June 11, 2013
But was any of this really surprising? Were we all in the dark as to what the CIA, the NSA and the Pentagon could do?
And as we think back on 9/11, of our doomed countrymen jumping to their deaths from the World Trade Center, the dead and maimed at the Boston Marathon, will not most Americans say, “Thank the Lord we have this power, and God bless the men and women who are using it to defend us”?
While this power is extraordinary, it is still not of the same magnitude as the 50,000 nuclear weapons we had 50 years ago, at the time of the Cuban missile crisis, when war could have led to scores of millions of American dead.
Nevertheless, for a people whose proud boast is that our nation was conceived in freedom, this brave new world is sobering. Our own government has the power to intercept and listen to every phone call we make, to read every email we send or receive, to track us with cameras we cannot see, and to wage secret cyberwar against enemies real or perceived without a declaration of war.
Yet, we can no more uninvent the technology that enables our government to do this than we can uninvent the atom bomb. And rival powers like China are surely seeking the same capabilities.
Thomas Jefferson instructed us that “in questions of power, let no more be heard of confidence in men, but bind him down from mischief by the chains of the Constitution.”
But, ultimately, what other option do we have than to place our confidence in those whom we have entrusted with this power?
Congress is not going to pass a law telling the NSA that it may not coordinate with AOL, Apple or Google to access information that might prevent a terrorist attack. And if a terrorist attack hits this country, and our security agencies say their hands were tied in trying to protect us, all bets would be off as to what intrusions upon their freedom Americans might accept.
In the end, we ourselves are going to have to strike the balance between freedom and security.
But the question lingers.
If Big Brother is our guardian angel now, could he become Lucifer?