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The NSA Dilemma

Posted by Steve Markowitz on July 16, 2013

Many Americans are conflicted on the issue of the wide-ranging snooping of the NSA (National Security Agency).  While nearly all citizens, including this Blogger, understand the need for heightened security in an age of global terrorism, many, again including this Blogger, are concerned with the NSA’s spying overreach that includes trampling on the rights of tens of millions of innocent Americans.  The actions raise the age-old question as to when does the medicine become worse than the ailment?

George Freeman of starfor.com posted a thought-provoking article on this crucial issue that concluded with Benjamin Franklin Sage quote “They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”  Freeman also concludes in his piece titled Keeping the NSA in Perspective (emphasis added):

  • constitution“It is reasonable to argue that World War II would have ended much less satisfactorily for the United States had its military not broken German and Japanese codes.  ….  “The result was disaster.  All American strategic thinking during the Cold War was built around Pearl Harbor – the deep fear that the Soviets would launch a first strike that the United States did not know about.  …… The Pearl Harbor dread declined with the end of the Cold War – until Sept. 11, 2001.  ….. Part of the fear was that U.S. intelligence had failed again to predict the attack.”
  • “But with a global, sparse and dispersed network you are looking for at most a few hundred men in the midst of billions of people, and a few dozen messages among hundreds of billions.  ….  That led to PRISM and other NSA programs.”
  • “It also meant that the NSA could not exclude the communications of American citizens because some al Qaeda members were citizens.  This was an attack on the civil rights of Americans, but it was not an unprecedented attack.  During World War II, the United States imposed postal censorship on military personnel, and the FBI intercepted selected letters sent in the United States and from overseas.  …..  Decades earlier, Abraham Lincoln suspended the writ of habeas corpus during the Civil War, effectively allowing the arrest and isolation of citizens without due process.”
  • “There are two major differences between the war on terror and the aforementioned wars.  First, there was a declaration of war in World War II.  Second, there is a provision in the Constitution that allows the president to suspend habeas corpus in the event of a rebellion. The declaration of war imbues the president with certain powers as commander in chief – as does rebellion.  Neither of these conditions was put in place to justify NSA programs such as PRISM.  ….  Moreover, partly because of the constitutional basis of the actions and partly because of the nature of the conflicts, World War II and the Civil War had a clear end, a point at which civil rights had to be restored or a process had to be created for their restoration.  No such terminal point exists for the war on terror”.
  • “The problem with the war on terror is that it has no criteria of success that is potentially obtainable.  ….  That is simply never going to happen and therefore, PRISM and its attendant programs will never end.  These intrusions, unlike all prior ones, have set a condition for success that is unattainable, and therefore the suspension of civil rights is permanent.  Without a constitutional amendment, formal declaration of war or declaration of a state of emergency, the executive branch has overridden fundamental limits on its powers and protections for citizens.”
  • “At the same time, the threat that PRISM is fighting must be kept in perspective.  Some terrorist threats are dangerous, but you simply cannot stop every nut who wants to pop off a pipe bomb for a political cause.  So the critical question is whether the danger posed by terrorism is sufficient to justify indifference to the spirit of the Constitution, despite the current state of the law.  If it is, then formally declare war or declare a state of emergency.  The danger of PRISM and other programs is that the decision to build it was not made after the Congress and the president were required to make a clear finding on war and peace.  That was the point where they undermined the Constitution, and the American public is responsible for allowing them to do so.”

Read entire article.Keeping the NSA in Perspective is republished with permission of Stratfor.”

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