And while we’re at it, I don’t trust anybody who draws a government paycheck.
Let me start this with a quote from one of my favorite and most admired people, H.L. Mencken:
The government consists of a gang of men exactly like you and me. They have, taking one with another, no special talent for the business of government; they have only a talent for getting and holding office.
On that note, let’s chat about the National Security Agency and the idea that by giving up a little personal liberty we can be secure. Ben Franklin (or Thomas Jefferson) said:
Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.
Since (I’m opting for) Franklin said that there has been an ongoing debate about a “balance” between liberty and security. That’s the heart of the NSA snooping debate. I find the most interesting dynamic in the debate is that very broadly framed, essentially warrantless snooping is most defended by career politicians of both parties. People who don’t agree that the sun rises in the East are in lockstep on this question.
That gives me pause, and again I’ll revert to Mencken:
The men the American people admire most extravagantly are the most daring liars; the men they detest most violently are those who try to tell them the truth.
We do seem to hold politicians in a sort of reverence. We don’t need to discuss either Obama or Bill Clinton (who would likely win in 2016 if HE could run). But we should take a look at “our” heroes, GWB, a few Senators, a handful of House Members and some red state Governors. Do you trust them more than you trust Barack Obama?
I don’t. Not even a little. “Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely.” And no man – or woman – is immune. None.
“So Mike, what about the NSA?” Hey, thanks for asking. Last month at this time I’d likely have shrugged my shoulders over the data collection. They got a warrant from the FISA Court. They’re not actually “listening” just looking for patterns and locations from the telephony meta-data. What’s the big deal?
Well, the big deal is that when sun shines on something, the rats and roaches start to run.
First problem? As I noted above, people who don’t agree on where – or whether – the sun is coming up agree that this is a good thing. These are the people who control the levers of power in the US government. “A government that is big enough to give you what you want (security, for one) is big enough to take everything you have.”
Second problem? Before my first cup of coffee – which I still haven’t finished – I read this:
After last week’s revelations extensive National Security Agency surveillance of phone and internet communications, President Barack Obama made it a point to assure Americans that, not to worry, there is plenty of oversight of his administration’s snooping programs. “We’ve got congressional oversight and judicial oversight,” he said Friday, referring in part to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC), which was created in 1979 to oversee Department of Justice requests for surveillance warrants against foreign agents suspected of espionage or terrorism in the United States. But the FISC has declined just 11 of the more than 33,900 surveillance requests made by the government in 33 years…
Two things jumped out at me. The first was that the Court has declined eleven out of about 34,000 surveillance requests over 33 years. Eleven. Why bother? We actually pay somebody – probably a lot of somebodies – who went to law school to come in to the office every day so they can approve warrants. Not “review” warrants, “approve” warrants. Where’s my rubber stamp?
The second point took a tad longer to sink in to my uncaffeinated brain. The job of the Court is to oversee requests for warrants against foreign agents.
Read that one again.
Welcome to the brave new world you foreign agent you.
And, just to beat the point to death, retired NSA analyst William Binney notes the following:
In the last year, how many requests for a warrant has the FISA court rejected? Zero. It’s just a rubber stamp. In 2002 the FISA courts found out that the FBI lied on 75 affidavits for a warrant. And they didn’t do anything as a result of that. How good of an oversight is that? It’s nothing, it’s a joke.
I’m going to note the second thing that twisted my head this morning, beginning again with H.L. Mencken:
Nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public.
From the Washington Post:
A large majority of Americans say the federal government should focus on investigating possible terrorist threats even if personal privacy is compromised, and most support the blanket tracking of telephone records in an effort to uncover terrorist activity, according to a new Washington Post-Pew Research Center poll.
Fully 45 percent of all Americans say the government should be able to go further than it is, saying that it should be able to monitor everyone’s online activity if doing so would prevent terrorist attacks…
Sixty-two percent of Americans now say it’s more important for the government to investigate terrorist threats, even if those investigations intrude on personal privacy, while 34 percent say privacy should be the focus, regardless of the effect on such investigations.
But with a Democratic president at the helm instead of a Republican, partisan views have turned around significantly.
You should read the whole article, but the bottom line is this: the American public are a bunch of smelly sheep. If “our guy” is in the White House we trust the government to do the right thing. If he’s not “out guy” we don’t.
Let me go back to “Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely.” and let me close with a repetition of the fact that the people who run power structure in Washington DC, those people who have the power to give you what you want, all love this program more than their children.
I’ll close with a quote that you may remember from Patrick Henry:
Give me liberty or give me death.
I hope that gives you pause.