Another interesting article, this time from the Wall Street Journal. In this article, the US Director of National Intelligence is quoted specifically that the phone metadata program at the National Security Administration – that reputed massive violation of the Fourth Amendment to the US Constitution – actually foiled two terrorist plots: “a New York subway bombing scheme and a plot against a Danish news publisher”.
I know there are many that will greet this claim with a “they’ll say anything to save their secret government powers” skepticism. It would be nice if the Obama Administration could transparently share some of the details of how these plots were foiled specifically by the program. Failing that, it would be nice if some members of the relevant House and Senate Intelligence Committees – particularly liberal members – could confirm the claim. It probably also wouldn’t hurt if a few conservatives from those committees could confirm this is true, in order to bring this information to the Rand Paulites in their party.
If the information can be confirmed, or light shed on the process at least, that might go a long way to convincing Americans there is no Star Chamber coming for them based on the volume of calls they made to Grandma.
As I’ve said in previous commentaries, President Obama needs to take this seriously. This is the issue his firebag opponents have the greatest traction with – and the firebaggers are a serious threat to the success of the efforts of his administration. Transparency, right now, is more important even than security, because if there isn’t enough transparency to lay these kinds of irrational fears to rest, the firebaggers will see to it that every future attempt to protect the security of Americans is brought down to protect their Tricorn Hat Era vision of what the principles of the Constitution are. An emphasis on providing transparency is crucial here, because the entire idea of having a balance between realistic national defence and constitutional principles is now at stake; if the firebaggers get public opinion to junk national defence for Tricorn Hat Era Constitutionalism, we’re in for some ugly years ahead.
It’s bad enough Americans put up with libertarian fundamentalism where the Second Amendment is concerned; now the danger is that libertarian fundamentalism will make a mockery of the Fourth Amendment as well. The Second Amendment may be too outdated to save in a modern constitution, or maybe its principles can be updated for a new age. I’m not really sure about that. But the Fourth Amendment needs to be a part of American constitutional tradition – so it is vital we not treat it as if it requires us to stand by while jihadis kill Americans. We need to have a debate, and a resolution of the debate, about where the boundaries of the Fourth Amendment really are. That debate needs to be held in public, and it needs to be seriously considered.
It may well pose risks not to declare the NSA program entirely classified, but we’ll have to take those risks – otherwise, the anti-government narrative that there is a secret government preparing civil liberties Armageddon against ordinary Americans will only gain adherents. It is time to deprive that destructive nonsense of the oxygen that feeds it.