Defenders of National Security Agency (NSA) wholesale spying on Americans have asserted that it was and is legal, thanks to the Patriot Act.
But it turns out that all too often the NSA has broken the law—2,776 times over a one-year period, according to an internal audit leaked by the former NSA contractor and American hero Edward Snowden. That’s an average of more than 7.6 times per day that the NSA violated privacy rules protecting the communications of those residing in the United States. The New York Times reports that most of the violations resulted from operator and system errors like “inadequate or insufficient research” when selecting wiretap targets. For example, almost 70% of the violations occurred when a foreigner whose cellphone was wiretapped without a warrant came to the United States, where a warrant was required.
There is no way to prettify this pig: On its face, 2,776 instances of breaking the law in one year seems to prove that there has been a complete breakdown in agency discipline and that abuse of the Patriot Act is rampant.
The fact that it looks as if most of the violations involved taking a shortcut doesn’t absolve the NSA or the Obama administration. Here are some examples of other shortcuts: not asking for a warrant to wiretap an American citizen; doing complete sweeps of the metadata of millions of Americans; military trials to avoid civilian due process; and, of course, the shortest of all short cuts—torture. We’re not talking about a slippery slope here. What’s at issue is a mindset that is willing to break the rules and in the process trample on the rights of millions and to turn our society into a friendly police state.
It’s lose-lose for the NSA. Saying that the number of errors was miniscule compared to the number of wiretaps they are performing would indicate that the NSA is in fact spying on a disturbingly enormous number of people. So either the NSA makes a ton of mistakes or it’s doing massive spying. That’s about as lose-lose as you can get!
Barack Obama assumed the office of the President of the United States on extremely high moral ground, which mainly reflected American and world disgust with the bumbling butchery of Bush II that birthed two useless but destructive and expensive wars, a torture gulag around the world and shocking new levels of spying on American citizens. Barry even won a Nobel Peace Prize essentially for not being George Bush.
After the continued use of drones and continued revelations of spying abuses, Obama has lost all that high ground. You can’t stake a claim to a higher morality merely because you never ordered torture (especially if you have essentially suborned torture by not prosecuting the creators of the illegal torture machine). That’s akin to saying that you’re a better person because you only sell crystal meth to those over the age of 18. Of course, if we apply this analogy to Obama’s NSA, it may mean that you still “forget” to ask for ID most of the time!
Unfortunately the answer is not to vote for Republicans in the 2014 mid-term elections, since the Republican Party as a whole buys into the authoritarian state much more than the Democrats do. Before we can stem the slow drift towards a police state, we have to turn the Democratic Party back towards a reasoned approach to fighting terrorists, one that depends on legal police and intelligence techniques known to work. It would also help if we had a foreign policy that did not overtly exploit and offend the people who represent the terrorists’ constituency.