Saturday, June 08, 2013

Excellent Op-Ed by Gail Collins on NSA Spying and Obama

Gail Collins,  Intelligence for Dummies NYTimes (June 7, 2013).

Snippets (but do read the entire op-ed column):

"'Nobody is listening to your telephone calls,' President Obama assured the American people on Friday. Well, probably nobody. And, if they are, it’s under an entirely different part of the program.


"Let’s start with the real basics. Does the N.S.A. really need all the stuff it’s collecting? Ever since the attack on the World Trade Center, the agency has been exploding. It has an enormous operation outside of Washington, and it is building another million-square-foot complex in the Utah desert. It collects an estimated 1.7 billion pieces of communication a day. 'When you have the ability to get more and more data, the natural inclination is to get as much as possible,' said Representative Henry Waxman, the former chairman of the House oversight committee.
"...[W] e do seem to have an ominous combination: an agency with a bad record on thriftiness, and practically everything it spends money on is secret. 'It’s a tough balancing act,' an Obama administration official told me. 'It’s incumbent on us and Congress to do the job of scrutinizing the budget, both in terms of cost and efficacy.'
"Yeah, what about Congress? The president keeps saying that “Congress is continually briefed” about security issues. In reality, the briefing is pretty much confined to the members of the House and Senate intelligence committees, who are sworn to secrecy. Many of them also have a longstanding record of being in the pocket of the intelligence community. A few of the others had been desperately trying to warn their colleagues about the telephone-call program without breaking their vow of silence. Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon did everything but tap dance the information in Morse code.
"I wouldn’t rely on Congress to keep things under control. It’s really up to the president. As a candidate, Obama looked as if he would be great at riding herd on the N.S.A.’s excesses. But if he has ever seriously pushed back on the spy set, it’s been kept a secret. Meanwhile, the administration scarfs up reporters’ e-mails and phone records in its obsessive war against leaks.
"“I welcome this debate,” Obama said Friday. “I think it’s healthy for our democracy.” Under further questioning, he said that he definitely didn’t welcome the leaks. Without which, of course, there would be no debate.
"Do you remember how enthusiastic people were about having a president who once taught constitutional law? I guess we’ve learned a lesson."

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