Andrew McCarthy, a former federal prosecutor (he put away the “Blind Sheikh” who masterminded the first World Trade Center bombing), makes a strong case that the NSA program is not only legal, important, and necessary, but also that the outrage over these revelations is overblown. Phone records — as opposed to the content of phone conversations — are not private under the Fourth Amendment. Moreover, the “meta-data” collected by the NSA is essential for tracking terrorists’ patterns before they attack.
After every terrorist attack, everyone always asks, “Why didn’t the government connect the dots?” Well, what the NSA is doing is connecting dots. Moreover, McCarthy notes in his National Review Online article, this is no rogue operation. It’s true, every branch of government was kept in the loop. Congressional leadership was briefed. The administration sought these warrants from a judge. This isn’t a scandal so much as it is a controversy over a legal policy. To which I say, fair enough.
For McCarthy, the “problem here is not government power. It is the government officials we’ve elected to wield it.” In the wake of the still-unfolding IRS scandal, the Benghazi debacle, and the myriad failures of the hapless Eric Holder Justice Department, Americans rightly don’t trust these guys to color within the lines, as it were.
Still, I think McCarthy’s missing something. No, I don’t have much confidence in this administration. But I don’t have an abundance of confidence in government generally. That’s one of the things I love about America: The default position is to be skeptical of government, no matter who’s in charge.
Suppose I told you that you need to give me your life savings. It’s very important. I can’t explain why, or tell you what I’m gonna do with it. You just have to trust me, it’s for your own good. Bring it to me in cash – small bills only.
Would you do it? For your sake, I hope not. Knowing me (and I know me pretty well) you would never see that money again.
Let’s just say for the sake of argument that this NSA program really is legal, important, and necessary. How could we implement it in such a way as to ensure that the power and information gained were not abused?
We trust the government with our snail mail, don’t we? There is a lot of private stuff in some of those envelopes. But postal employees wear uniforms, they work out of marked trucks and offices, and there are a whole bunch of special laws against tampering or stealing mail. Most importantly, it’s all public. Not the contents of our mail, but the process.
If I was gonna agree to this NSA program (and I’m not saying I would) then I would have to be assured that the program was tightly regulated to prevent abuse. But I wouldn’t take anyone’s word for it. How can we trust them if they won’t tell us what they’re doing?
The reasons given for all the secrecy are bullshit. The terrorists know we monitor the phones. Any criminal with half a brain (and terrorists are criminals) should assume that their phones are tapped. If you are trying to hide from the government, talking on the phone to your known associates is like sending up a flare.
Even if the terrorists were jabbering away on their phones like teenaged girls that still doesn’t explain why they need my phone data. Or yours.
Obama said he welcomes this debate. Fine. The ball is in your court, Mr. President. Convince me.
But don’t ask me to trust you.
Defenders of the American government’s online spying program known as “PRISM” claimed Friday that the suddenly controversial secret effort had saved New York City’s subways from a 2009 terrorist plot led by a young Afghan-American, Najibullah Zazi.
But British and American legal documents from 2010 and 2011 contradict that claim, which appears to be the latest in a long line of attempts to defend secret programs by making, at best, misleading claims that they were central to stopping terror plots. While the court documents don’t exclude the possibility that PRISM was somehow employed in the Zazi case, the documents show that old-fashioned police work, not data mining, was the tool that led counterterrorism agents to arrest Zazi. The public documents confirm doubts raised by the blogger Marcy Wheeler and the AP’s Adam Goldman, and call into question a defense of PRISM first floated by House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers, who suggested that PRISM had stopped a key terror plot.
I don’t make a habit of trusting people who lie to me.