The sweeping collection of data on private behavior is every bit as indiscriminate and flawed as the airport-screening system. In both, everybody is guilty until proven innocent. Because one terrorist hid a bomb in his shoe, we all must remove our shoes before flying. Because one terrorist hid a bomb in his underwear, we all are subject to X-ray- like screenings. The little old Lutheran lady from Peoria is as suspect as the Saudi Arabian student seeking a pilot’s license. Justice is supposed to be blind, not stupid. Meanwhile, the FBI had been warned about the jihadist turn by one of the brothers who bombed the Boston Marathon, but took its eye off him, perhaps out of an excessive concern for his rights. The Army psychiatrist charged with killing 13 soldiers at Ft. Hood had identified himself as a “Soldier of Allah,” but the brass didn’t bounce him because they were afraid of the diversity cops. The balance of rights and security is out of balance. On one hand, security officials let terrorists slip through the cracks because they fear charges of anti-Muslim bias. On the other, they secretly vacuum up the personal data and habits of 300 million people. The snooping is an outgrowth of 9/11, but “growth” is the operative word. An emergency response has been expanded and institutionalized, secretly and repeatedly. The warrantless wiretapping program the Bush administration started focused on catching terror suspects from abroad communicating with Americans. But, like mushrooms after the rain, the program spread exponentially to where all phone calls in America are subject. Another program extends the snooping to the Internet and credit-card use, though the details are sketchy. It is of little comfort that the seizure of this electronic trail is defended by both Republicans and Democrats
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.
The failure to do sensible profiling has created a wholly unnecessary Leviathan with powers that surely are abused today. Digging up dirt on your opponents is the Chicago Way, after all. So who would have the means and motive to orchestrate the impressive roll-out of spy scandal after scandal? Could it be the former senior military and intelligence officers who were burnt by people they loathe? Or perhaps their former associates?
More food for thought. Imagine if you could dig up all the dirt, not just on your Republicans opponents, but also on the Democrats who would like to run in 2016. Add to that all the dirt you have on reporters and editors who will shape the coverage of candidates. The power to be a kingmaker and kingbreaker. Unprecedented.
(Mickey Kaus seems to think it’s an inside job on the part of the administration, with which we disagree, but we do appreciate his handy guide to that Rubio silliness.)