Privacy vs Security: The People’s Choice???

Posted June 13, 2013 on 4:37 pm | In the category Bush/Cheney, Obama, Terrorism | by Jeff

“The N.S.A. began, in some cases, to eavesdrop on callers (often using computers to listen for key words) or to investigate them using traditional police methods. A government consultant told me that tens of thousands of Americans had had their calls monitored in one way or the other. “In the old days, you needed probable cause to listen in,” the consultant explained. “But you could not listen in to generate probable cause. What they’re doing is a violation of the spirit of the law.”…. “Nobody disputes the value of the tool,” the former senior intelligence official told me. “It’s the unresolved tension between the operators saying, ‘Here’s what we can build,’ and the legal people saying, ‘Just because you can build it doesn’t mean you can use it.’ ” It’s a tension that the President and his advisers have not even begun to come to terms with…”  Excerpt from “Listening In” by Seymour Hersh in the May 29, 2006 issue of The New Yorker

And so it seems that both president George W. Bush and his Democratic successor, President Obama, did come to terms with the tension between having the tools to gather information on American citizens’ private phone calls and email exchanges and any legal impediments. President Obama has been quoted using the same kind of arguments that we have heard over and over since September 11, 2001. They track our phone calls and email messages “for our own good”, to protect us from “the enemy”, and it is a difficult choice between privacy rights and security. Well, maybe so, but it would have been nice if they had asked us to participate in the choice. And in doing so had offered concrete evidence that the loss of individual privacy actually increased our security.
Various leaders of the intelligence apparatus have said that the grand sweep of information had led to the interruption of several terrorist attacks on the U.S. but believing that involves trusting the sources and since they have in the past lied to Congressional oversight committees, trust is – or at least should be, elusive.

At a congressional hearing last March, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore) asked Director of National Intelligence James Clapper if the National Security Agency (NSA) , “collect(s) any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?” Clapper replied, “No sir … not wittingly.” Thanks to Edward Snowden, we now know he was lying, but anyone who has followed Seymour Hersh’s reporting should not have been surprised. Nor can we believe that Clapper’s lie was “unwitting”. Asked last week by Andrea Mitchell why he had replied to Senator Wyden in that way, his answer was:

“I thought, though in retrospect, I was asked [a] ‘when are you going to … stop beating your wife’ kind of question, which is … not answerable necessarily by a simple yes or no. So I responded in what I thought was the most truthful, or least untruthful, manner by saying, ‘No.’ ”

In some ways the Congress and the press find themselves in a difficult position. Congress is supposed to provide oversight of our intelligence operations and have either failed to do so or are complicit in supporting unconstitutional activities by what are virtually, national police forces. And if they now know they were lied to, their credibility as an oversight body requires them minimally to have Clapper removed from office.

The press shares the role of protecting the people from an overreaching government and has largely failed in that role. Seven years ago Sy Hersh sent up a warning flare in his New Yorker piece and that flare went largely unnoticed by the rest of the press, leaving them to share in Congress’s complicity. It is now predictable that they will argue both sides of the privacy vs. security argument without really arguing about their own role in what is an international embarrassment.

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