I'm sure I don't have to tell you about the latest NSA story -- that the agency has violated privacy rules thousands of times since 2008, as determined from one geographically limited audit, and that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court admits it has only a limited ability to do oversight, all of which means, as The Washington Post's Andrea Peterson notes, that President Obama was wrong to say, in his press conference last Friday, that there wasn't evidence that the NSA is "actually abusing" its powers, because here it is.
But I still don't expect much to happen as a result.
Ed Kilgore writes:
Congress knows remarkably little about the surveillance programs. And now ... we know the FISC is pretty much in the dark as well.He notes this passage from a post by The New Republic's Marc Tracy:
There is a valuable, vital debate to be had over how much the federal government, in its intelligence programs, ought to be permitted to violate Americans' privacy in an effort to protect Americans from a dangerous world that includes people who want to kill Americans. There are many different places where the important red lines can be drawn in this debate. It is a debate strewn with well-intentioned, conscientious people who would draw those lines at very different places. Let's even be generous and stipulate that the question of whether the statutorily provided oversight of these programs is sufficient belongs, as well, to that debate.But would we really be having that debate if our legislators knew more? Yes, I suppose there are a number of "well-intentioned, conscientious people who would draw those lines at very different places." But we have an extraordinarily dysfunctional government even when it's dealing with issues about which there's little or no secrecy. Why would this be any different?
The terrifying thing is that we are not having that debate. As these documents are the latest things to demonstrate, the various overseers as well as the public do not have access to the information that even the current rules assert they should have. That is how I can state with certainty that we are not having that vital debate: We do not have the means to have that debate with any kind of authority; therefore, no matter how much we discuss these issues, we are not having that debate.
I think most members of Congress, even if they knew everything they needed to know to craft an informed opinion on all this, would fall back into the same slots they occupy now. A small handful of Republicans would go Paulbot and decide the NSA needs to be seriously reined in. The vast majority of Republicans would want few if any changes, because terrorism! and 9/11!; they'd like to do some Obama-bashing, but do they really want these surveillance powers to be unavailable to President Cruz or President Christie? A number of Democrats would like to see big changes, but these are mostly Democrats who've positioned themselves as progressives and who know that they can get reelected as progressives; the remaining Democrats are still spooked by decades of right-wing rhetoric portraying their party as weak on defense, and so they're in a constant defensive crouch. And thus a combination of defensive-crouch Democrats and never forget 9/11! Republicans would keep us pretty much at the status quo.
On how many issues are we having a grown-up debate in Washington? And why, if information were more available, would this debate not degenerate into the usual posturing and poo-flinging, or down-the-road can-kicking?