I’m still a bit confused about the brouhaha surrounding Edward Snowden. I’m not sure what he has said that is really new. I mean, what did we think was going on in all those mammoth NSA installations? What were they doing with all those satellites revolving around our heads, collecting jelly beans?
I assumed they were gathering everyone’s emails, texts, phone calls, and just about any other form of information, digital or otherwise, known to man or woman. And, though I don’t think I’m particularly brilliant for doing so, I’ve been assuming that for some time. 1984 began for me in 1987 at the latest. (In case you didn’t realize it, the NSA has been around since 1951! Its origins under other names are yet earlier.)
I’m even unimpressed with the revelation that our tech giants — Google, Facebook, Apple, etc. — have been involved. Why wouldn’t they want to cooperate with government as they expand their server farms across miles of our country? It makes perfect business sense.
Now don’t get me wrong. I don’t have a brief for Snowden. He seems to be a new form of narcissistic international creep, similar to Julian Assange of Wikileaks fame. I hope he gets dysentery in Ecuador or wherever he winds up.
But he may have done us a favor, putting an exclamation point on the activities of the NSA so there are no doubts. He also has made obvious the utter contempt with which Russia and China treat the Obama administration. (Evidently this was surprising to Dianne Feinstein on Face the Nation Sunday. Go figure.)
Also interesting is that the heightened concern for our civil liberties under government digital surveillance crosses political and party lines. Given the plethora of scandals confronting the administration, this presents an opportunity for dialogue we haven’t had for many years. Who knows if it will happen?
But if it does, I hope it will be intelligent and substantive. These are not easy questions. Good reasons exist for government surveillance.
Most obvious of them is the threat and reality of Islamic terrorism, which, despite the death of bin Laden, does not seem to be going away. Quite the contrary. It appears to be growing rapidly and dangerously.
Currently, an entire tier of the Middle East — across Syria and Lebanon and, tangentially but significantly, Iraq — seems to be engaged in the umpteenth refighting of the Battle of Karbala, the brutal 680CE encounter which initiated the never-ending violence between Sunnis and Shiites that has lasted a mind-boggling thirteen plus centuries.
The current version has a death toll of a hundred thousand and counting. Who knows where and when it will end and whether, thanks to Hezbollah, al Qaeda/al Nusra and assorted similar maniacs, it will wash up on our shores?
Meanwhile, Iran (Syria and Hezbollah’s mentor) has a new “moderate” president who evidently was involved in the bombing of the Jewish Center in Buenos Aires that killed 85. Rouhani (this new president) also credits the Mahdi — the Shiite messiah whose renewed presence allegedly signals global conflagration — with his election. Furthermore, his son apparently committed suicide when he heard his father had signed on with the corrupt and fanatical Khomeini regime. Rouhani sounds about as “moderate” as Goebbels or Himmler.
Egypt, of course, is a madhouse and about to go under martial law and, just yesterday, what the New York Times calls “militants” (but the rest of us call the Taliban) dressed up as paramilitary police and murdered ten foreign mountain climbers, including one American, in North Pakistan.
And we all know about the Boston Bombers.
It’s endless, actually. But suffice it to say I’m not so keen on dismantling, or even much curtailing, the NSA. The IRS perhaps, but not the NSA.
Still, we have to figure out how to balance this. The Founding Fathers would have had no inkling of Ayman al-Zawahiri and his fanatical ideology (wait, I take that back — Jefferson might have), but we do have the Bill of Rights for a reason. We are defending something other than the right to shop at Costco.
I don’t have any answers. But I do know we have to talk about this urgently and publicly. Unfortunately, our president doesn’t seem to see this as pressing. He prefers to address the ever-important issue of “climate change.” Heaven help us.