Priebus told ABC's JONATHAN KARL, host of "Politics Confidential." Asked specifically about Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant's recent remark that education in the U.S. has suffered in part because "both parents started working and the mom is in the workplace," Priebus said he disagrees with the remark but understands what Bryant meant to say. "I think he was trying to say that people are busy," he said. "We've got a lot of pressure on moms that are becoming more and more the breadwinners in our society. And I think he was trying to make an analogy there. Clearly, I don't agree with it."


WESTERN WHITE HOUSE AGENDA: President Obama wakes up in San Jose, Calif. this morning where he delivers a statement to the press on the Affordable Care Act. Later, he travels to Los Angeles for a Democratic National Committee fundraiser at a private residence, before traveling to Palm Springs, where he will meet with President Xi Jinping of China at the Annenberg Retreat at Sunnylands. Obama will take part in a photo opportunity, bilateral meeting and finally a working dinner with the Chinese president.

OBAMA TO PRESS CHINESE PRESIDENT ON CYBERSECURITY. Cybersecurity is expected to top the agenda when President Obama sits down for two days of talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping in California today, as Obama looks for indications his counterpart is ready to address high-tech attacks that China reportedly is launching to steal sensitive information from the U.S. government and private sector, ABC's MARY BRUCE reports. While the Chinese have denied such spying, these meetings give Obama an opportunity to outline his case in person and to see if Xi is willing to tackle the reported hackings, which the White House believes threaten the U.S. economy and national security. "We expect this to become a standing issue in the U.S.-China relationship, given the importance of cybersecurity to the global economy," a senior administration official told reporters on a conference call this week. "The message that the president will send is that there's an expectation that all of us are working together to protect the infrastructure of the global economy against cyber intrusion and that countries need to meet their responsibilities." The two countries have already established a working group and agreed to hold regular discussions on the issue.

THE PRESIDENT'S AFFORDABLE CARE ACT PITCH TO LATINOS. President Obama today plans to highlight how the Affordable Care Act (ACA) will impact Latinos across the country, according to ABC's JIM AVILA. Obama plans to use the trip to explain how the ACA aims to expand medical coverage for all Americans, and specifically work to improve coverage among the Latino population. More than 10 million uninsured Latinos will qualify for healthcare insurance exchanges through the ACA, according to the White House. The ACA is to be fully implemented starting in 2014. And will require employee sponsored health care or purchase of individual healthcare through a pool. The president is expected to highlight research released last week by the White House that showed improved competition and quality among California insurance exchanges. According to the White House, newly offered coverage in the individual market is provided by at least four of 13 available insurance providers. People from rural California can tap into three newly available insurance companies.

NSA PHONE RECORD COLLECTION HAS BIPARTISAN SUPPORT IN CONGRESS. Most people don't know it, but government collection of Americans' phone records has become part of a new normal in the post 9/11 world, ABC's ABBY PHILLIP notes. Years ago the revelation that the Obama administration regularly sought and received legal authority to collect records on every phone call made by Verizon Wireless users might have sparked widespread consternation in Congress, but now it seems to have only produced a bipartisan effort to justify the practice as critical to national security. "I can tell you why this program is important, that within the last few years this program was used to stop a terrorist attack in the United States. We know that," said House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rodgers, R-Mich., on Thursday. "It's important. It fills in a little seam that we have, and it's used to make sure that there is not an international nexus to any terrorism event that they may believe is ongoing in the United States." Those comments have been echoed by the highest-ranking Democrats in the Senate, and by the White House. The growing bipartisan unanimity on the issue suggests that lawmakers, especially those with access to classified information, now accept that the tactics that began during the Bush administration and have been tweaked but largely kept in place during Obama's tenure are now an integral part of the terror fight.

CHRISTIE APPOINTS ATTORNEY GENERAL JEFF CHIESA TO SENATE. Chris Christie has done it again, ABC's JOSH MARGOLIN reports. The colorful and often unpredictable New Jersey governor yesterday surprised the political universe by tapping his largely unknown state attorney general to replace U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg, who died Monday. "There's very few people in my life that I know better than Jeff," Christie said during a hastily called news conference at his office in the Trenton statehouse. "I've known him since he was a brand-new lawyer 22 years ago." Chiesa will hold the Senate post through a special election, scheduled for October. He said he will not be a candidate for the position in a campaign that is to begin when nominating petitions are filed this Monday. He will be the first Republican to represent the Garden State in the Senate since Nicholas Brady left in 1982 after also serving as a caretaker, appointed by then-Gov. Tom Kean.

ANN ROMNEY 'WOULD HESITATE' TO RECOMMEND HER SONS ENTER POLITICS. Seven months after her husband's loss in the 2012 presidential race, Ann Romney said she "would hesitate" to recommend a political career to any of her five sons, ABC's MICHAEL FALCONE notes. "I think it is a very tough thing to do," Mrs. Romney said in an interview with CNN's Gloria Borger. "I think it's a huge sacrifice and I think it is very hurtful many times for the spouse to have to watch the kind of abuse that you know you have to go through, so I'd really have to measure that and think about it and think about the individual circumstance." When asked about speculation that her eldest son, Tagg, 43, considered running for a U.S. Senate seat in Massachusetts, Mrs. Romney said her advice would have been simple: "I would say, 'don't do it' to Tagg." (Tagg Romney announced in February that the timing was "not right" for him to jump into the race to fill John Kerry's Senate seat). In the same interview, Mitt Romney acknowledged that the timing of Superstorm Sandy was unhelpful to his presidential hopes. "I wish the hurricane hadn't have happened when it did because it gave the president a chance to be presidential and to be out showing sympathy for folks," Romney said without making reference to the victims or destruction caused by the storm.


-SENATE SUPER PAC TAKES ON GABRIEL GOMEZ. The pro-Democratic Senate Majority PAC today released a new television ad titled "Trust," that aims to show how Massachusetts GOP Senate candidate Gabriel Gomez's plan for Social Security would be "devastating to Massachusetts' seniors," according to the group. "It is clear that Massachusetts' seniors cannot trust Wall Street insider Gabriel Gomez to protect their hard earned Social Security benefits," said Craig Varoga, senior strategist for Senate Majority PAC. "Gomez is out of touch with the middle class and will be a rubber stamp for Mitch McConnell's agenda that will hurt seniors in Massachusetts and across the country" The 30-second ad will run statewide beginning today. WATCH:

-HAPPENING TODAY: 'HIGH NOON' DEBATE ON ENERGY. The National Review hosts a debate on energy issues called "The Energy Subsidy Experiment" featuring Thomas Pyle of the American Energy Alliance; Steve Moore of the Wall Street Journal; and Bob Dinneen of the Renewable Fuels Association. The event will be moderated by Charles C.W. Cooke of the National Review. "The High Noon Debate on Energy will examine the success of energy-related subsidies and the impact of government policy on long term job creation, energy security, and freely-functioning energy markets." For more information and to register:


"AN EARLY TEST FOR CHRIS CHRISTIE'S BRAND," an ABC News Op-Ed by Republican strategist Joe Brettell. "Christie's decision to eschew an appointment until 2014 and opt for a special election could be seen as a confident bet that his personal popularity could carry the Republican standard bearer to victory - a gamble, but betting against the governor hasn't shown to be a safe stance to this point. Moreover, he could come under more scrutiny if interim Senator Chiesa violates conservative principles on abortion, marriage or the size of government. Support for these issues, while in step with the state, would be used against him in traditionally conservative states like Iowa and South Carolina as evidence of the kind of judges and appointees a President Christie would choose. While these attacks aren't always grounded in facts, they are ready-made for attack ads as candidates look to define one another. Clearly there are those in the governor's administration who would have preferred to avoid the situation altogether and even as we analyze the politics of his decision, it's important to remember that Sen. Frank Lautenberg was an American hero who served his country well. While the kickoff to the 2016 election may be years away on the calendar, Governor Christie's decision marks an unofficial beginning to what promises to be a fascinating race."


@JesseFFerguson: Bachmann/West 2016 RT @AaronBlakeWP: Michele Bachmann: 'I'm not going away'

@albertemartinez: RT @JimPethokoukis: FLASHBACK: Back in January 2009, Team Obama predicted jobless rate just above 5% by May 2012 if Congress passed stimulus

@HotlineJosh: Damn, Hillary Clinton approval among indies drops to 33% (58 overall) in Bloomberg poll. Approval on Benghazi 34/47.

@peterbakernyt: Obama said recently that the day will come when the war on terror will end. But that day is clearly not here yet.

@jasondhorowitz: Inside Romney's own Aspen Ideas Fest, full of Solamere and campaign echoes. "Who's teaching yoga?" Campbell Brown! …