Wow, I love writing about the government. You know how some drivers slow down for an accident on the highway? I like to watch hypocrites squirm. They don’t know they’re hypocrites. They don’t even know they’re squirming. It’s involuntary, rather like worms on a hook. By the way, I don’t go fishing because I like to see worms suffer. The wonderful part about government officials is they supply their own hook and impale themselves on it.
The latest example is President Obama’s reaction to disclosure of NSA’s PRISM surveillance program. Accused of violating our Constitution’s right to personal security – read the Bill of Rights, it’s in the Fourth Amendment – President Obama said, “I welcome this debate.” I wonder why he welcomed it while he was a senator during George W. Bush’s administration, but – like Bush – made sure to keep the program secret after he became president. It’s like General George A. Custer saying at Little Bighorn, “I welcome this ambush.”
The government has a dual argument to make here. The first is that collecting all kinds of phone and internet records on U. S. citizens is essential for national security. The second is that the program’s effectiveness depends on its secrecy. That is, collecting these records when people know about it helps our enemies devise workarounds that make the information less valuable. I’d like to know how that works. Tell me how a jihadist in Yemen, for example, benefits from knowing that the NSA engages in data mining. Can he plan anti-U. S. activities more effectively because he knows our fusion centers contain domestic phone records?
The feds want to keep PRISM a secret because they don’t want us to know about it. Assassins think they’re doing the right thing, but they certainly don’t want other people to know about their activities! The same goes for spies. You don’t have to justify secrecy when you’re a spy. What do you say when you’re caught – “I welcome this debate”? Only if you have a team of public relations twits giving you advice, and you think people believe what you say because you are the president. I suppose it’s a sign we’re still in an era of soft tyranny when the president gets caught, and he doesn’t care how foolish he looks.
The true measure of sincerity here is whether the feds go after the person who leaked the latest FISA court order to the Guardian. They have to do it. They regard leakers as spies, and reporters who publish leaked information as co-conspirators. When you develop legal doctrines like that, you can’t lay them aside when it seems impolitic to apply them. If the feds don’t go after the person who leaked this court order, they can count on other leaks. They had plenty of leaks to deal with before they began to jail leakers as spies, and the leaks continued aftewards as well. They can’t turn back now.
So let’s see if they welcome this debate later on, when they have their leaker in hand. I can tell you one person who won’t disclose the leaker: Glenn Greenwald, the courageous blogger at the Guardian who publicized the court order to Verizon. He rightly praises the leakers as heroes, and urges all of us to offer whistleblowers our support. As we back them, we encourage them to further the essential work of making public the acts of spies who want to keep their activities secret:
On whistleblowers and government threats of investigation
No healthy democracy can endure when the most consequential acts of those in power remain secret and unaccountable
We have entered a time where many people are thinking about the future of our republic. Many recognize that civil disobedience and civil resistance can help us restore the democratic protections we had in the past. Greenwald is more optimistic than I have been about the prospects for success. We have to stay optimistic. We have to believe that the whistleblowers who act on our behalf will succeed if we act with them. We have to make government officials afraid of us, not the other way around. When they are afraid of us, they will make mistakes.
When hypocrites squirm, they are afraid. If they respond aggressively to initimidate us when we catch them at their nefarious acts, they try to disguise their insecurity. They believe intimidation will work, because it has worked in the past. When we dismiss their threats, they are not sure what to do. In that knowledge, we want to press our advantage wherever we can. We want to be equally aggressive, and act with confidence that we will win.