"You can't have 100 percent security and also then have 100 percent privacy and zero inconvenience,” he said. “We're going to have to make some choices as a society." — Barack Hussein Obama, June 7, 2013
Until last week there was a steady drip, drip, drip of reports in the press about the scandals revolving about the Obama administration. It seemed as though each day a new report was coming forth about the Benghazi, DOJ, and IRS scandals.
Then we had the NSA bombshell dropped on our head. Last Wednesday a 29-year-old former technical assistant for the Central Intelligence Agency told the Guardian about the National Security Agency’s super-secret PRSIM program’s collection of huge amounts of private Internet and telephone data
Subsequently on Sunday the Guardian identified the source as Edward Snowden, who has worked at the National Security Agency for the last four years as an employee for various defense contractors. He has most recently worked for Booz Allen Hamilton, a defense contractor, the newspaper said.
The Guardian said it was revealing Mr. Snowden’s identity at his own request. In an interview with the newspaper, Mr. Snowden, who is currently staying in a hotel in Hong Kong, said he expected that the American government would seek to prosecute him for disclosing top-secret documents detailing the Obama administration’s extensive surveillance program.
“I have no intention of hiding who I am,” he was quoted as saying, “because I know I have done nothing wrong.”
Mr. Snowden’s disclosures to The Guardian and The Washington Post over the last week have reignited the long-smoldering controversy over the scope of government surveillance of American citizens, which appears to have expanded substantially since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. In recent days, the Obama administration and other proponents have defended the surveillance program, revealing that it had helped to thwart terrorist plots, in order to bolster assertions that such data collection was necessary to keep Americans safe.
In a video accompanying the Guardian article, Mr. Snowden seemed slightly tense but articulate and well spoken. He wore glasses, a dark gray shirt open at the neck, and had a slight growth on his chin and upper lip.
Asked what fears he might have about his future, he said, “I could be rendered by the C.I.A., I could have people come after me.”
“We’ve got a C.I.A. station just up the road in the consulate here in Hong Kong, and I’m sure,” he said with a nervous laugh, “that they’re going to be very busy for the next week, and that’s a fear I’ll live under for the rest of my life.”
He said he came to Hong Kong, an autonomous Chinese territory, because he believed it was independent and had “a strong tradition of free speech.”
“The people of Hong Kong have a long tradition of protesting in the streets, of making their views known”, he said in a video interview. “The Internet is not filtered here, no more so than in any other Western government.”
The National Security Agency is collecting records of every domestic and cross-border Verizon phone call between now and July 19th. The secret court order requiring Verizon to hand over these records has been leaked to the Guardian.
You may find that outrageous. 1984 has arrived. Big Brother is watching you.
But the author of this story is not George Orwell. It’s Representative Lamar Smith of Texas, Senator Diane Feinstein of California, and you.
Here’s what I mean: In June of last year, Representative Smith (R) introduced H.R. 5949, the FISA Amendments Act Reauthorization Act of 2012. Its purpose was to extend the FISA Amendments Act of 2008 for five years, continuing the government’s authority to collect data like this under secret court orders. The House Judiciary Committee reported the bill to the full House a few days later. The House Intelligence Committee, having joint jurisdiction over the bill, reported it at the beginning of August. And in mid-September, the House passed the bill by a vote of 301 to 118.
Sent to the Senate, the bill languished until very late in the year. But with the government’s secret wiretapping authority set to expire, the Senate took up the bill on December 27th. Whether by plan or coincidence, the Senate debated secret surveillance of Americans’ communications during the lazy, distracted period between Christmas and the New Year.
Senator Dianne Feinstein (D) was the bill’s chief defender on the Senate floor. She parried arguments doggedly advanced by Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) that the surveillance law lacks sufficient oversight. Cato Institute’s Julian Sanchez reported at the time that modest amendments proposed by Wyden and others would improve oversight and in no way compromise security. But false urgency created by the Senate’s schedule won the day, and on December 28th of last year, the Senate passed the bill, sending it to the president, who signed it on December 30th with little coverage in the press. This bill consisting of over 300 pages was given to the senators on the same day that the vote was called. There was no possible way they could have read and digested the entire bill.
The news that every Verizon call is going to the NSA not only vindicates Senator Wyden’s argument that oversight in this area is lacking. It reveals the upshot of that failed oversight: The secret FISA court has been issuing general warrants for communications surveillance.
That is contrary to the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution, which requires warrants to issue “particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.” When a court requires “all call detail records” to be handed over “on an ongoing daily basis,” this is in no sense particular. Data about millions of our phone calls are now housed at the NSA’s super-secret billion dollar facility in Utah. Data about calls you make and receive today will be housed at the NSA.
The reason given for secret mass surveillance of all our phone calls, according to an unofficial comment from the Obama administration, is that it is a “critical tool” against terrorism. These arguments should be put to public proof. For too long, government officials have waved off the rule of law and privacy using “terrorism” as their shibboleth. This time, show us exactly how gathering data about every domestic call on one of the largest telecommunications networks roots out the tiny number of stray-dog terrorists in the country. If the argument is based on data mining, it has a lot to overcome.
The ultimate author of the American surveillance state is you. If you’re like most Americans, you allowed yourself to remain mostly ignorant of the late-December debate over FISA reauthorization. You may not have finished digesting your Christmas turkey until May, when it was revealed that IRS agents had targeted groups applying for tax exempt status for closer scrutiny based on their names or political themes.
Privacy advocates and surveillance experts have suspected for years that the government was using an expansive interpretation of the Patriot Act’s §215 “business record” authority to collect bulk communications records indiscriminately. We now have confirmation in the form of a secret order from the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to Verizon — and legislators are saying that such orders have been routinely served on phone carriers for at least seven years. (It seems likely that similar requests are being served on Internet providers — increasingly the same companies that provide us with wireless phone services).
Some stress that what is being collected is “just metadata” — a phrase I’m confident you’ll never see a computer scientist or data analyst use. Metadata — the transactional records of information about phone and Internet communications, as opposed to their content — can be incredibly revealing, as the recent story about the acquisition of Associated Press phone logs underscores. Those records, as AP head Gary Pruitt complained, provide a comprehensive map of reporters’ activities, telling those who know how to look what stories journalists are working on and who their confidential sources are. Metadata can reveal what Websites you read, who you communicate with, which political or religious groups you’re affiliated with, even your physical location. In essence metadata is the family tree of the contained data.
In a way, the ground was prepared for this indiscriminate collection of Americans’ data way back in the 1970s, when the Supreme Court held, implausibly, that we surrender our expectation of privacy — and with it, the protection of the Fourth Amendment — just by using modern technology that leaves traces of our activity on someone else’s computers. But Americans were also sold a false bill of goods when Congress passed and reauthorized the Patriot Act powers used here — which we were repeatedly assured were only intended to be used to track “bad guys.” What we weren’t told was that, if the government thinks data mining ALL our records might help identify “bad guys,” then that information too is “relevant” to an investigation. A relevant example might be if there was a burglary in your home town and the police rounded up every one living in the town as “persons of interest.”
This collection is probably well enough intentioned. The problem is that these records are likely to be retained in databases indefinitely. Which means we don’t just need to worry about whether the government’s motives are pure when they collect the information. Even if they are, someone with access to that data, maybe in five or ten years, may be unable to resist the temptation to use that information for other purposes. Just look at what has happened to Sarah Palin. That could mean investigating ordinary crimes: If you can data mine for suspicious terrorist activity patterns, which is likely to be extremely difficult — you can plug in “suspicious patterns” that may identify drug dealers and tax cheats as well. Still more disturbing is the possibility that, the intelligence community has repeatedly done historically, those records could be exploited for illegitimate political purposes, or even simple greed. (Imagine probing communications for signs of an impending corporate merger, product launch, or lawsuit.)
We are, predictably, being told that this program is essential to protecting us from terrorist attacks. But the track record of such claims is unimpressive: They were made about fusion centers, and the original NSA warrantless wiretap program, and in each case collapsed under scrutiny. No doubt some of these phone records have proven useful in some investigation, but it doesn’t follow that the indiscriminate collection of such records is necessary for investigations, any more than general warrants to search homes are necessary just because sometimes searches of homes are useful to police.
In the short term, we should hope for an Inspector General audit of this program, both to look for abuses — as a similar audit of National Security Letters uncovered “widespread and serious” misuse of authority—and to skeptically interrogate the claim that such sweeping collection is somehow indispensable to national security. In the longer term, we need to follow the suggestion of Justice Sotomayor in United States v. Jones, (regarding the attachment of a GPS device to your car), and think hard about the “third party doctrine,” which leaves all this increasingly voluminous and revealing metadata stripped of constitutional protection.
The terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, spurred extraordinary efforts intended to protect America from the newly highlighted scourge of international terrorism. Among the efforts was the consideration and possible use of “data mining” as a way to discover planning and preparation for terrorism. Data mining is the process of searching data for previously unknown patterns and using those patterns to predict future outcomes.
Information about key members of the 9/11 plot was available to the U.S. government prior to the attacks, and the 9/11 terrorists were closely connected to one another in a multitude of ways. The National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States (9/11 Commission) concluded that, by pursuing the leads available to it at the time, the government might have derailed the plan. Its primary conclusion was that the failures of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency and Federal Bureau of Investigation permitted the terrorist attacks to occur and that had these agencies acted more wisely and more aggressively, the attacks could potentially have been prevented. A lack of intelligence was not the problem it was the compartmentalization, risk within the bureaucracy, and failure to act on the intelligence by the Clinton administration that was the problem
Though data mining has many valuable uses, it is not well suited to the terrorist discovery problem. It would be unfortunate if data mining for terrorism discovery had currency within national security, law enforcement, and technology circles because pursuing this use of data mining would waste taxpayer dollars, needlessly infringe on privacy and civil liberties, and misdirect the valuable time and energy of the men and women in the national security community.
What the 9/11 story most clearly calls for is a sharper focus on the part of our national security agencies — their focus had undoubtedly sharpened by the end of the day on September 11, 2001 — along with the ability to efficiently locate, access, and aggregate information about specific suspects.
Asked point-blank last July whether the National Security Agency’s new, billion-dollar Utah installation would hold the data of American citizens, General Keith Alexander, the head of the NSA, responded flatly: “No.”
“While I can’t go into all the details of the Utah Data Center,” he said at the American Enterprise Institute, “we don’t hold data on U.S. citizens.”
But the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Mike Rogers (R-MI), tells a different story. “Within the last few years, this program was used to stop a terrorist attack in the United States,” he says.
However, civil libertarians and some members of Congress say the National Security Agency surveillance programs to hunt terrorists were too broad and collected too much information about innocent Americans.
As to Rodger’s claim I cannot help but harken back to an incident that happened in Berlin in 1933 — the Reichstag fire. The fire was used as evidence by the Nazis that the Communists were beginning a plot against the German government. Van der Lubbe and four Communist leaders were subsequently arrested. Adolf Hitler, who was sworn in as Chancellor of Germany four weeks before urged President Paul von Hindenburg to pass an emergency decree to counter the "ruthless confrontation of the Communist Party of Germany". With civil liberties suspended, the government instituted mass arrests of Communists, including all of the Communist parliamentary delegates. With their bitter rival Communists gone and their seats empty, the National Socialist German Workers Party went from being a plurality party to the majority; subsequent elections confirmed this position and thus allowed Hitler to consolidate his power. I am not comparing the Bush or Obama administrations with the Nazis, but excuses for government overreach due to a particular incident is legend — just ask the Christians when Nero set Rome alight.
The government is accessing “meta data” about millions of our phone calls. Don’t let the technical-sounding term confuse you. That’s information about who called you, and who you called. It’s what time your conversations happened, and how long your conversations continued. If you’ve made a call in the last few months, if you called a lost love, a counselor, a doctor, psychologist, or psychiatrist, the National Security Agency probably has that information.
The IRS scandal reminds us that government agents don’t always have our interests at heart. IRS agents investigated hopeful non-profit groups aiming to weed out those that might challenge government orthodoxy and power. Who’s to say that there isn’t someone in the NSA — or an entire program in NSA — with these same motives?
General Alexander might say his agency is unlike the IRS. So might Chairman Rogers. But who should we believe?
If General Alexander’s statement about not having American citizens’ data is true, how can Rogers’s be? And if Rogers’s statement about this program preventing an attack is true, General Alexander’s statement must be false.
Most likely, General Alexander is equivocating on language. Being Orwellian, in a word.
When General Alexander denied having data about American citizens — or appeared to — he said “we don’t hold data on U.S. citizens.” That preposition, “on,” is perfectly ambiguous, and it exploits gaps in the way we talk about personal data.
General Alexander might argue that all he has are phone numbers. That’s not information about people — just millions of phone numbers and the relationships among them.
It’s time to come clean as to whether the National Security Agency holds data about American citizens.”
But people who understand communications and information technology know that a phone number is an identifier. In fact, your cell phone number more directly identifies you than your name, which probably refers to a number of people in this big world. When the NSA analyzes information about our calls, it is just one, short inferential step from reaching us directly, by name, address, and the other identifiers we’re familiar with. In the modern world, phone numbers are better than names for identifying people.
Clearing up Chairman Rogers’s claims is a different ball of wax. Chairman Rogers should put his claims about security successes to public proof. How do millions of telephone records revealing the relationships of law-abiding citizens across the nation help with law enforcement and counterterrorism? Why can’t the same results be achieved with targeted investigation of genuine leads?
The only reason one might want access to the vast quantity of data collected in this program is for “data mining” — discovering the patterns that appear in data that are indicative of terrorism.
Data mining works with credit card fraud. There are thousands of examples per year from which to build models of what credit card fraud looks like in data. And the cost of getting it wrong is low. Credit card companies may call a customer or cause them a modest inconvenience by cancelling a card.
Data mining won’t work for terrorism because terrorism is too rare. There aren’t patterns reflecting terrorism planning or execution. Each plan and each attack, successful or unsuccessful, has been very different from the others. And the cost of false positives is high. Law enforcement personnel waste their time chasing false leads. Wrongly accused people are investigated, questioned, placed on no-fly lists or other derogatory lists, and sometimes people are wrongly arrested.
If Chairman Rogers can show otherwise, now is the time to do so. Language is important and too easy to exploit, so let’s make clear at the outset that “telling” isn’t “showing.”
And it’s time for General Alexander to come clean as to whether the National Security Agency holds data about American citizens. Along with “on” and “about,” one hopes that everyone knows what the meaning of the word “is” is.
In a June 7th report from TheBlaze, NSA Whistleblower: The Government Is Still Telling You an ‘Outright Lie’ About Its Spying Programs:
“The federal government’s “totalitarian”-like surveillance of American citizens has been going on for more than a decade — you’re just now hearing about it, NSA whistleblower William Binney told Glenn Beck on his radio program Friday.
Binney, who was with the NSA for almost four decades, said it was “unfortunate” that he had been proven 100 percent correct on the spy agency’s surveillance capability. He has been blowing the whistle for some time, however, his warnings had been dubbed “conspiracy theories” by some.
Binney said the feds’ spying program began in mid-to-late October 2001. It started by pulling in phone records of various U.S. citizens across the country. He estimates the NSA is collecting data on 3 billion phone calls every single day.
And when the Obama administration says it is only collecting bare data, not the content of your phone calls or emails for example, that’s an “outright lie,” according to Binney.
“Their statement about, ‘we don’t have content’ is an outright lie,” he explained, adding that emails, videos and other type of content are also covered under NSA and FBI’s secret “PRISM” program.
To those who argue they don’t mind the government compiling all their data because they aren’t doing anything wrong, Binney reminded Beck’s audience that total surveillance is how “totalitarian states” have started throughout history. But no country has ever had the massive amount of surveillance capability that the U.S. is currently implementing.
“There wouldn’t be a Jew alive on the planet today if they had this information,” Beck said, referring to Nazi Germany.
Binney went on to say that the spy program could easily be used to target political opposition, just as the IRS targeted conservative groups.
“If you wanted to know who was involved in the Tea Party, this kind of activity would lay our their entire structure and everyone who is involved in it, no matter where they are inside the country,” he said. “That information could then be passed to the IRS to target people.”
Congressional intelligence briefing sessions have not included details about President Barack Obama’s data-gathering programs, despite claims by the president that Congress approved the measures and “every member” knew about them, Republican Rep. Aaron Schock said.
“I can assure you the phone number tracking of non-criminal, non-terrorist suspects was not discussed,” the Illinois lawmaker told Politico. “Most members have stopped going to their classified briefings because they rarely tell us anything we don’t already know in the news. It really has become a charade.”
Responding to the furor over the National Security Agency’s data monitoring programs, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky introduced legislation Friday that requires a warrant be issued before any government agency can search phone records of Americans.
Paul calls the revelation of the program to collect phone records of millions of Verizon customers “an astounding assault on the Constitution.”
But meanwhile, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle deny Obama’s claims that they knew about plans to monitor cell phone and Internet use of Americans, and many said they either learned of the programs through the news or after asking specifically to be briefed.
Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said that the average member of Congress doesn’t receive such briefings, and would not have know about programs to monitor cell phone records and Internet use unless they were on an intelligence committee, like Schock, were in special sessions in 2011 or asked to be briefed.
Durbin said he only learned about the two programs after asking for a briefing after being urged by Democratic Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR).
And while Obama said members of Congress “could raise those issues very aggressively,” Democratic Sen. Barbara Mikulski of Maryland told Attorney General Eric Holder Thursday that the news that Congress was “fully briefed” came as a surprise to her and other lawmakers.
“This ‘fully briefed’ is something that drives us up the wall, because often ‘fully briefed’ means a group of eight leadership; it does not necessarily mean relevant committees,” Mikulski said.
In addition, nine senators and 61 congressmen have taken office after the 2010 and 2011 briefings, and new members like Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas say they were not informed of either program without asking about it.
“Americans trusted President Obama when he came to office promising the most transparent administration in history,” Cruz said Friday. “But that trust has been broken and the only way to earn it back is to tell the truth.”
"The Department of Justice is in the initial stages of an investigation into the unauthorized disclosure of classified information by an individual with authorized access," Justice Dept. spokeswoman Nanda Chitre said in a statement late Sunday.
New York Republican Representative Peter King, chairman of the Homeland Security Subcommittee on Counterintelligence and Terrorism and a member of the Select Committee on Intelligence, said: "If Edward Snowden did in fact leak the NSA data as he claims, the United States government must prosecute him to the fullest extent of the law and begin extradition proceedings at the earliest date. The United States must make it clear that no country should be granting this individual asylum. This is a matter of extraordinary consequence to American intelligence."
Snowden told The Post Hong Kong that he now intends to ask for asylum from "any countries that believe in free speech and oppose the victimization of global privacy.”
Hong Kong has an extradition treaty with the United States that took force in 1998, according to the U.S. State Department website.
"The government could subject him to a 10 or 20 year penalty for each count," with each document leaked considered a separate charge, Mark Zaid, a national security lawyer who represents whistleblowers told the Associated Press.
Snowden told the Guardian he believes the government could try to charge him with treason under the Espionage Act, but Zaid said that would require the government to prove he had intent to betray the United States, whereas he publicly made it clear he did this to spur debate. The difference between Bradley Manning, now on trial before a military court for leaking classified documents to Julian Assange of WikiLeaks, is that Manning leaked information about specific actions while Snowden released information about a government program.
Snowden, a 29-year old high school dropout, is quoted as saying he hopes the publicity of the leaks will provide him some protection and that he sees asylum, perhaps in Iceland, as a possibility. It is reported that Snowden earned $200,000 per year at Booz-Allen-Hamilton
"I feel satisfied that this was all worth it. I have no regrets," Snowden told the Guardian
Whether Snowden is a hero or a traitor is yet to be determined. No doubt he will be somehow taken into custody by U.S. law enforcement agents and somehow extradited to the United States. He will probably be charged with a multitude of crimes against the United States. No doubt there will be cadre of civil libertarian lawyers chaffing at the bit to take on his case. The nation will be divided on Snowden’s actions as the case unfolds and politics may trump justice. In any event what has Snowden done is burst the dam on the Obama administration and now we can add the NSA to the scandals surrounding the State Department, IRS, and Justice Department.
As Lloyd Marcus stated in American Thinker:
“If a tree falls in the woods and no one hears it, does it make a sound? If the Obama administration breaks the law at will, lies to the American people, uses every government agency at its disposal to punish its conservative/Republican enemies and no one does anything about it, does the administration make a sound? Yes it does -- resulting in devastating consequences for the American people.
Despite a trifecta of scandals, Obama and company continue to stonewall, lie, or refuse to answer questions -- in essence, giving Congress and the American people the finger. Pundits are shocked and taken aback by the unprecedented arrogance of the Obama administration.
Such pundits are a bit late coming to the dance, as we in the Tea Party have been well aware for years of the lawlessness and arrogance of this bunch of thugs from Chicago. Have these surprised pundits forgotten Obama's unprecedented overreaches into the private sector -- nationalizing General Motors, bullying banks, ignoring the ruling of federal judges, trashing the Constitution, and more?
Still, pundits are missing the much greater horrifying picture. My fellow Americans, we are in deep, deep trouble. The cold reality is that until someone steps forward in real opposition to Obama governing according to his will while ignoring all the laws, checks, and balances, we are defenseless, expendable supplicants of a tyrannical dictator.
Remarkably, the mainstream media is complaisant with Obama acting like our king rather than our president because he is liberal, he is black, and his presidency is historic. Obama's agenda fits neatly with the mainstream media's socialist/progressive agenda. So they are elated to have a Teflon liberal black guy in the White House furthering their cause.
The people in the Obama administration are emboldened to do whatever they please: bully conservative groups and individuals, secretly invade our privacy, target reporters, and thumb their noses when they get caught -- all without any real political push-back or consequences. We the American people are in deep excrement.
Ponder that, folks. As long as the mainstream media provides cover for Obama and keeps his poll numbers high by making sure no bad news is linked to Obama (Limbaugh Theorem), our president is empowered to function as a supreme ruler, free to do whatever he pleases to us. Dear God, help us!”
My concern is not so much about this President who spends more time on the golf course and in Air Force One, but about those minions under him. Under President Obama, we have seen an Internal Revenue Service harass conservative, Jewish, and Christian groups. We have seen the Department of Homeland Security label tea party activists, evangelicals, and veterans returning from abroad as threats. We have seen the Environmental Protection Agency show favoritism to liberal groups and obstruct conservative groups. We have seen a Department of Justice sell arms to Mexican drug cartels, turn a blind eye to the New Black Panthers, and target journalists. We have seen a State Department bungle its handling of Benghazi and engage in a cover-up of the details of just how badly they screwed up. We have seen the Department of Agriculture frivolously dole out taxpayer dollars in the scandalous Pigford program. And this is not a complete list.
The President has maintained for five years that the buck does not stop with him. He routinely promotes, praises, or otherwise gives a pass to those who have screwed up, abused the rights of American citizens, and squandered American tax dollars. If not the President — and most Americans do still hold him in high regard — his administration has abused the trust of the American people.
Further, for the last several years the President has been telling the American public not to worry. Terror incidents like the Ft. Hood shooting have been classified as “work place violence.” The War of Terror is over. Terrorism is now man-made disaster. The rhetoric of this Administration for the last several years has routinely downplayed threats, trumpeted the lack of attacks, and suggested that the dark clouds of devastation have blown by — Boston bombing aside (and this program does not seem to have helped prevent that).
Is the PRISM program working as intended and, if so, how does it really work. Or is it security theater like the TSA screenings at airports. We have yet to learn that the TSA, for all its theater and prostate exams of passengers, has actually obstructed something harmful. What of the NSA? If we have compromised our privacy, to what end and result have we done so that makes such a compromise necessary and worthwhile? I venture to say for all the elaborate burdens of the TSA, all we have done is make air travel more of a burden.
Why should we trust the National Security Agency? How can we be sure that this one department, unlike the largely nonpartisan IRS, is not engaging in an abuse of data? How can we be sure the NSA will not leak the private details of American citizens to political groups as the IRS did? With the government expanding its reach into the lives of every American with the implementation of ObamaCare, how can we be sure that the metadata that suggests someone may be having a medical issue is not flagged, leaked, or otherwise abused? For now that’s a reach. But a year ago most Americans thought it was a reach to claim the IRS was willfully and maliciously targeting conservative groups.
We cannot trust the government. This Administration has lost the respect of the American people. Compounding the problem, the Congress, which has been overseeing the program, has neither the trust nor respect of the American people. Neither party cares much for its own or the other party in Congress. Diane Feinstein and Saxby Chambliss telling the American people to trust them should be a big red flag that we should not trust them. They do not have our trust.
The coming year will see Republicans and Democrats alike fight over this issue. Rand Paul will make it a campaign issue for his Presidential race. How to balance national security and privacy is no easy thing. While we should all be willing to show some sympathy, if disagreement, with Presidents Bush and Obama and the difficult balancing act they have faced and continue to face, we would not be in such a spot at this time had the present administration not so badly let its own bureaucrats misbehave.
Even those of us who might err on the side of security over privacy must now concede it is time to consider recalibrating the balance. The constitutional rights of American citizens in the United States should be abridged only ever so carefully.
For conservatives, there must be one last note — the Guardian, Glenn Greenwald, and Edward Snowden should not be made heroes. Glenn Greenwald is not “anti anti-terror” as the New York Times portrays him. He is deeply hostile to the United States and routinely sides with every bad actor on the planet when their interests conflict with the United States. The left-wing Guardian is no better.
And Edward Snowden, who fled to communist China after leaking, like Bradley Manning before him, shows Millennials probably cannot be trusted with the mature responsibility of supporting and defending our nation. He has said that China is not a threat, but is our friend as we trade with them. He has also been quoted as say our largest threat was from global climate change — something the Chinese don’t give a damn about.
His was not a courageous act. His was an act of sabotage and ego whereby he decided to be judge, jury, and executioner of an intelligence program that violated his sensibilities, but maybe not the constitution. Then he leaked it to a man and organization deeply hostile to the United States before himself fleeing to a communist nation, praising that nation’s support for free speech.
Just as we cannot trust this administration’s honesty and candor, we surely cannot trust the Guardian, Glenn Greenwald, and Edward Snowden. That leaves American citizens in a frustrating place in need of many more answers than we have at present or are likely to get from those peddling an anti-American agenda or, quite frankly, from the Obama Administration.
America is built on the principle of “ordered liberty”, which seeks to maximize both security and freedom at the same time. The art of governance, then, is to establish rules that let the good guys get the bad guys without infringing on the freedom of the people. The Constitution doesn't give us a rule book to do that. Instead, it sets up security and freedom to fight it out with each other, constantly, like two indefatigable pit bulls. The struggle is intentional, so neither side wins out, but neither gets compromised. Freedom and security tear at each other until we get answers that reasonably address both. So, if people stop raising objections every time security might look like it's winning out, the system will fail. In short, neither full transparency nor just eschewing big data will work to secure both security and freedom. We don't and shouldn't trust government to follow its own rules on its own, but we need government to do its job right and find means to assure us it's doing its job in compliance with the law. That is a hard task, and sadly we have an administration with a mediocre track record of getting it right.
President Obama said Friday that the programs have made a difference in tracking terrorists and are not tantamount to "Big Brother."
"You can't have 100 percent security and also then have 100 percent privacy and zero inconvenience,” he said. “We're going to have to make some choices as a society."
The question is what will those choices be — liberty or tyranny?
If the question is should Snowden have leaked such closely held secrets, I would reluctantly answer "yes." But if you are going to deliberately break the law in a civil society, you must be prepared to accept the consequences. Snowden ran away from those consequences. That does not make him a hero in my book. It makes him a criminal. Why didn't Snowden leak the information and then turn himself in? That would have been heroic. Instead, despite his protestations that he doesn't want the story to be about him, he comes off as a glory hound, an attention getter.
If you believe the ends justifies the means, then the rule of law is meaningless. We've had administrations in the past use that excuse, as well as intelligence agencies and the military. Whatever good we think may flow from his criminal acts, we cannot justify them or applaud them — especially since we don't know if these revelations will prove to be catastrophic in the sense that they might facilitate a terrorist attack that may otherwise have been thwarted.
No easy answers. And the questions raised by Snowden's actions aren't a cakewalk either. But what's done is done — whatever his reasons and motivations. Let the law deal with Snowden while we debate what he has revealed and try to salvage a proper balance between surveillance and privacy.