The NSA And The Ghost Of J. Edgar Hoover


The Director of the National Security Agency, General Keith Alexander, is now telling members of the House of Representatives that electronic government spying, including spying on American citizens on U.S. soil, has disrupted “50 terror plots” in 20 different countries, including the American “homeland.”  Fifty?  What a nice round number.

Why not 49 in 18 countries?  Or 53 in 21 countries?  I’m sure what the general is saying is the gospel truth, because the military would never knowingly present false information to elected representatives of the American people…

So there it is.  Another good reason why real Americans should not complain about having their constitutional rights violated through electronic eavesdropping by their very own government.  I know it sounds like Big Brother.  Well, it more than sounds like it, it is exactly like Big Brother, but hey, they can be trusted to do what’s right with all that information they are collecting and storing, because they surely won’t use it unless one of us comes under suspicion by some government contractor wonk sitting in a cubicle somewhere, who is irritated because someone’s sister told him to get lost when he asked for a date.  What better payback than to collate her emails, web surfing and phone records for the past six years?  You know, just to see what’s there?   She has an Arabic surname, so nobody will think anything of it.  And while he’s at it, why not do a quick background check on her brother as well?  All it’ll take is a few clicks of the mouse.  It’ so much easier than the old analog methods of J. Edgar Hoover, who kept paper files on everybody he might have to deal with.  Just the threat of leaking one of those infamous files to the press could be enough to give the great J. Edgar sufficient leverage to convince a member of Congress or someone on the White House staff, to go along with whatever he wanted.  A new tutu at the government’s expense, maybe?  Everybody has something to hide.  Everybody.

But that will never happen, will it?   Not in this day and age.  And even if it does, chances are it won’t happen to you.  It’ll happen to some other poor slob, and who really cares about him?  And then there’s the fear.  The fear of another terrorist attack, which probably won’t happen (although it could) if we just let our military and other government masters manage our lives by collecting and collating what should be (used to be) our private information.

All of it is driven by fear, by the control we give to our government and military leaders when we allow them to do whatever might be necessary to keep us safe regardless of the infringement on our personal liberty.  It’s the fear instilled by terrorism.  Osama bin Laden, may be dead, but the fear he created remains.  Every time we submit to it he wins and we lose.

There has to be a way to keep tabs on terrorism without turning innocent Americans into suspects.  Perhaps it would be a good idea to stop sweeping everybody up in a massive electronic dragnet?  Perhaps we should return to the sanity of requiring a court-order for each incidence of electronic spying?  You know, the way things were before George W.Bush authorized warrantless electronic spying to protect the “homeland.”

Oh, and can we please stop using the word “homeland” to describe American soil?  It is disgustingly reminiscent of the old Nazi moniker “der fatherland.”   It was a horrible idea when someone coined it for use by the Bush Administration, and it continues to be distasteful.  We are better than this.  Or we should be.   We used to be.   I want my constitutional rights restored.   The framers got most of it right.  Benjamin Franklin was spot on with his observation, “They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

The world has changed but Franklin’s words continue to carry the weight of truth.  Eventually, there probably will be another terrorist attack on U.S. soil.  How much of what the framers fought for, how much of your privacy, your freedom from oppression, are you willing to forfeit to those who have been tasked with providing us with a “little temporary safety?”   How far are you personally willing to let this thing go?

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