I wonder why President Obama still does not seem to recognise that every headline that looks like this only compounds his problems. “President Barack Obama Fights Quick Supreme Court Review Of National Security Agency Program.” For heaven’s sake, why?
First of all, the court is, at present, conservative. It is unlikely to want to swat the NSA, even just for the partisan fun of spiting Obama. The chances are good the court would put its stamp of approval on the NSA’s activities, and then the president could say “The Court has spoken” (like he currently does about its surprising pro-Obamacare ruling a year ago). The firebag Left would, of course, just change gears and get their hate on the Supreme Court as well as Obama. (It’s not as if the firebaggers have a high regard for the Supreme Court – the knives have been out since the Citizens United case, and if the court rules similarly in another campaign finance case soon to be before it, watch the firebaggers declare the Court to be an illegitimate bunch of bought-and-paid-for servants-of-plutocrats.)
Second, the guy who wants to have a “debate” about civil liberties should not be the same guy who is directing his Solicitor General to quash court references out of hand. You want to appear to be about transparency and daylight? Welcome it in a public way. Don’t snipe at it until it eventually overwhelms you, then claim you were for it the whole time.
I’ve said it before, and I’m sure I’ll be saying it again and again as more of this kind of stuff crops up in the news – this is about creating confidence that there is no “secret government” which rules in place of the elected one, and given current toxic levels of anti-government cynicism and paranoia, the only way that confidence is going to be created is to declassify, declassify, declassify. You think America’s national security will be compromised if Obama follows that advice? I think just the opposite, America national security currently is compromised by anti-government fanatics, and the only way that situation can be reversed is by shining a _lot_ of light at the inner workings of the intelligence establishment.
The smart thing would be for President Obama to be looking for things he can reveal that would demonstrate his bona fides and transparency – things that are not insignificant secrets (like the terabytes of boringness Bradley Manning shared with the world), but that also do not give al-Qaeda a road map to their next target, either. Something that says “Would someone not committed to transparency have just shared _that_ with you?” (The release of information about the US’s overthrow of the Iranian government in 1953 was a nice effort in this vein, but something from this century would be even better.)
Then, while doing that, Obama should also release documents pertaining to how intelligence was actually used to nab specific real terrorists with a plot in motion. Redact names of informants or what have you, but get something out there that says “If we didn’t have intelligence gathering like this, how would we have known where the people spawning this plot were?”
I keep hoping for some evidence that the President is evolving a strategy along these lines, but it is not encouraging – every new PR sally from Greenwald and Snowden invites not a proactive strategy to gain people’s confidence, but sad damage control over what was just said. Now we are watching as Obama tries to patch together a frayed relationship with France, all because of the latest claims about the NSA spying on communications networks in France.
After each new development, we see the elements of the failed strategy repurposed – Obama says that the critics are distorting what the intelligence agencies are doing, but won’t say how in concrete terms; Obama suggests that some elements revealed are properly the subject for a debate of some kind, but won’t reveal anything about what’s being debated, to give a context for what that debate should involve.
This annoys his critics, but even more so, it annoys me. I’d like to be defending the President, but he’s giving me nothing to work with here.
The President called a panel to “review” intelligence gathering in August. It had better produce some results, or the unholy alliance of firebagger and teabagger may prevail where teabaggers alone laughably failed.