Here's a seemingly significant report that's going to have absolutely no impact:
An independent federal privacy watchdog has concluded that the National Security Agency's program to collect bulk phone call records has provided only "minimal" benefits in counterterrorism efforts, is illegal and should be shut down.No it isn't. The debate's going to stay stuck where it is -- a tiny handful of civil-liberties-minded legislators (of both parties) will complain about the program, backed by a lot of voices outside government, but throwback pols (again of both parties) will keep things pretty much the way they are.
The findings are laid out in a 238-page report, scheduled for release by Thursday and obtained by The New York Times, that represent the first major public statement by the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, which Congress made an independent agency in 2007 and only recently became fully operational.
The report is likely to inject a significant new voice into the debate over surveillance....
Yes, it's not surprising that most D.C. politicians support programs that seem to enhance national security, but the report says this program is utterly worthless:
"We have not identified a single instance involving a threat to the United States in which the telephone records program made a concrete difference in the outcome of a counterterrorism investigation," said the report.... "Moreover, we are aware of no instance in which the program directly contributed to the discovery of a previously unknown terrorist plot or the disruption of a terrorist attack."Here's a question: Why doesn't the Republican Party treat this as a golden opportunity to take on the Democrats and possibly win over voters who currently lean Democratic, in all likelihood without alienating the GOP base? Republicans know that the president wants only modest changes to the current surveillance regime. It's safe to assume that Hillary Clinton, the 2016 presidential candidate most likely to win the general election, will also defend NSA surveillance. Why not try to move the Republican Party as a whole to Obama and Clinton's left on this issue? Why not push for big changes to the NSA? Not only will much of the GOP base be receptive -- the base distrusts Obama and regards the snooping as part of his fascist campaign to enslave all True Patriots -- but a nation of wired citizens, including those in the center and left, is also wary of the snooping. Republicans can be their champion, too! What's not to like? (As an NSA skeptic, I'd be pleased.)
But it won't happen, and the reason it won't happen is similar to the reason immigration reform isn't being embraced by the GOP. The GOP can't shift to a pro-reform position on immigration because the angry old white people in the party's base won't stand for it. NSA surveillance is the same -- except, in this case, the angry old white people have names like John McCain rather than Joe Sixpack. The throwbacks aren't enraged people who watch Fox; the problem is people who appear on Fox (and on NBC and CBS and ABC and CNN), as well as the veterans of the Reagan and Bush administrations who advise them. They're the ones keeping the party from embracing surveillance skepticism.
C'mon, GOP. Embrace your inner Paulbot. You could force this issue to the forefront. But you won't, will you?