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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