There has been much public banter of late among the scribbling class as well as the man in the street on the question of the extraordinary program of domestic espionage that has been conducted by the National Security Agency (or NSA) for the last several years. The apologists are correct in insisting that this is nothing new. Before Prism there was Echelon, and before Echelon there was something else. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 was a reaction to overreach even then, and no one who knows anything about the intelligence services in the U.S. seriously believes that domestic espionage began with Nixon. The question of domestic espionage is quite simple: if these incredible capabilities cannot prevent acts of terror (and they have not), of what use are they? If the responsible agencies, through negligence, incompetence, or even—shall we say—complicity, cannot monitor the activities of known targets, concerning which we have received ample intelligence, and prevent their destructive actions, then all our billions spent on siphoning email and phone records is for naught.
It can be (and has been) claimed that this intelligence has led to the foiling of many nefarious plots, but such a claim is unfalsifiable, and therefore meaningless. We know of a certainty that we will not be provided the proof of such claims. There is no court of public reckoning. We are to take it on faith that this is the case. But doesn’t this concept defy the notion of public oversight, and government of the people and by the people? Nearly any exercise of authority technological or otherwise, no matter its reach, or broach of long held standards of public decency, can be justified on the basis of the exercise of war powers. But the war on terror is officially undeclared. We are not… » Read More