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Phil-osophically Speaking

The Non-Scandal

There was a time in the not so distant past, when President Obama could rise above the noise and cacophony of politics and partisanship to champion the rights of man. A time when he could cloak himself in the resplendent robes of civil libertarianism, wear the diadem of moral righteousness and wield the terrible swift sword against shredders of the Constitution.


Yes, those were heady times for Obama riding majestically atop that big white steed; the Knight Templar defending the most homespun and cherished American values enshrined in American scripture. But then, lo and behold, he became President of the United States, a privileged perch that invites an entirely new perspective of the world than the one that Senator Obama had pleasantly grown accustomed to. Nesting in the White House at One Pennsylvania Avenue, one cannot help but be privy to the hair-raising threats that inevitably and inexorably make their way within earshot of the Commander in Chief. Quite suddenly, George W. Bush did not look so much as a constitutional tyrant as a brother-in-arms. Indeed, as much as one wanted to perish the thought, George W. Bush’s policies began to look convincingly prudent and self-justifying. Obama said as much in last Friday’s press conference when he said that upon becoming president he saw very early that “on net” the NSA program was worth doing.


Of course not everyone sees it that way, impenetrable stupidity being a gnawing fact of life, but it is interesting to watch Obama being regularly lambasted, although not quite with the relish that George W. Bush was roasted in every waking and hibernating moment. The language used against the president’s policies is more of despair, disappointment and shock rather than the bridling of raw and untempered anger. But make no mistake, Obama is feeling a political heat wave from what I can only describe as a non-scandal. Being censured for defending the homeland against potent and obvious threats is the height of folly and a calling card for trouble. 


Those hymnals of American betrayal and the ascent of “Big Brother” are being sung by the president’s most steadfast allies makes for  compelling theatre, but it does not square with the facts. While it is true the NSA has been vacuuming reams of data including e-mails, credit card transactions and online communications, their actions can hardly constitute a violation of the Fourth Amendment’s unreasonable searches and seizures in light of the threats the United States is facing and the daunting challenges in overcoming them.


The information age has created a literal universe of data. It has been calculated that the amount of information Americans generate per year is equal to the information stored in 37,000 Libraries of Congress --- easily the largest library on the North American Continent. It is mind-boggling to process, much less make sense of, such a plethora of information without the most sophisticated computerization in the world. This is what the NSA has utilized and through an elaborate application of algorithms, the intelligence community is seeking not personal information but rather patterns, trends and associations that are vital in connecting the dots of any terrorist plot. 9-11 happened because the intelligence community failed to connect the dots; the NSA is operating under the charge that this must never happen again.


Fears being fanned by the ACLU and others about Big Brother and George Orwell’s 1984 are misplaced and unwarranted. The entire enterprise is overseen by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 2008 (FISA), which was created and designed to thwart King George the Forty Third and his house pet, the rabid pit bull Dick Cheney. Yet, as far as can be determined, FISA has not, like the IRS, ever used its vast powers and know-how for political purposes.


What is being missed in all the clamoring and hand-wringing about abuses and the return of the Imperial Presidency are the real threats the United States is confronted with. Not all terrorists are stumbling Magoos; more than a few are technologically sophisticated, cold-blooded killers who have been weaned and nurtured by the feeding breasts of American hatred. We must fight fire with fire and I for one applaud President Obama for eschewing those fantasies that so erroneously colored his narrow-minded pre-presidential vision. He did not, in other words, cashier national security policies because they were Bush’s policies. This is a truth his natural political allies who are now attacking his Administration must drain to the last drop, despite the bitterness that draught carries.


Meanwhile, let us forbear at all costs of making a hero out of Edward Snowden, the self-styled whistle blower who leaked secret information while working for the NSA. He is now holed up somewhere in China and he should be dug out, extradited and prosecuted to the full extent of the law. We are at war with a shadowy and dangerously cunning foe that is global in its dimensions. Snowden’s actions have revealed how we detect terrorists and as a result he has compromised American security and has strengthened the enemy.


If America is subject to another terrorist attack of the dimensions of 9-11 or worse, the draconian measures that will be invoked will have civil libertarians and ACLU types reminiscing over today’s present day measures of surveillance with longing nostalgia.