Even for national security hawks, 
NSA surveillance program an affront

Maybe it’s because I was born to a family of law-and-order -chomping right-wingers — my dad, a retired federal parole officer; my mom, a no-nonsense girl from west Texas.

Maybe it’s because I grew up in a conservative place, where you’re taught at a formative age to salute the flag and trust the brave men and women who are in the business of protecting it.

Maybe it’s because I’ll never forget the rush of fear I felt the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, when we fled the U.S. Capitol complex. I saw the burning Pentagon with my own eyes. I smelled it, too.

Maybe it’s the time I got to meet former Israeli Prime Minister and Nobel prize-winner Shimon Peres. His words, I’ll never forget those either: “Without security, there can be no freedom.”

Maybe it’s because every time I hear the ACLU attack the laws and institutions that sustain America’s national security I think they sound like a bunch of America-hating wimps.

Maybe it’s some of these things. Maybe it’s all these things.

But whatever the original psychological explanation, on the great security-versus-liberty debates that have taken place since 9/11, I have consistently come down on the side of security.

On Guantanamo: Keep it open. Heck, fill it up. Terrorists and their known associates don’t deserve the protections of the American Constitution, much less a cozy jail cell in the heartland of America. Guantanamo is justifiable and necessary.

On waterboarding high-value intelligence targets: Do it. There is no evidence at all that the CIA and military were ever in the business of arbitrarily waterboarding random passers-by along the Kashmir countryside. Waterboarding isn’t torture. So, I’m good with waterboarding.

On the president’s expansive use of drones overseas: I’ve thought a lot about it and I’m fine with it. I don’t want drones flying over me, here, but I certainly don’t want more of our young people being dispatched to fight wars, there.

We need to be on offense against the radicals who want to blow up our cities, and we don’t want another foreign entanglement like Iraq. That leaves us with the only choice of an expansive drone program like the one employed by President Barack Obama, and for it, I vote yes.

On reading terrorists their Miranda rights: No.

On CIA rendition: Yes.

On these and the most controversial flashpoints in our evolving post-9/11 “security vs. liberty” debate, I’ve come down on the side of the hawks.

But this NSA surveillance thing is different. It’s scary. It is wrong.

The difference between the NSA surveillance program and all the other aforementioned security measures has nothing whatsoever to do with partisanship. I’m sure this is some iteration of a plan first hatched by Dick Cheney.

No, the problem with the NSA program is not who is running it or even who came up with it. The problem is that it is an affront to any sensible interpretation of what America stands for.

Its scope is massive. Imagine, a warehouse accumulating records of emails and calls made by all of us nearly all of the time, stored in perpetuity so that an investigator — or a 29-year old private contractor — can access them at some to-be-determined point down the road for some to-be-determined reason. Chilling.

Its arbitrariness is wholesale. According to one report, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which decides when this super-warehouse of super-sensitive information can be accessed, said it had gotten 1,789 applications by national security officials for surveillance last year. Of those, 1,748 were approved in short order, 40 were amended then approved in short order, and only one was withdrawn. If these statistics are any indication, FISA-authorized access to this super-warehouse is a virtual slam-dunk.

Its disregard for first principles of our free state is unprecedented. We aren’t talking about snooping on known or even suspected terrorists or their associates. This wide-open dragnet accumulates records on Americans, habeas corpus be damned.

Even for a security hawk like me, the NSA surveillance program is more than a bridge too far. It is more like a hemisphere-and-half too far.

It is the stuff of Orwell. And it should not stand.

Josh Penry is a former minority leader of the Colorado Senate. He graduated from Grand Junction High School and Mesa State College.


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Four items in Friday’s Sentinel – Gary Harmon’s “Udall to brass:  Prove that surveillance stopped terrorism”; the editors’ “Flag Day and freedom, security and surveillance”; Josh Penry’s “Even for national security hawks, NSA surveillance program an affront”; and George Will’s “IRS official Lois Lerner provides reason for distrust of government” –  illustrate pervasive confusion over the content of our Constitution.

While I respect Senator Udall’s informed opinion as a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and suspect that surveillance has indeed “stopped [some] terrorism”, Udall would have the NSA “prove a negative” – when there is ample historical evidence to presume the positive.

The Sentinel’s credibility is diminished by its still-unproven assertion that “Freedom of the press is under attack” by a Justice Department charged with enforcing laws enacted to prevent national security leaks, and by embracing the now-disproven canard that federal bureaucrats “used the tax code . . . to beat those holding dissenting political views into submission”. 

Rather than cite “paid liar” Darrell Issa’s irresponsible demagoguery as good reason to “distrust government”, George Will blames Lois Lerner for exercising—on sound advise of counsel—her Constitutional right to refuse to submit to Issa’s partisan “witch hunt”.

“Surveillance” implies a personalized intrusion into the privacy of individual citizens.
The Constitutional right to “privacy” is found only in the “penumbra” surrounding other rights.  The Fourth Amendment prohibits only “unreasonable searches and seizures”.

Arguably, the computerized capture of impersonal telephone numbers and millions of e-mails does not constitute unreasonably intrusive surveillance until governmental use of that database is personalized – which already requires a warrant under current laws.

By contrast, Republican-imposed requirements for medically unnecessary ultrasounds are personal, intrusive, and violative of women’s Constitutional right to medical privacy.

Until hypocritical ideologues like Penry, Issa, and Will, denounce such dubious invasions of personal security, they should be distrusted on issues of national security.

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