Ever since the terrorist attacks on 9/11/2001, the NSA has used fear to build unstoppable political support. It has coupled this support with powerful technology to unlock the secrets of the world.
There’s no denying it: the system has been very good at uncovering and preventing terrorist plots. And as long as nobody knew how invasive and unconstitutional the NSA’s monitoring programs were, Capitol Hill was happy to ignore it. The blogs that talked about the threats to civil liberties and privacy were labeled conspiracy websites.
Then along came Edward Snowden, the NSA contractor-turned-leaker. Snowden was able to garner immense information about the system, too much information to be labeled a crank or a paranoid conspiracy theorist.
Since Snowden broke his silence, revelations from behind the wall of secrecy have poured out almost daily. Outrage about the system has turned from a small blaze into a four-alarm political crisis. And now the outrage has jumped the pond to Europe, where the NSA’s cellphone-monitoring dragnet has been spying on our NATO allies.
Most notoriously, German Chancellor Angela Merkel was targeted, while France and Spain also had phone data combed. Now, each of these countries has lodged formal diplomatic protests with the United States.
And this is where the story gets interesting. You see, the White House moved almost immediately to deny any knowledge of the spying. The no-knowledge story first leaked to The Wall Street Journal, and soon after to CNN. But since then, the White House has gone silent; and Spokesman Jay Carney has refused to answer questions.
When asked about it on Fusion TV, Obama played lawyer, saying, “I’m not here to talk about classified information. What I am confirming is the fact that we’re undergoing a complete review of how our intelligence operates outside of the country.”
Then Senator Diane Feinstein, the chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, repeated the denial. She definitively stated that President Obama didn’t know America was spying on its allies – and she added her own intelligence committee to the list of the uninformed.
As you can imagine, the backlash from the very powerful and permanent intelligence class has been brutal. They’re furious with the dissembler-in-chief, and they’ve been spinning the story that Obama did know, but is fibbing to protect himself.
The Los Angeles Times is reporting, “Professional staff members at the National Security Agency and other U.S. intelligence agencies are angry, these officials say, believing the president has cast them adrift as he tries to distance himself from the disclosures by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden that have strained ties with close allies.”
And Republicans want in on the action. “Obviously, we’re going to want to know exactly what the president knew and when he knew it,” John McCain told the media. “We have always eavesdropped on people around the world. But the advance of technology has given us enormous capabilities, and I think you might make an argument that some of this capability has been very offensive both to us and to our allies.”
A Change in the Air
I urge you: don’t be naïve and think the NSA is some rogue agency that didn’t tell Obama or Congress what it was doing. I’m sure everyone involved enjoyed the secrets until they were finally exposed. And to be fair, some of the secrets we garnered may have even kept us more secure. But, the spying is unconstitutional and too invasive to continue.
There’s no way around it… the way the NSA does business is about to change. The public outcry has been so loud that Republicans and Democrats are coming together to sponsor what has been dubbed the “USA Freedom Act.”
It’s authored by liberal Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Rep. James Sensenbrenner Jr., a conservative from Wisconsin famous for being the original author of the USA Patriot Act in 2001. There are more than 70 co-sponsors in the House.
The bill will stop the NSA’s bulk collection of U.S. phone records and install barriers that prevent the NSA from collecting the communications of Americans. It will require the government to delete unintentionally collected information and will also create a special advocate’s office tasked with strengthening safeguards for all the collected data.
The NSA finds itself in a tough spot. It will be nearly impossible for the organization to keep its current powers, particularly since Capitol Hill supporters are suddenly nowhere to be found. Between international outrage and public outcry, it seems change is inevitable.
This commentary originally appeared at CapitolHillDaily.com and is reprinted here with permission.