Those who spend their lives dedicated to protecting others are a commendable breed. Few can assail the fire fighters of 911 or the police who take risk so others don’t have too. Security is a serious matter and takes men and women serious about it if it is to exist at all. Despite this, or more appropriately because of it, people whose job it is to keep the world safe can’t be trusted with too much power.
Those countries who give all power to the security personnel are referred to as police states. Places where fear of the authorities outstrips the fear of the lawless. This is inevitable when security and safety become all consuming preoccupations. This is because people involved with security often become transfixed with their jobs, fearing failure, they are constantly on the look out for potential dangers. Like over protective mothers, they seek out every potential source of attack or danger and attempt to thwart it. In the process they suffocate the very thing they are trying to protect, the ability to live life.
Brandies rightfully said that it was the well meaning who pose the most danger to freedom. In seeking to protect the public from those who would harm them, the forces of security must be restrained from going too far. Today the wisdom of Brandies is on full display. The TSA has wasted time on wheel chaired bound grandmothers, DOJ has abused its powers to go after reporters and warrantless searches have been conducted routinely in New York. None of these are the actions of sadistic or power hungry organizations but merely the natural outcome of security being given a free hand in a climate of fear. Consequently, it is no surprise that in a post 9-11 world that stories of civil rights abuses would surface.
Edward Snowden going to China, and then Russia, to seek a platform to reveal secrets from was a cowardly, and anything but heroic, act. Nonetheless, his revelations have set off a fire storm that has yet to be contained. The wide spread data gathering by the NSA and even admitted “inadvertent” gathering of emails and warrantless wire tapping has raised concerns on both sides of the political spectrum. The sheer scale of the NSA spying program is beyond anything ever seen before.
There is little doubt those in charge of the program feel their motives are pure and their actions justified. After all, they are on a mission to keep people safe. Therein lies the problem, the NSA has a myopic viewpoint common to law enforcement and security organizations. As with all such organizations, the tendency is to push the envelop in a relentless pursuit of accomplishing their goals. The problem is the NSA operates outside the public eye and has very little oversight. For them there is no need to conduct a cost benefit analysis or worry about issues of constitutionality. Their budget is unfathomably large and the FISA courts gave them all the assurance they needed that all was well.
The fact is all was not well. The NSA has spent over a billion dollars on a massive computer center and billions more filling it with useless information. With little doubt, the capability to scan and collect data on a world wide scale is an astounding feat, but it has cost the American people dearly. As amazing as the NSA program is, it is also a colossal failure. 99.9% of what it collects is garbage on innocent people; the tinge of valuable information it collects is lost in a sea of useless data. The Tsarnaev brothers had radical ties and were in contact with terrorist organizations but failed to raise even a blip of concern at NSA. Similarly, Nidal Hasan, the Fort Hood Shooter, maintained radical views and connections but failed to appear on their radar. The cases of averted terrorism that the world knows about have all been due to more mundane and comparatively archaic forms of investigation. The recent report by an independent review board confirms that the NSA, despite massive expenditures, has yet to be instrumental in stopping a single act of terrorism.
What the NSA has accomplished is an unconstitutional breach of individual rights. In the people’s name it has invaded the privacy of people five billion times a day and hurt international relations in the process. All the while, its data gathering program has accomplished nothing. Make no mistake, the people at NSA are not to blame. They are hard working and dedicated people focused on a singular mission. That they have gone too far is to be expected given the circumstances. The problem lies not with the people at the NSA or even the organization, but those who handed the keys of the kingdom to a secret organization with a myopic point of view and little oversight.
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