When NSA leaker Edward Snowden granted his "Mission accomplished" interview with the Los Angeles Times on Dec. 23, opponents were outraged. They viewed Snowden as an arrogant rogue. Supporters of Snowden nodded in agreement, seeing continuing judicial battles over the NSA as indicative of the agency's shadowy nature. In the first week of 2014, The New York Times and the U.K. Guardian wrote lead editorials claiming Snowden deserved clemency as a whistle-blower who exposed horrifying abuses of covert government surveillance power.
What neither his supporters nor detractors recognized was that Snowden's declaration resembled similar words from George W. Bush, uttered five months after the Iraq war began. The mission to rein in the NSA is far from accomplished, hindered by a lazy media and a federal government adept at keeping secrets through shell games. The special commission, which gave its report to Congress on Jan. 17, will do little to change U.S. intelligence.
NSA works in conjunction with many civilian intelligence agencies and military commands. National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), in charge of spy satellites, has a bigger secret budget than the omniscient NSA. Cyber Command, which probes computers worldwide, shares headquarters with NSA at Fort Meade, Md. If NSA was to be shackled by Congress or the courts, the administration could easily shift global broadband surveillance to NRO, Cyber Command, or other agencies. Yet, in the six months since the leaks began, the media have kept strict focus on one agency.
Few journalists realize NSA has broadened its mission over six decades of existence. Aside from technical-intelligence specialists like James Bamford and Glenn Greenwald, very few news outlets understand the infrastructure of America's national security state. Colorado, for example, is home to one of the largest NSA/NRO downlink bases, at Buckley Air Force Base in Aurora.
The real problem Snowden uncovered is a national-security state that has never been right-sized since the Cold War ended. Until the press makes a consistent point of covering all secret agencies on a regular basis, and questioning the assumptions behind global surveillance, Snowden's work is far from finished.
Loring Wirbel is the chairman of the Pikes Peak chapter of the ACLU.
We have a president who rejected his very own Review Group's recommendation to stop NSA spying on our allies and its bulk collection of our personal metadata. (Though the president told Charlie Rose specific tracking, now, "would be illegal," it's still all there, in storage). And after the IRS's targeting of conservatives, should we trust him?
He talks about transparency, but real transparency exists within the Fourth Amendment's protection of our persons, houses, papers, and effects. Period.
This same man had his own personal records sealed by court order right before running for president. No kidding.
If that's not the epitome of hypocrisy, what is?