The PJ Tatler

A Modest Question About the NSA Spying on Americans

So I go away to the beach for a couple of days and another Obama scandal erupts. In this one, we learn that the National Security Agency has been turned around from its mission of spying on the rest of the world, and is now spying on Americans. It sweeps up our phone and email records, with the cooperation of at least 50 corporations. It may be recording our calls. One has to parse President Obama’s statements very carefully. Whatever he says, the NSA has had its mission changed since January 2009. It was outward-looking before; it’s inward-looking now. This change was made despite Barack Obama’s 2007 explicit promise to never wiretap American citizens. At that time, the NSA was known to be intercepting communications between terrorists who were physically outside the US, but happened to have their calls routed through US switches. The 2007-vintage Obama slammed the Bush administration at the time. Once in office, Obama’s NSA went much farther than Bush’s NSA ever had, and evidently has plans for even more intrusive and exhaustive record-keeping.

Now, President Obama claims that the government needs the NSA to do what it has been doing in the interests of national security. The government needs to spy on its own citizens, 24/7/365, to keep us all safe.

Ok. I’m as much of a national security hawk as anyone else. So here’s my question.

Surely, at some point after the Russians warned the US government about the Tsarnaev brothers, and at some point after Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s trip to Russia, somewhere along the way of their radicalization and Tamerlan’s transformation of his all-American wife into a bride of Islamism, their records must have been swept up among the trillions of records that were swept up. Right? Somebody was looking at them. Right? One of them had even become a US citizen.

The Tsarnaevs bought fireworks and pressure cookers, which terrorism experts know can be used to build a bomb. They struck an obvious target on an obvious day. There were security agents all over the place on the day of the Boston Marathon.

So why weren’t the Tsarneav brothers stopped?

I’m not suggesting any sort of “let it happen” scenario occurred at the Boston Marathon.

I am wondering if the NSA’s mission turn may not have really been about terrorism or national security at all, but about the same sort of things the IRS abuse was about.