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Tuesday, October 29, 2013

It's Time to Neuter the NSA

I suspect Edward Snowden's biggest challenge these days is keeping a straight face. Slowly and reluctantly the Washington political class has put aside the personal attacks on him and in spite of themselves have directed their attention to the rat's nest of unchecked surveillance he uncovered. Early on, the Washington insiders suddenly seemed out of their depth as they woefully misjudged the public's reaction to the fact that were being spied upon. Many of these pols and pundits had formed their opinions and infatuations of the intelligence community during the cold war. They regarded the NSA as benevolent entity, that, like a spirited horse or playful puppy could get out of hand from time to time but with proper handling could be a positive force for national security, drug interdiction, and tax collection. Congressman Justin Amash and Rand Paul who were both young men when the Berlin Wall was demolished are not enthralled by the nation's ability to vacuum up huge quantities of data on its citizens and view the NSA in a less sanguine aura. They see it as the lap dog of the modern police state.
The latest revelations concerning the NSA's surveillance of American allies including the tapping of Chancellor Angela Merkel's personal cell phone elicited the same ho-hum, "boys will be boys" response not just from the Obama administration and its vassals in the media but from Washington conservatives whom I usually trust to be informed. "Everybody does it. We just do it better. I would be concerned if we were not doing it." There is a very finite limit to my patience and what little trust I still had of these pundits following the domestic spying revelations has turned to contempt for their thinking on this matter. After all, it took Rand Paul to point out that there might be something wrong with giving the intelligence community, in this instance the CIA, the discretion to assassinate American citizens using unmanned drones. We never heard any criticism of this police state tactic from the sagacious panelists who grace the Sunday talk shows.
Yes, in a hostile world spying is a necessary evil but listening to the confidential and personal calls of a head of state that is allied to this country borders on the prurient. The German Chancellor has every right to be livid as do the allied European heads of state whose populations have been subjected to the same collections of metadata that outraged American citizens.
As my partner rightly points out Obama seems to pride himself on being the least informed person on the planet Yes, the Presidents wakes up in a new world everyday boasts Jay Carney. He's almost oblivious to knowledge. I'll concede the point that the President knows very little but on this matter the German publication Bild states that even Obama's ignorance has its limits and he was informed in 2010 that the NSA had compromised Merkel's secure phone. From the Daily Mail;
‘Obama did not stop the action at that time but allowed it to continue,’ said an intelligence official familiar with the NSA operation against Merkel image on Sunday.
'Obama did not stop the action but rather furthered it,' said the Bild informant.
'The reason for the action?' said Bild. 'Obama wanted to know exactly who this woman was.'
Or maybe he wanted to know what kind of beer she and hubby drank with their brats.
Far from being a non story this events may present one of the biggest challenges for an already challenged administration. By denying any knowledge of the Merkel spying the White House inadvertently raised a troublesome question. Congress had not been privy to this information, and if the White House was not, just who was running the foreign surveillance program? Miffed at being left out of the loop and maybe wondering if the Obama White House was spying on her, Senator Dianne Feinstein may be about to let her sense of duty get in the way of her partisanship.
The White House has informed me that collection on our allies will not continue, which I support,' said Feinstein.
'But as far as I’m concerned, Congress needs to know exactly what our intelligence community is doing. To that end, the committee will initiate a major review into all intelligence collection programs.'
She continued;
'it is clear to me that certain surveillance activities have been in effect for more than a decade and that the Senate Intelligence Committee was not satisfactorily informed. Therefore our oversight needs to be strengthened and increased.'
Exactly how far DiFi is willing to go or how mean she can be when she feels slighted is of course unknown but what is known is that not every member of the Senate Intelligence Committee is a big NSA fan particularly Senators Ron Wyden and Mark Udall. Marco Rubio also sits on that committee and he may want to try to refurbish his once solid reputation for being an anti establishment reformer. Who knows? Even Indiana's silent Senator Dan Coats may want to establish some credibility with the folks back home. For the most part I'm pretty skeptical that the Washington establishment will find the courage to do what needs to be done but any restraint on the NSA would be a blessing for the country.

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