One of the upsides to living in the panopticon is the ability to call powerful people on things they were saying a few years ago. Glen Greenwald has begun to do so, noticing that many liberals who were against the 2005 and 2006 NSA wiretap allegations are very much in favor of more egregious intrusions now that the executive branch is in the Democratic Party’s hands.
The obvious conclusion is that such people are partisan hacks. The charitable conclusion is that such people have been doing some hard thinking in the last eight years. The paranoid conclusion is they have been turned by the spooks. Whatever the reason, it is worth compiling a list of some of the flip floppers for future reference.
Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) is the second-most preposterous example. (Our transparency president and the shaved baboon he calls vice president are, in tandem, the most ridiculous example.) In 2005, despite her being on the Senate Intelligence Committee, she claimed she had no idea what was going on and was worried it might be something illegal. By 2006 she said NSA spying was a very serious violation of the Fourth Amendment. Now she says Snowden is a “traitor” and that this much broader spy program is “protecting America.” Was she turned by the spooks? Did she fix the law so that there is nothing to worry about now? Is she senile? It is difficult to say, but her opinion certainly seems to be different, and she hasn’t explained why.
Senator Barbara Boxer (also D-CA) wondered aloud if NSA spying constituted an impeachable offense in 2005. She even asked for clarification from telecommunications companies on their collection of metadata in 2006. She has expressed no public opinion about the current scandal. Were her doubts laid to rest? Perhaps the spooks told her to keep her yap shut this time? It would be good for America if Senator Boxer were to bring the subject up again, if only to clarify why we shouldn’t be worried.
The phenomenon is bipartisan. Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) had serious issues with the Bush policy in 2006. She doesn’t have a problem with the Obama telephone metadata policy today, assuring us that “security ensures our freedom.”
Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) was against the NSA wiretapping process in 2005, stating that it didn’t have “any legal basis.” Now Senator Graham says he is “glad the NSA is trying to find out what terrorists are up to overseas and inside the country,” apparently trusting in the kangaroo FISA courts to make everything all better.
The Foreign Policy Association’s resident bubblehead, Rosa Brooks, said the domestic spying program was unspeakably horrible back in 2005. Nowadays she seems more worried about Amazon knowing what kinds of books she prefers and people noticing that she’s said a lot of idiotic things over the years.
Political commentators are not immune to the disease. Mark Steyn seemed to be all for domestic spying back then. Now that Obama gets to protect us from terrorism, he seems to think the surveillance state is useless.
CBS News anchor Bob Schieffer said in 2006 that the Bush Administration was up to something illegal. While he hasn’t decided what to think of the present NSA imbroglio, he says that Snowden is a no-good “narcissistic” skunk who should have remained in America so the spooks can have their way with him.
Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen labeled the reasons given for the 2006 NSA intercepts “a concatenation of fibs, exaggerations, misinterpretations, selected evidence, hype, false leads, vile suggestions, felonious deletions and the like.” Now that Obama is doing it, he considers it “no story” and “what Google does” and generally wonders what all the fuss is about.
It is difficult to make anything of the rapidly changing opinions of these alleged public servants. We know the intelligence agencies are huge, powerful, and mostly unaccountable. We know our spooks have been up to no good; they’ve been caught destroying records dealing with torture allegations. The courts let them get away with it. Whether or not you think this is a necessary evil, it indicates the legal system is not doing anything to hold intelligence agencies accountable for misdeeds. There are ominous signs that there are much worse things happening.
If I had to guess, the domestic spying programs are unnecessary and probably ineffective for “preventing terrorism.” If these programs are necessary to avoid a daily fare of fire and blood, we need better ideas. An obvious one is properly functioning border controls. One of the reasons the NSA “needs” all that data on US citizens is the simple fact that there are so many foreigners living here, legally and otherwise. If we were to stop invading the world while inviting the world to move here, there would be fewer potential dangerous foreigners within the “homeland” to worry about. Giving up our civil liberties in return for lower wages and more kebab restaurants seems a poor bargain.
If the NSA actually can stop terrorism with this kind of surveillance, every sane individual should be petrified of people with access to this data. While it is true that many businesses have access to intimate personal data, businesses only have some pieces of the data and are mostly interested in using it to sell you more stuff you don’t need. The government has all the data, making it much more intrusive. The government also has armies and the ability to throw citizens into secret prisons. Businesses are also not training for war with American citizens; the government is.
Regardless of the programs’ effectiveness, the spooks need public oversight. Doddering Dianne Feinstein’s word on the matter and secret kangaroo courts do not remotely qualify as “public oversight.” If the courts could empower a Torquemada to spend years investigating whether President Bubba got a hummer from a homely chubbins, they can certainly appoint a tribune of the people to investigate and report on what our spooks and their foreign partners are doing.
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