First, to the NSA who are probably reading this post: get lost.
Really interesting blog post from the WSJ -- normally I dismiss them as a right wing mouthpiece, but I think this hit it on the head.
On the Tsarnaevs, I'm in agreement especially. I think the way both Boston and the state handled the issue begs a lot of hard questioning. Rolling up the streets while sending out dozens of SWAT teams and soldiers was the incorrect response. Not the least was that those resources were taken from the communities that might have needed them (great that there wasn't a garden variety hostage incident on the Cape, because their SWAT team was stuck up in Watertown for the day). Forget the massive cost, both in paying for the cops for their time, and the hit to the local economy because everything was forced to grind to a halt.
The entire exercise was fruitless. Tsarnaev was caught *after* the governor announced that despite the fact that he seemingly got away, the streets were safe and everyone could come out of their homes.
...and then a homeowner found the kid. In a backyard that had been searched by the cops. Go team.
For this, we're left with cameras everywhere and other intrusions in our lives that aren't paying dividends that match the incursions on our liberties and convenience. (Remember when you could board a plane without spending 90 minutes taking off your shoes and getting x-rayed?)
Seriously, the latest additions to the military industrial complex needs to be brought down.
Text from the article follows...
Five blunt thoughts on the growing surveillance state:
1. The thing political figures fear most is a terror event that will ruin their careers. The biggest thing they fear is that a bomb goes off and it can be traced to something they did or didn’t do, an action they did or didn’t support. They all fear being accused of not doing enough to keep the citizenry safe.
This is true of Republicans and Democrats. Their anxiety has no ideology. They all fear being the incumbent in the election in which the challenger says, in a debate: “That’s all well and fine, Senator, we’re sure you’re upset at what happened. But at the moment it counted, when you could have supported all efforts to keep the people safe and bust the terror network, you weren’t there. You were off giving lectures on what you call civil liberties, and explaining why you were voting ‘no.’ Well, life is a civil liberty—and now a thousand people are dead.” Nobody wants to be that incumbent.
Because of that primal political fear, there is a built-in bias within the U.S. government toward doing too much and not too little. There is a built-in bias toward using too much muscle, too much snooping, too much gathering of data. The bias is toward overreach. The era of metadata encourages all this: There’s always more information to be got.
Presidents are very much part of this, as are congressmen, and judges too. Nobody wants to be the judge who didn’t sign off on the request that could arguably have impeded the network that put the dirty bomb on 42nd and Eighth. No one wants to be the judge whose name the U.S. intelligence agencies leak to the press as the real culprit, the real reason they couldn’t stop the bad guys. “Judge Murphy was generally seen as a loner on the bench, a man more drawn to horticultural pursuits and abstruse comment-thread debate on the history of the Fourth Amendment than evenings out with colleagues on the court and in the local bar association. ‘He’s about to discover why people have friends,’ said a court worker who spoke anonymously in order not to appear to be taking sides in the growing controversy. ‘I hope he survives this, even in a diminished capacity, because in a way the law benefits from his kind of detachment and ethereal approach.’” Nobody wants to be Judge Murphy.
Because of the built-in bias in the system—the bias to do too much, to go too far—the creation of an invasive American surveillance state is probably inevitable. Politicians are people who can do math. The number of people who want to be safe, they are certain, is far greater than the number worried about abstract issues of privacy. Moreover, they figure voters are more or less like this: They’ll have their little blog debates about privacy right up until a bomb goes off, and then they’ll all go into a swivet and join a new chorus: “Why didn’t you protect me? Throw the bums out!”
2. There is no way a government in the age of metadata, with the growing capacity to listen, trace, tap, track and read, will not eventually, and even in time systematically, use that power wrongly, maliciously, illegally and in areas for which the intelligence gathering was never intended. People are right to fear that the government’s surveillance power will be abused. It will be. There are many reasons for this, but the primary one is that humans are and will be in charge of it, and humans have shown throughout history a bit of a tendency to play every trick and bend and break laws. “If men were angels,” as James Madison wrote, limits, checks, balances and specifically protected rights would not be necessary. But they aren’t angels. Add to all this simple human mistakes, innocent and not, and misjudgments. And add to that sheer human craziness, partisan lust, political mischief of all sorts. In the Clinton White House there was a guy named Craig Livingstone who amused himself reading aloud the confidential FBI files of prominent Republicans. The files—hundreds of them—were improperly secured and disseminated. Imagine Craig Livingstone at the National Security Agency. Imagine Lois Lerner.
So if we have and develop a massive surveillance state, it will be abused. And that abuse will, down the road, do damage not only to individuals but, quite probably, to the nation’s morale, to its very vision of itself.
But it will make us – or allow us to feel — physically safer. And it may help break real terror networks bent on real mayhem.
Discuss. Really: Discuss.
3. The president said Friday, in his remarks on the NSA surveillance story: “I think it’s important to recognize that you can’t have 100% security and also then have 100% privacy and zero inconvenience.”
But is that really the trade-off? Will a surveillance state make us 100% safer? It let the Tsarnaevs through. We had the surveillance state when they set off their bombs at the Boston Marathon. We’d even been tipped by the Russians to watch them. The surveillance state didn’t thwart the Fort Hood massacre. Maybe in the end we’ll find the surveillance state is massive, cumbersome, costly, potentially helpful, certainly powerful, menacing and yet not always so effective.
4. The president said the recently revealed programs are subject to congressional oversight, which will help keep them from getting out of hand. But that sounded more like a Washington inside joke than a comfort. Congressional oversight of executive agencies has been chronically lacking and lackluster for years. If you are a congressman oversight is, generally, an unrewarded time-suck. It’s housekeeping that demands deep bureaucratic, accounting and now technological expertise. (“Thank you for providing the email records, but is there any chance you have secret email accounts that aren’t included here?”) And usually nobody knows about your good work—it yields little in the way of credit.
Oversight is time taken away from fundraising calls, from the four-minute hit on “Hardball” or Fox, from the urgent call with the important constituent, from time in the gym where you hide from your staff. And Congress isn’t even in Washington often enough to establish ready and present oversight—members work from Monday through Thursday, and then go home to meet with people and show they’re normal. That’s part of the reason the Internal Revenue Service thought it could function as a political entity—they didn’t fear oversight. The General Services Administration on its champagne-soaked boondoggles—they didn’t fear oversight. Do the technicians, data miners, lawyers and technology officers in the NSA warehouses fear oversight?
Props here to Darrell Issa: He does oversight. But his work is exceptional because it is the exception. And congressional oversight still leads us back to where we began: the built-in bias toward doing too much.
5. The security age began on Sept. 12, 2001. The enormity of the surveillance state since has grown. Americans, in the shock after 9/11, didn’t mind enhanced security, and in fact were mostly grateful for it and supportive of it. But built into that support, and the acceptance of the surveillance mentality’s intrusions, was I suspect a broadly held assumption that we’ll just do it now, and down the road we can stop it. It’s just an emergency thing. We can make it go away when we no longer want it. But can we? Do government programs tend to remain static, or wither? Or do they tend to grow?