An audience member uses their smart phone to take a picture of President Obama speaking at a fundraiser on May 29, 2013. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
The news about the National Security Agency isn’t a molehill, but it’s not a mountain either. When all is said and done, it’s very likely that it will turn out to be a situation where there’s less than meets the eye at first—at least, if what seems to have met the eye this week is a massive, unchecked NSA that sees all and knows all.
Plus, comparing Obama to George W. Bush is wrong. Bush, you will recall, invaded several nations in search of terrorists that didn’t—as in the case of Iraq—actually exist. Except for Obama’s diminishing use of drones, the Obama administration apparently believes that counterterrorism ought to be the work of intelligence and police. From everything we know, the current program at the NSA is approved by the president, legislated and known to Congress and backed by the courts. That doesn’t mean it’s right. But it also doesn’t mean that it’s the Second Coming of Richard Nixon, the Plumbers and illegal domestic spying by the CIA.
Let’s not get all paranoid about this.
And that might start with the leaker himself, Edward Snowden. As a journalist, I’m strongly in favor of leaks, and for that I’m grateful to Snowden and to The Guardian team, including Glenn Greenwald, who helped Snowden tell his story. As a civil libertarian, I’m encouraged that Snowden’s leaked documents might start a real debate over secrecy, spying and the intelligence community’s extraordinary anti-terrorist powers. But it’s also possible that Snowden, a computer nerd who backed Ron Paul in 2012, is a little paranoid, too. It’s true that he’s facing possible deportation, arrest and prosecution for what he’s acknowledged that he’s done. But when he says that the CIA might “pay off the Triads” to kidnap him in Hong Kong, that’s a little paranoid.
Too many Americans, of course, have reacted to the NSA story with a shrug and the comment that they “have nothing to hide.” And perhaps most of them believe that, but the fact is that nearly all of us do indeed have something to hide, even it’s no more than personal communications, say, between family members, doctors, bankers and others that we’d prefer don’t become public. But what’s often overlooked in this NSA story is that none of that—at least as far as we know!—is happening. No one, including the NSA, is listening in on your phone calls or reading your e-mails. That, however, is not what Americans apparently think. Most of them, fully 85 percent, according to a poll taken before—yes, before—the NSA revelations, believe that the government can “access citizens’ phone calls, e-mails and Internet use without their consent.”