Big Brother’s lies

Three Demo­cratic se­na­tors join a suit against the snoop­ers

The Washington Times Daily - - Editorial -

Pub­lic trust in the fed­eral gov­ern­ment is at a record low. All the polls and sur­veys show it, but we’re still ex­pected to take it on faith that ev­ery­thing is done for our own good. The Na­tional Se­cu­rity Agency, for ex­am­ple, has been keep­ing tabs on where we go and when, lis­tens to our tele­phone calls and reads our emails. If it wants, it could lis­ten to a con­ver­sa­tion with Granny, and let us know when we need to stop at the 7-Eleven for a quart of milk. Such all-know­ing sur­veil­lance is sup­posed to thwart ter­ror­ism. Ev­ery­one wants to stop ter­ror­ism, so what’s wrong with a lit­tle sur­veil­lance?

Ex­cept that it’s sim­ply not true that the NSA pro­grams thwart crime. Sens. Mark Udall of Colorado, Ron Wy­den of Oregon and Martin Hein­rich of New Mex­ico on Tues­day filed a friend of the court brief to sup­port a coali­tion of two-dozen groups su­ing the Na­tional Se­cu­rity Agency to stop the eaves­drop­ping. All of th­ese se­na­tors are mem­bers of the Se­nate In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee and have ac­cess to a great deal of priv­i­leged in­for­ma­tion.

“The ev­i­dence shows,” wrote the se­na­tors, “that the ex­ec­u­tive branch’s claims about the ef­fec­tive­ness of the bulk phone-records pro­gram have been vastly over­stated and are, in some cases, ut­terly mis­lead­ing.” When Ed­ward J. Snow­den, a for­mer NSA con­trac­tor and cel­e­brated leaker, re­leased the top-se­cret court or­der au­tho­riz­ing the col­lec­tion of the tele­phone records of mil­lions of Amer­i­cans, the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s spin­ners claimed that 54 deadly ter­ror­ist plots were thwarted by the snoop­ing. They wrote an imag­i­na­tive story line to per­suade the pub­lic that so many lives had been saved that sur­ren­der­ing pri­vacy was worth it.

Now we learn that the ad­min­is­tra­tion ex­ag­ger­ated the suc­cess story by count­ing ev­ery case in which a cap­tured ter­ror­ist might have used a cell­phone. “Of the orig­i­nal 54 that the gov­ern­ment pointed to,” the se­na­tors said, “of­fi­cials have only been able to de­scribe two that in­volved ma­te­ri­ally use­ful in­for­ma­tion ob­tained through the bulk call­records pro­gram.” The se­na­tors think those two re­main­ing cases could have been solved with­out blan­ket sur­veil­lance. It’s not pos­si­ble to say what’s true and what’s not as long as the rel­e­vant in­for­ma­tion re­mains locked in the top-se­cret vaults at the var­i­ous in­tel­li­gence agen­cies.

The known facts do sug­gest that the ef­fec­tive­ness of drag­net sur­veil­lance is greatly ex­ag­ger­ated. Bulk records were be­ing col­lected from tele­phone com­pa­nies in April, yet this breath­tak­ing invasion of pri­vacy did noth­ing to thwart the Is­lamist ex­trem­ists who set off bombs at the Bos­ton Marathon. In­stead of trust, the Na­tional Se­cu­rity Agency de­serves closer scru­tiny. The judges of the se­cret For­eign In­tel­li­gence Sur­veil­lance Court, charged with over­sight of the in­tel­li­gence com­mu­nity, are clearly not pro­vid­ing that scru­tiny.

Newly re­leased rul­ings of the court show that the judges rub­ber-stamped the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s spy re­quests even though they ex­pressed mis­giv­ings about the scope of the snoop­ing and the agency’s fail­ure to fol­low the rules. Of more than 20,000 re­quests made since Sept. 11, 2001, only a hand­ful have been re­jected.

The Found­ing Fa­thers, who un­der­stood the na­ture of man, never put a lot of faith in gov­ern­ment. They set up a sys­tem of checks and bal­ances to pre­vent one branch of gov­ern­ment from ac­cu­mu­lat­ing too much power. The Na­tional Se­cu­rity Agency now runs amok in the lives of ev­ery­one. This can­not stand.

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