Back in the 1980’s/90’s, the National Security Agency (NSA) was so top secret, the joke around Washington was that “NSA” stood for “No Such Agency”, because no one would even confirm its existence. I can remember when saying that you believe such a super-secret agency even exists made you sound like a conspiracy nut. But in January of 2000 (under President Clinton), the existence of the NSA was finally confirmed. Not only was it real, but had been around since 1951 (or 1948 under a different name). The reason for the sudden big reveal? Republican investigations into the anti-terrorism surveillance activities of the Clinton Administration had made its existence all but common knowledge. The endless GOP investigations into the Clinton Administration had found that the NSA had been instructed to monitor all electronic communications for terrorist threats. Cellphones were exceedingly rare, and the Internet was still in its infancy, so the bulk of surveillance was electronic monitoring of phone calls for word combinations like “bomb” & “target”. AlQaeda was already a huge and growing threat with a series of bombings and terrorist attacks across the Middle East (see the Khobar Towers bombing and the bombing of U.S. Embassies in Kenya & Tanzania). Thanks to the GOP’s obsession with bringing down President Clinton, the terrorists now knew that we were monitoring them, driving terrorist activities further underground. There was no longer any point in denying the existence of The National Security Agency, thus the big reveal. And so it continues. Republicans scream about violations of privacy when a Democrat is in the White House even if it jeopardizes public safety, and dismisses the president’s critics when a Republican is in office. The more they reveal, the more they “tip our hand” to the terrorists, forcing the NSA to become more intrusive trying to stay one step ahead of the terrorists. (I won’t be arguing the merits of the surveillance program here, only how it is being made worse by revealing its practices.)

It has been odd this past week listening to Progressives who feel upset & critical of President Obama (expressing everything from dismay to an outright feeling of betrayal), while many Republicans (like Bill Kristol) defend him. But there are also Republicans who… without a hint of shame or irony… are attacking Obama for doing the same thing as President Bush as just “one more example” of him using the government to trample our Civil Liberties (along with the IRS “scandal” and “Fast & Furious”)… unlike the guy who gave us The PATRIOT Act.

I am decidedly torn on the surveillance program. Personally, I was more bothered by the Bush Administration eschewing the FISA Court and Congress for permission than by the surveillance itself:

Bush 2004: Wiretapping only with a (FISA) court order.
Bush 2006: FISA was written in 1978
(explaining why they didn’t bother seeking a court order.)

Flash forward to yesterday (June 9, 2013):

Former NSA Director Gen. Michael Hayden on Fox “news” Sunday says
Obama has added “incredible oversight mechanisms” to surveillance program:

So the idea that what Bush did and President Obama is doing are “the same thing” is horse-pucky. In fact, the more we learn about the surveillance program under Obama, the more the argument against it falls apart. Where the Bush Administration flat out lied about seeking permission to do something clearly illegal, the Obama Administration has gone out of its way to keep the program “above board”.

But can’t such monitoring also be a good thing? In England, “CCTV” (Closed Circuit Television) cameras are everywhere as a crime-fighting tool. The 7/7/2005 London Bombings suspects were captured & convicted thanks to being spotted on surveillance cameras positioned throughout the city. And knowing that the cameras are there has likely proved as a deterrent against future attacks.

Others see such invasive surveillance as a “Big Brother” government invasion of privacy. ThinkProgress stated on Saturday that the tangible harm of these programs is that it “changes your behavior” so that even people who never do anything wrong feel they must act/behave a certain way for fear of reprisal.

Well, I’ve got news for you: You just defined RELIGION… the belief that an omnipotent being with the power to punish you is watching your every move to ensure that you’re being a good little boy or girl.

This also defines Santa Claus.

Americans are perfectly fine with the idea of “being constantly watched” as a means of “protection” and “behavior modification”. So anyone that whines about “Big Brother” on their way to church on Sunday… clearly you have no problem with the concept, so what’s your beef?

Conservative columnist Matt Dowd on ABC’s “ThisWeek” yesterday pointed out that “the same Conservatives supporting NSA snooping as an acceptable violation of their Civil Liberties in exchange for a little safety are the very same people unwilling to accept even the most modest gun control laws. I love when someone points out glaring Conservative hypocrisy.

But I digress.

As the presidents’ (whomever he may be) critics publicly reveal more & more about the types of information that is gathered, the MORE information they’ll have to collect as a result of our enemies now knowing what devices/words we are monitoring. If the president’s critics reveal we are checking Hotmail accounts for word like “bomb” and “embassy” in close proximity (the way I just did meaning this Op/Ed has been flagged as you have been too for reading it), they’ll just start using Yahoo mail instead and substituting words like “comb” or “qwoq” for what they really mean, making it tougher to catch them.

Some argue that there’s an upside to all this: Tell them that we’re monitoring cell phones and they’ll go back to using land lines. Tell them that we’re reading their emails and they’ll switch to snail-mail, greatly slowing down and hindering their efforts.

Problem is, our enemies are tech savvy now too. They’re not going to rely on “Smoke Signals” or “the Pony Express” (as suggested by Mary Matalin on ABC’s “ThisWeek” yesterday) to avoid having their communications intercepted, they’re going to get MORE sophisticated, not “less”. Hell, alQaeda publishes its own online magazine on its own website. Does anyone REALLY believe they’re going to get LESS sophisticated to avoid detection? Of course not. All these “revelations” do are push our enemies into using more complex methods to avoid detection, forcing US in turn to become ever more invasive. By that logic then, all we need to do is simply lie about how powerful we are and our enemies will just give up trying to attack us. (Hey, it worked for Saddam, right?)

We are sweeping up more data now because we’ve revealed the existence of these programs, putting our enemies on alert. We had all the information needed to prevent 9/11 before the attack without the extensive invasion of our privacy that we see today, we just didn’t analyze that data in time to prevent the attack. We didn’t have to collect the MASSIVE amount of data we do today from an infinite number of sources. Now we do because the existence and methods of these agencies have been revealed. These very revelations are driving the ever growing invasions of privacy the critics are screaming about. These leaks aren’t making us safer, and they DEFINITELY aren’t resulting in greater privacy.

Note: M.R.S. will be off next week for Father’s Day but will return to our regular schedule on June 24th.

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