Too often we make judgments about things without looking at both sides. So, let’s look at the recent security/surveillance controversy from the perspective of those who last week had to go, “Oops, yeah. We’ve been meaning to tell ya…”
President Obama has been entrusted with the security of the nation. There is a pool of piranhas – mostly Republicans but also Diane Feinstein Democrats – ready to chew his flesh through to bone should there be another terrorist attack on U.S. soil. He can’t let down his guard against attacks from Islamic extremists – as George Bush was given a pass to do in 2001 - or Rightwing extremists – like the 1995 Oklahoma bombing that didn’t jeopardize Bill Clinton’s presidency - or stupid troop deployments of the kind Ronald Reagan survived with no major political repercussions in 1983 Lebanon. Surprise attacks happen, the old wisdom used to tell us. That’s why we have the word “surprise.”
But in this new paradigm, no one – left or right – is going to give President Obama a pass if we are surprised again. We are now armed with The Patriot Act – a piece of legislation our current President and his liberal supporters held in great suspicion when it was first voted on over a decade ago. This over-reaching piece of paranoid protectionism was designed to eliminate the word “surprise” from our national defense vocabulary.
So, Senator Obama voted to reauthorize it in 2005 even while stating that some of its provisions “went way overboard.” When The Patriot Act was set to expire in December of 2012, President Obama not only renewed it unchanged, he secretly expanded its use in the recently revealed program code-named PRISM.
His liberal defenders would say the American President has been forced to use all the tools at his disposal, lest he fall into the piranha pool. How many times during this presidency have we heard Mr. Obama’s supporters (of which I was once among the most ardent) defend his actions on the basis of political expediency: he doesn’t really believe it but it’s the only way he can appease conservative America.
Let’s presume Mr. Obama believes that indiscriminate domestic spying is an urgently needed component of national security. The President is asking the country to trust his judgment on this. And that’s what’s in question here.
No one is claiming there’s an imminent peril, so why the big dragnet?
Director of national intelligence, James R. Clapper, offers an explanation. He says that this secret program was designed to “protect our nation from a wide variety of threats.” Certainly I’m not alone in finding that statement a little open-ended.
In fairness, Mr. Clapper did add some specifics: he blamed the whistleblower – Glenn Greenwald of The Guardian – for putting at risk “important protections for the security of Americans.” This from the administration that has prosecuted more whistleblowers than any other in U.S. history: the imminent threat comes from those attempting to tell you what your government is up to.
Trust us, Mr. Obama and his minions insist. We know how to protect you.
Let’s presume that President Obama’s use of PRISM is an honorable leader’s honest attempt to thwart what he honestly perceives as real and verifiable danger to American lives.
Let’s presume that his War on Whistleblowers is less about covering up misdeeds and criminal acts by previous administrations (thank you, Bradley Manning) than it is about allowing government security agencies to operate at maximum efficiency in secret (spoilsport Glenn Greenwald).
Let’s presume we can trust him when he claims “There are a whole range of safeguards involved” in protecting against abuses.
But what of future Presidents?
What of precedents?
What of antecedents?
Wasn’t it the secret gathering of information that allowed the House Un-American Activities Committee to blackmail and blacklist? What might Richard Nixon have done with expanded surveillance powers? Would Daniel Ellsberg be facing a life sentence if he leaked the Pentagon Papers today?
“It is unacceptable in a democratic society to use these sorts of tactics to create a chilling effect on free speech.”
This statement didn’t come from an American. It came from a professor at an Istanbul University in response to the Turkish government arresting Twitter users who supported the protests in Taksim Square.
“You can’t have 100% security and then also have 100% privacy,” President Obama told the nation this week.
The argument always comes down to that, doesn’t it? How much freedom are we willing to sacrifice for our safety? How much safety are we willing to sacrifice for our freedom?
Let’s presume we trust this President to guard our safety.
Who do we have to protect our privacy and our freedom?
With what, exactly?
Anything and Everything that has Nothing to Do with the Movies
Sometimes, we go to a movie to get away from the world and sometimes we go to see what’s going on in the world. This blog will offer comments on the world, the movies and their occasional overlap.