If hypocrisy were oil, Washington would be Saudi Arabia. But even by the standards of a town where disingenuousness and moral falsity frame also every public discussion, President Obama’s spokesman Jay Carney yesterday blew smoke fouler than the air in a Chinese coal mine.
“We oppose the current effort in the House to hastily dismantle one of our Intelligence Community’s counterterrorism tools,” said Carney, specifically ignoring the zeal in the Democrat’s house, the Senate, to demand changes, limits, and procedures that would certainly re-mantle the Federal Government’s universal surveillance system.
But here’s the Big Hoot: “This blunt approach,” Carney went on, “is not the product of an informed, open or deliberative process.”
So true! But whose fault is that? Why, I believe it is no one other than the Press Secretary’s boss, President Barack Obama.
Until Edward Snowden spilled to Glen Greenwald in The Guardian, and later, the Washington Post, the extent of telephone, snail and email, cellphone, GPS record-keeping underway at the National Security Agency, President Obama was zealously protecting keeping all the secrets of that cuddly “Intelligence Community.” (Anybody ever hear references to a Health and Welfare Community? Even though they deal, literally, with community concerns. Education community? Housing community? Yes, it is common to invoke the Defense Community, because, it, too, like Intelligence, benefits from painted on warm and fuzzies.)
Before Snowden, all the American people were allowed to know came from some, dare I call them “cryptic” hints from a couple of well-briefed Senators, and important whistleblower coverage of phone-record-napping in the NY Times and elsewhere. That should have alerted the public that traceable digital systems, not just phones, but computers, and GPS connectors could, and therefore were likely to be scanned for Big Data.
That the snoops are also clocking postal communications seems so “last century,” that it caught me by surprise. It shouldn’t have. Surveillance covers all, or it’s almost nothing at all.
That’s why turning off parts of the surveillance machine won’t work.
What will work is rule of law, covering the whole damn surveillance system, what the people’s representatives will legislate as limits, not on data collection – a blind eye sees no dangers, but on data selection: what triggers actually examining a person’s collected data, and who gets to do the examining? Is some form of warrant needed before selection can begin, and what level of cause will be required to obtain one? Will anyone argue on behalf of privacy? What parts of a person’s data can be examined? Who monitors the process to see that set limits are respected, that every search doesn’t simply strip-mine personal data? And who has oversight over the monitors, and how much are they allowed to share with the public?
These are all difficult, subtle, and vitally important questions. A Congress which having taken its feet from their normal resting spot in their mouths, should not now use them to out-run their brains. Carney and his boss are right about that.
Information, deliberation and openness will all be required if Americans are to exercise any influence on perhaps the most important legal and political decisions of our time. But it ill behooves the man who has smothered all of them, either because he uncritically trusts the men and systems whose secrets he’s been hiding from voters, or because he mistrusts the wisdom of those citizens and finds it safer compulsively to cover his ass, to say so.
Let’s not forget that the most flagrant known examples of abuse of surveillance data come from the Obama Justice Department’s pursuit of phone records of journalists at Fox News, CBS News and the Associated Press who were working on revelations, not of strategic secrets, but of undisclosed CIA and State Department ineptitude and dishonesty.
You know the kind of thing, like that Attorney General Eric Holder was Bill Clinton’s end-of-term-pardon go-between (and might one guess, in the usually politically correct, indirect way, bagman?) with the convicted fugitive billionaire Marc Rich. That was supposed to be a secret, too.
This of the embarrassment President Clinton and then Deputy AG Holder might have saved themselves with a little information, deliberation and openness, even at the cost of a crook’s Get Out of Jail Free card, and whatever it might have produced.