Ex-NSA Chief Calls For Obama To Show Courage By Rejecting Oversight Panel’s Recommendations–Not The Onion!

On the heels of the 60 Minutes pro-NSA lovefest with current chief Keith Alexander, former (1999-2005) NSA head Michael Hayden, the same Hayden caught on video blabbing while riding Amtrak recently, is saying today that President Obama should be a man and blow off most of the oversight panel’s recommendations.  Hayden is right that if and when there is another major terrorist attack, all kinds of governmental intrusions will get poll numbers much higher than today.  But he is on much shakier ground when he asserts that “there have been no abuses and almost all the court decisions on this program have held that it’s constitutional.”  Not to mention the chutzpah from a guy who, if memory serves, failed to find Osama Bin Laden.

This year, it has been said, proved the paranoid right.  Glenn Greenwald has acknowledged that he ignored Edward Snowden at first because he saw no point in going along with Snowden’s requisite precautions, such as a public encryption key.  Give the fellow credit for admitting he was nowhere near suspicious enough!  While Greenwald has left The Guardian for a new project, excellent blogging continues there on surveillance-related issues, for example by Marcy Wheeler and Jeff Jarvis.

Jarvis makes a pertinent point, I believe, in a Guardian commentary today: “The primary NSA issue isn’t privacy, it’s authority.”  Jarvis applauds Judge Richard Leon‘s recent opinion that bulk collection of metadata is “almost Orwellian,” and boos Judge William Pauley‘s opinion that NSA data collection is “legally perfectly peachy,” but he worries that both judges, and Snowden himself, “may be debating on the wrong plane.”  His point is that the issue is primarily about authority: “not so much what government (or anyone else) is allowed to know but what government, holding unique powers, is allowed to do with what it knows.”  The bruised Fourth Amendment, as Jarvis points out, along with the First and Fifth Amendments, has to do not so much with a right “for something–privacy–as against something–government abuse.”  The basic issue, Jarvis concludes, is “government overreach and the absence of oversight.  I am less concerned with what government knows about me than what we don’t know about government.”  

What Michael Hayden is most upset about, it seems, is that Edward Snowden “stirred up the crowd.”  So much for the consent of the governed!  I am hopeful that what we the people know now that we didn’t know last New Year’s about the surveillance conducted in our name will not weaken our national capacity to prevent terrorism.  I am not sure that there is no tradeoff between liberty and security, notwithstanding Ben Franklin’s sharp comment that those who would give up liberty for security deserve neither.  I believe Jeff Jarvis is onto something by focusing the issue on government authority and its proper limits.  Another way of putting the issue of authority would be, what proportion of your income would you consent to pay in taxes?  And what proportion of those taxes should go to government surveillance operations, vs. Medicare, road maintenance, basic scientific research, and so on?  In other words, we cannot spend all of our national wealth on surveilance, can we?  So how much should we spend?

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