Category Archives: NSA

U.S. monitored Merkel’s phone?

The Left is in an uproar! I’m sure there will be calls for Congressional inquiry soon.
BERLIN (Reuters) – The German government has obtained information that the United States may have monitored the mobile phone of Chancellor Angela Merkel and she called President Barack Obama on Wednesday to demand an immediate clarification, her spokesman said.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said Obama had assured Merkel that the United States was not monitoring the communications of the chancellor.

But the strongly worded statement by Merkel’s spokesman suggested that Germany was not fully satisfied. It demanded an “immediate and comprehensive” clarification of U.S. surveillance practices.

“She made clear that she views such practices, if proven true, as completely unacceptable and condemns them unequivocally,” the statement read

Merkel calls Obama over suspicion U.S. monitored her phone – Yahoo News.


Noonan’s Blog…

Only for those who really want to discuss the issues….

3. The president said Friday, in his remarks on the NSA surveillance story: “I think it’s important to recognize that you can’t have 100% security and also then have 100% privacy and zero inconvenience.”

But is that really the trade-off? Will a surveillance state make us 100% safer? It let the Tsarnaevs through. We had the surveillance state when they set off their bombs at the Boston Marathon. We’d even been tipped by the Russians to watch them. The surveillance state didn’t thwart the Fort Hood massacre. Maybe in the end we’ll find the surveillance state is massive, cumbersome, costly, potentially helpful, certainly powerful, menacing and yet not always so effective.

Full story….


Henninger: The Sum of All Fears

Mr. Henniger… says it so well, again…
Here is Barack Obama commenting last Friday on the National Security Agency’s antiterrorist surveillance programs: “We’ve got congressional oversight and judicial oversight. And if people can’t trust not only the executive branch but also don’t trust Congress and don’t trust federal judges to make sure that we’re abiding by the Constitution, due process and rule of law, then we’re going to have some problems here.”


Herewith a partial list of political groups that said they were subjected to over-the-top audits by the Internal Revenue Service:

Greenwich Tea Party Patriots, Greater Phoenix Tea Party Patriots, Laurens County Tea Party, Northeast Tarrant Tea Party, Myrtle Beach Tea Party, Albuquerque Tea Party, San Antonio Tea Party, Richmond Tea Party, Manassas Tea Party, Honolulu Tea Party, Waco Tea Party, Chattanooga Tea Party and American Patriots Against Government Excess. [ Did you get the list??????  These are just those who testified…]

What that target list shows is there was never one “tea party.” It was collections of citizens spontaneously gathering all over the country under one easy-to-remember name. Their purpose was to do politics. For that, their government hit them hard.

In January the pollsters at the Pew Research Center reported that for the first time a majority of Americans—53%—now agree that “the federal government threatens your own personal rights and freedoms.”

This is far beyond concerns about the size of government. A majority of people now see the government of Madison, Jefferson and Franklin as a direct, personal threat.  So yes, we have “some problems” here.  People ask whether the IRS scandal will damage the president. Who knows? It depends on who talks to avoid prison. The IRS audits matter because they are a destructive event that happened at a particularly unsettled moment in the country’s political and social life.

Cynics say presidents have always sicced the IRS on opponents. Perhaps. But those were simpler times. The IRS audit scandal and the NSA’s metadata surveillance may be apples and oranges, but for many the distinctions aren’t so obvious. We live today inside a constant torrent of big government and big data. No one should be surprised if a political backlash, however inarticulate, forms against both for inconsistent reasons.

Consider what people are asked to absorb in the news flow now—some of it political, some not. Beyond the IRS audits and NSA surveillance we have a Department of Justice penetrating press activity protected by the First Amendment, stories about Iran’s hackers accessing the control-room software of U.S. energy firms, China hacking into everything, reports last month of cyberthieves siphoning millions of dollars from ATMs, rivers of email spam that fill inboxes alongside constant warnings to protect yourself against phishing and malware by storing industrial-strength passwords on encrypted flash drives, stories in this newspaper about social-media apps that exist mainly to collect your personal data for sale to advertisers.

Books have been written about governments using Web technology to censor and control their populations. What’s good and evil, helpful and menacing, comes at us with equal force from the same technologies. “Dual-use” was formerly a phrase used mostly in the military. We’re all living in a dual-use world now.

Electronic sophisticates say it’s all good. Sun Microsystems’ former CEO Scott McNealy famously said: “You have zero privacy. Get over it.” That’s what he thinks. This is a sum-of-all-fears environment tailor-made for eventually producing a public backlash. It’s already in the water, with Sen. Rand Paul offering a Fourth Amendment Restoration Act, which he says would stop the NSA’s data-mining program. That would be the one protecting us all from homicidal Islamist bombers.

Scott McNealy was almost right. Unavoidably, the citizens of the U.S. or any free society will have to reach an accommodation—a modus vivendi—with complex systems created by experts with abstruse knowledge. But if so, those citizens need to be free to talk about the terms of their accommodations. In short, they need to be free to do politics.

Effective antiterrorism programs such as metadata surveillance or for that matter efforts to produce progress through genetic manipulation may seem self-evidently good to their proponents. But these technologies are inevitably controversial and will only survive if they gain public support. Today that means exposing them to politics.  The goal of the IRS audits was to suppress politics, to shut up those “conservative” tea-party groups to increase the odds that Mr. Obama’s side would win. One doubts that Mr. Obama’s supporters were distressed about it. But this week they’re stressed about “an alarming age of surveillance.”

Whatever inchoate anxieties predated this presidency are now worse: a politics rife with suspicion and retribution, and most of the people believing the government, for starters, threatens their freedom.  One may hope Mr. Obama has sufficient political skill to protect the antiterrorism structures he inherited. It will be the job of the next president to prevent the public’s sense of personal political threat from heading toward 60% and beyond.

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A version of this article appeared June 13, 2013, on page A15 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: The Sum of All Fears.

Henninger: The Sum of All Fears –


Surveillance and Its Discontents

I have readers who don’t want to post comments who tell me that I have a ‘terrible bias’. I confess I do – like most people I know [although I suppose many have a ‘wonderful’ bias as compared to mine]. I tend to agree with the WSJ, but what I appreciate even more about the J is that they tend to be up-front with their opinions and state their case so discussion can ensue. America needs more of that.
In 1998, after Osama bin Laden orchestrated the bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, FBI agents were deployed to collect evidence so they could issue a warrant for his arrest. Twelve years later, Seal Team Six raided his Abbottabad compound, shot and killed him and his guards and then dumped his corpse into the sea.

The difference is that the U.S. is now waging a war on terror, and not a metaphorical war like LBJ’s on poverty. This is a crucial distinction that has been lost amid the growing ruction over the National Security Agency surveillance programs. Another point lost amid the uproar is that the safety of citizens is the first—and in our view, the principal—obligation of government.

In our age of proliferating nuclear weapons and genetically engineered biotoxins, a country serious about self-preservation must detect potential threats and prevent attacks before they occur, not prosecute them as crimes after the fact. The architecture to protect civilians must therefore include signals intelligence, or surveillance, to obtain actionable information about the plans, actions and capabilities of the decentralized and lethal networks that are al Qaeda and its franchises.

It has been instructive to watch liberals rediscover that the Constitution limits government power, at least on civil liberties. Too bad they show no such compunction about economic liberty. The ObamaCare mandate-tax that commands Americans to buy a private product is far more offensive to the Constitution than NSA reading the emails of terrorists overseas.

The regulatory agencies claim—and use—the power to seize property and control individual conduct. The very administration of the entitlement state depends on tracking (Social Security numbers), data-processing (Medicare benefits) and individual scrutiny (tax audits). The IRS knows far more about American citizens than the NSA does, and while there is much speculation about the potential for surveillance abuse, we now have real evidence of corruption at the IRS. So which is the greater scandal?

Libertarians at least claim that both national-security surveillance and economic compulsion are equally offensive, but even most of them concede that a core purpose of the state is to defend against foreign powers and their agents. The legitimacy of the American form of government, as the Constitution’s preamble establishes, is to “insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, . . . and secure the Blessings of Liberty.”

The more nuanced critics—those who don’t invoke George III or the Stasi—argue that the U.S. is striking the wrong balance between tranquility and liberty. Or as President Obama has put it, that there is a “tradeoff” between security and freedom. More government power often does come at the expense of liberty, but in the case of data-mining this tradeoff is vanishingly small.

The Fourth Amendment restricts unreasonable searches on individuals but imposes few limits on collection and analysis, and technologies have no privacy rights. The NSA is screening the data system in general for conduct that threatens the security of the system, not targeting any particular individual or group using the system. The right comparison is a cop on a beat who patrols public spaces. He’s not investigating a crime or enforcing a law; he’s watching for suspicious behavior.

As the legal scholar Philip Bobbitt argued in his important 2008 book “Terror and Consent,” antiterror methods ought to be “measured not only against the liberties these practices constrict, but also with respect to the liberties they may protect.”

Data-mining is a tool to infer patterns and relationships, but you can’t connect the dots without, well, dots. There really is safety in numbers. The de minimis costs to individuals of data-mining are worth the benefits for society at large, which include not being blown to smithereens on your morning commute.

Some commentators assert an abstract sense that the government has gone too far, but liberty cannot exist absent the basic conditions of security. A government that cannot ensure peace also cannot protect individual rights. Alexander Hamilton in the first installment of the Federalist notes that “the vigor of government is essential to the security of liberty” and “their interest can never be separated.” His famous disquisition about “energy in the executive” in Federalist 70 is that power vindicates “the security of liberty against the enterprises and assaults of ambition, of faction, and of anarchy.”

Certainly data-mining could be abused, though leaker Edward Snowden has offered no such evidence, unlike the politicized IRS. But the risks of abuse must be measured in proportion to the damage they might prevent.

It should also be some comfort that two Presidents as distant in temperament and philosophy as George W. Bush and Barack Obama both endorsed the NSA programs. And it’s notable that in an era of hyper-partisanship on Capitol Hill, support for NSA’s programs is bipartisan from the committees that have vetted them in detail.

It’s true that President Obama and his Administration would be more believable in defending the NSA program if they showed more concern for limiting government intrusions in any sphere of life other than who you can marry. But it’s also true that the NSA cannot be activated only when the sitting President is a favorite of certain TV anchors.

The Supreme Court that was aggressively adversarial against Mr. Bush’s antiterror policies (Boumediene, for example, on habeas corpus for Guantanamo detainees) reversed a lower court to dismiss an eavesdropping challenge only this February (Clapper v. Amnesty International). Internal controls including keystroke auditing, layers of lawyers, inspectors general and a special intelligence court also observe the NSA’s activities.

If the law’s controls on the use of surveillance information are abused, then the answer is to punish the abuser. This is another way that a proper IRS probe, complete with punishment for transgressors, would enhance public trust in NSA surveillance.

As for Professor Bobbitt’s liberty test, our view is that data-mining is justified to the extent it wards off far more illiberal and anti-democratic measures that might be imposed following another attack with mass casualties. Recall that the entire city of Boston was shut down for a day after the marathon bombs. In that sense the security advanced by surveillance enhances liberty. The two values are mutually dependent.

A version of this article appeared June 14, 2013, on page A14 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: Surveillance and Its Discontents.

Review & Outlook: Surveillance and Its Discontents –