Those who know my position on the N.S.A.know I believe the agency did nothing illegal. The president said as much Friday. So what has all the brouhaha been about?
It all relates to Edward Snowden’s theft of the secret files of the N.S.A. which show how it operates. It is a clever spy agency determined to protect us from terrorism by using all the latest technological means available. It collects vast sources of information on everyone but does so within the restraints of our Constitution. Snowden didn’t like them doing this so he exposed their doings. President Obama made reference to him but said he wasn’t going to dwell on his actions which revealed “methods to our adversaries that could impact our operations in ways that we may not fully understand for years to come.”
If that is the case which seems quite obvious, the president should have given the dog his proper name. When you disclose top secret doings inimicable to our country’s interest to our enemies I’d suggest with respect to Snowden the president should have been more blunt. Such actions seem to me to be that of a traitor.
The president’s speech said even though everything is being done properly, to make sure that continues he’s going to change things. I believed if the thing was working best not tinker with it. I guess the president felt a need to respond to the loud voices of those who have appointed themselves keepers of the flame of liberty so he’s making changes which hopefully don’t lessen our safety. It is always easy to be a loud voice, not so to be the decision maker. The latter has the responsibility, the former can walk away if things go wrong.
The oddest part President Obama’s speech seemed to relate to the handling of the metadata of which we’ve heard so much. Even though the collection and storing of it has shown no infringements on the liberties and rights of Americans and it is of extreme necessity that we keep this data, the president said: “I am therefore ordering a transition that will end the Section 215 bulk metadata program as it currently exists, and establish a mechanism that preserves the capabilities we need without the government holding this bulk metadata.”
The idea of taking the phone metadata out of the hands of the N.S.A. and putting into the hands of some third-party has been bandied about for weeks. The president is buying into it. How does that make anyone’s privacy more secure? Recall that we are dealing with this issue because the N.S.A. material was put in the hands of a third-party which employed Edward Snowden. What is to prevent a third party’s employee like Snowden from violating our privacy?
There are other aspects of the speech that piqued my curiosity. The president said: “even the United States proved not to be immune to the abuse of surveillance. And in the 1960s, government spied on civil rights leaders and critics of the Vietnam War. And partly in response to these revelations, additional laws were established in the 1970s to ensure that our intelligence capabilities could not be misused against our citizens.” A little later noting: “I would not be where I am today were it not for the courage of dissidents like Dr. King, who were spied upon by their own government.” This government spying was done in violation of the law, unlike what the N.S.A. has done. It was done by the FBI under the direction of J. Edgar Hoover. It involved a lot more than spying. and was hidden from almost everyone else in government. I’m never pleased when the blame is not placed on the right entity. Later the president spoke of National Security Letters. Unlike with the N.S.A., this is an area where the law was abused by the FBI. The revelations upset many in Congress but nothing seemed to have been done about it. Our leaders in Congress prefer to toss partisan bombs at each other and walk away without dealing with the problem. National Security Letters were being sent out by FBI agents for things not relating to national security to get personal and financial information on many Americans. It involved much more than metadata. Not only could they get the information, those that gave it out were prohibited from disclosing to the people that their information had been give to the FBI. Even worse, the record keeping relating to these requests was just about non existent. Obama rightly is putting a stop to the unfettered use of these letters. He is doing what should always have been that is making there be a requirement for notice, that is, a person’s whose information is collected must be told about the action at some time later down the road. The idea that an FBI agent who secures our personal information in secrecy must at some point tell us that she did it will cut down substantially on their use. It is of importance to remember the party who has committed the most abuse of our rights is the FBI. Yet, the president, as is Congress, seems unprepared to call it out. We should be more wary of it than we are of the N.S.A.