Friday, May 12, 2006

They've Got Your Number

The Moose weighs in on the latest NSA flap.

Once again the battle lines are drawn on another controversy over liberty vs. security in the war against terrorism. Cries of Big Brother and fascism are being heard.

It is time for some reasoned clarity.

This is not a program intended to deprive us of our liberty, but rather one that attempts to employ twenty-first century technology to stop seventh century theocratic killer fascists. Here is the key point in the USA Today story,

"The government is collecting "external" data on domestic phone calls but is not intercepting "internals," a term for the actual content of the communication, according to a U.S. intelligence official familiar with the program. This kind of data collection from phone companies is not uncommon; it's been done before, though never on this large a scale, the official said."

As of yet, there is no evidence that the government was eavesdropping on private conversations of innocent citizens. What we know is that it is a collection of phone numbers that were put into super computers to detect patterns of suspect activity. The Bushies were not using information to destroy their political opponents. The NSA is legitimately obtaining data to thwart terrorists.

Has it been a mere coincidence that the American homeland has not been attacked since 9/11? It is likely that the hard and innovative work of dedicated patriots at the NSA and other national security agencies has kept our nation safe.

Yes, the Bushies have been misleading and disingenuous when they stated that they were monitoring only overseas calls. That was technically correct, but left the wrong impression about other domestic activities - data mining. The President's widening credibility gap feeds paranoia even when the Administration might be doing the right thing. However, any President who is leading a covert war that must be fought in the shadows is forced to be somewhat deceptive, even with his own people.

The Administration owes Congress (behind closed doors) a clear explanation of this program. And it can be argued that there is a need for legislation to specifically authorize these programs. Congressional oversight should be broadened. Safeguards could be added.

But, perspective is necessary - this is not a big brother "power grab" by the Administration. Secrecy was imperative. These NSA programs are a legitimate and necessary effort to fulfill the government's primary duty to protect and defend our nation.

Perhaps a better criticism of the NSA data mining program is that it is illustrative of an intelligence community that is overly focused on communications intel over human intel. But, that is not the argument that most of the critics are making.

In times of war, there is always a delicate balance between security and liberty. And we must be vigilant that certain lines are not crossed. Keep in mind, however, that great Democratic Presidents such as FDR, Truman, JFK and LBJ approved and implemented far more intrusive intelligence programs in the interest of national security. And the Clinton Administration's Echelon program was similar to the NSA data mining effort.

The Moose wishes that there were no NSA programs. In an ideal world the government would not seek any information about its citizens. Unfortunately, there are death worshiping Jihadists who seek to kill us.

And we must fight them with all our might and means.
-- Posted at 6:03 AM | Link to this post | Email this post