This is what happens when organizations shirk their duties
Everyone has been beating up on NSA and the White House after the Verizon/Prism revelations, and the Intelligence Community have been presenting carefully weasel-worded defenses. Here’s some examples:
New York Times, Washington Post, Wired, BBC, McClatchy, BoingBoing
People are right to be shocked. People are right to be angry. People are taking it out on the wrong people.
First, as far as I can tell, every single action of NSA and the companies they dealt with, as described, was totally legal, as defined by the laws passed by Congress, interpreted by the Executive Branch, and approved by the Judiciary. BTW, so were the actions of the Stasi, back in the day. Just sayin’.
First, some history. The thousand-page Patriot Act was passed by a panicked Congress in the weeks immediately after 9/11. The act was the cobbled-together wish-list of every federal agency that could justify a seat at the table. Congress passed it without reading it. The other acts, including the review of the Patriot Act, were passed later, in an atmosphere of fear — fear that the other side (of the aisle) would brand them soft on terrorism. Most of this, but not all of it, not by a long shot, was done on the GOP watch, under Bush. Obama inherited a collection of powers, and since when has a President ever voluntarily given up any powers?
Next, and this is the reprehensible part, came the secret interpretations of what the various acts allowed the government to do. Think of them as Presidential signing statements, only secret. The WH claims that these powers are all being exercised responsibly and with strong oversight. Of course, we have to take their word for this. Just like we had to take their word that the FBI wasn’t misusing their National Security Letters, until the FBI Inspector General admitted that no, they’d actually been violating the spirit of the law and the letter of the Constitution. But that’s all stopped now. Trust us.
The judiciary, meanwhile, remained just as pusillanimous as Congress. The special court set up to oversee the requests would look at two thousand in a year, and turn down eleven — roughly one-half of one percent. Some of those requests were amazingly sweeping, like the leaked Verizon document — “give me everything you’ve got for the next three months, at which time you’ll get a new request, and by the way you can’t say anything about this because it will tip-off our target”. The target, apparently, being everyone. In addition, the courts caved whenever the WH would play the “national security” card, which was every time they got thwarted. So, effectively, there was no oversight and no protection for American citizens.
There were a couple of Senators who tried to warn us, but if the WH stonewalls discussion, and nobody violates their oath and leaks the information, then there’s nothing that can be done.
Meanwhile, the defenders of the status quo, AKA President Obama, said
“I think it’s important for everybody to understand . . . that there are some tradeoffs involved. You can’t have 100 percent security and also then have 100 percent privacy and zero inconvenience. You know, we’re going to have to make some choices as a society.”
That’s a false dichotomy… trichotomy. We’ve never had 100% security in anything, anywhere, ever. You want to do something to improve the chances than an American will live a full life with their privacy intact? Do something about the 40,000 fatal, preventable, medical errors each year. Everything we do is a tradeoff between convenience and security. Every time you cross the street you are taking your life in your hands. Every time you walk across your living room. You are far more likely to be killed by a doctor or an automobile — or your sofa — than you are by a terrorist.
The people who wrote the Constitution recognized that. They recognized that you can’t trade freedom for security, for soon you will end up with neither. They crafted a system of checks and balances, designed to make sure that no branch of the government — particularly not the Executive Branch — could arrogate to itself enough power to turn America into a dictatorship like they’d left back in the Old Country. The catch was, each branch of the government had to do their damn job. If that had happened. If Congress had read what they voted on. If the GOP wasn’t such a proto-fascist organization. If more than a handful of federal judges had a backbone. IF the government worked the way the founders had intended, we wouldn’t be in this situation today.
Here’s one commenter that says some of what I wanted to say, but says it better. And here’s another, with a timeline that shows how long this has been going on.
The bottom line? We knew this could happen, and we willfully ignored the possibiltiy. The people who did it are in the Executive Branch. The people who enabled it are in the Legislative and Judicial Branches. The people who let it happen are us.