By Christopher B. Daly
The outrages just keep piling up. President Obama, Attorney General Eric Holder, and their advisers just don’t get it: the government exists to help the people do the things they want to do but can’t do without joining together. It does not exist for its own sake. It does not exist to expand its own power. It does not exist to spy on its own citizens. As liberals, lawyers, and constitutional scholars, they should know all this. What is wrong with these people?
The latest scandal involves the notorious NSA (for “No Such Agency”). As Glenn Greenwald disclosed in a Guardian exclusive, the NSA is collecting phone records from Verizon for every call made by every Verizon customer, domestic and international. To quote Greenwald:
The document shows for the first time that under the Obama administration the communication records of millions of US citizens are being collected indiscriminately and in bulk – regardless of whether they are suspected of any wrongdoing.
As they run for cover, the officials involved are going to claim that “it’s all perfectly legal,” because they got a judge to sign off on it, through the special courts set up by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. (FISA) This is one of many legacies of the over-reaction to the 9/11 attack and the Bush administration’s ensuing “war on terror.” In the name of fighting terror, which is diminishing, U.S. officials in Congress, the executive branch, and the courts have
–unleashed a secretive spy agency
–to spy on Americans
–using a legal OK from a secret court.
It should be noted that, of course, the whole operation is secret. We were never supposed to learn that our phone records are being routinely collected on a vast scale. (Note: as far as we know, they are not recording the content of those calls, only metadata such as the number being called, timing, duration, location, etc.) If it were not for an investigative reporter ferreting out stuff he is not supposed to find out, we the people would never know about this.
It’s possible that the American people, informed of this huge data grab, will decide this is a good and wise thing to do. Fine. If that’s the consensus, I will abide by that. But we at least deserve to know what’s going on and debate whether it is a wise use of our government’s power.
On the subject of leaks, here is a thought exercise: what disclosures of information would you rather NOT know about? Would you want to close your eyes to Abu Gharib? the “Fast and Furious” screw-up? The IRS abuses?
There are countries where secrets stay secret, and I would not want to live in any of them.
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The NSA case brings up another question: why do the telecom companies roll over so readily every time the government comes calling?
Here is a report from the indispensable Electronic Frontier Foundation showing which companies turn over what kinds of data.
Here is an analysis from TNR about why the telecoms are different from social media companies. Worth considering.
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Another question: Does the NSA data grab include phone records for the White House? For the Holder residence? For the home or office numbers of the members of the House and Senate Intelligence committees? For any journalists who have perfectly good reasons to make phone calls to Yemen, Somalia, Pakistan and other terror hideouts? Does it include the home phone of the judge who signed the secret order?
One more: Does no one remember the Church committee hearings or findings?
One response to “Obama: Wrong on spying, secrecy, leaks.”
Yes, there are some disclosures I would rather stay secret–hypothetically, if someone had leaked the Bin Laden spotting in advance, even for the stated purpose of revealing that waterboarding helped find him, I would oppose that.
More concretely, if those who believe the AP disclosed that Al Qaeda in Yemen had been penetrated are correct, that should not have been disclosed. I have also read opinions that the Times’ revelation of successful efforts to track terrorist financing were harmful.
Part of the tension is the long government history of overstating such alleged harms–for example, The Pentagon Papers.
There is also some hypocrisy among those who flayed the intelligence community for not taking enough aggressive steps to find the intelligence needed to predict the fall of the Berlin Wall, the fall of the Shah, 9/11, the Boston bombers, etc now flaying the intelligence community for being too aggressive.