Washington's Elites Need to Open Up on Security

Ron Fornier (National Journal)


President Obama calls his vast domestic spying operation a "modest encroachment on privacy."

Another defender of the Eavesdropping State, Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., assures Americans that they would support the president's stance—if only they knew as much as she does. "Here's the rub," she said. "The instances where this has produced good—has disrupted plots, prevented terrorist attacks, is all classified. That's what's so hard about this."

Walter Pincus, a Pulitzer Prize-winning national security reporter at The Washington Post, says the Washington press corps made too much of the Obama administration's seizure of telephone records at the Associated Press. "What's lost," he wrote, "is the damaging and criminal leak."

Obama, Feinstein, and Pincus are well-meaning leaders in a national security community that grapples every day with threats the rest of us can't imagine. No doubt they struggle to strike the right balance between the oft-conflicting demands to keep American safe and free.

But here's the rub: It is our struggle, too. At a time when Americans have little faith in U.S. political and media institutions, it is not sufficient to say, "Trust us." Secrecy sews doubt and paranoia.

Elites in the White House, Congress, and the national security media need to stop whispering to (and covering for) each other. Tell us what our government is doing, and why.

The response is predictable: Don't be naive! Discussing secret national security programs will tip off the terrorists and make the United States vulnerable!

I don't buy it. There must be a way to shed a modicum of light on how far Presidents Bush and Obama stretched the Patriot Act. Surely, it's possible to start an open and honest conversation about drone warfare, domestic surveillance, and big data in general terms that don't expose cherished "sources and methods."

How do I know this? Because it's done all the time, usually when transparency suits a White House's political agenda. The Bush administration declassified (bad) intelligence about Iraq to sell war to a skeptical public. The Obama White House opened intelligence files on the assassination of Osama bin Laden to promote the president's reelection bid.

And there is this Orwellian habit: Virtually every unauthorized leak, including the most recent ones about the prying eyes and ears at the National Security Administration, is followed by the released of classified information (an authorized leak) that supports the administration's case against leaks.

Most Americans want to give the president the benefit of the doubt on national security. They want to believe that their elected representatives are fully briefed, as Obama dubiously claims, and committed to intensive oversight. They'd like the media to be a backstop against abuse.

But these institutions keep failing Americans. Why should we trust them? The nation's Founders baked skepticism into the Constitution, requiring checks and balances and an ethos of transparency that Obama embraced as a candidate in 2008.

The Bush administration, Obama said in 2007, "puts forward a false choice between the liberties we cherish and the security we demand."

Telling Americans that they need to be treated like mushrooms (kept in the dark and fed BS) or exposed to greater threats is Obama's false choice. The president and his fellow Washington elites need to start treating Americans like grown-ups.

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10 June 2013 12:47pm
In this case, at least Cleared Senior Members of BOTH houses from BOTH sides of the aisle are presenting a unified front, so we know it's not just a (right/left) conspiracy out to invade the privacy of the (left/right).

I found the NSA's invite to MoC to "Come on Down" for a classified look-see refreshing.

It sounds as if this offer wasn't JUST made in light of the revelation, but had been made before, and taken up on by some MoC.

Am I thrilled about what I'm hearing? No.

So far, I'm not losing too much sleep over it, either, since they're not listening in on conversations.

Similarly, I'm not losing much sleep if they're reading my e-mails - while I have personal conversations, I don't expect the computer/person on the other end to know me or share anything from them - not that there's much there - aside from some fervent political and religious discussions that I have also had semi-anonymously on posts like this.

In a perfect world, we'd tell Big Brother to pound salt.

Sadly, the other side of the globe has launched an insipid war towards us based on false interpretations of God's word. There's that MAN in the middle doing the interpretating again. Fanatical Zealots are not be optimal preachers of God's word - I was never much a fan of Oral Roberts, either.

There are a lot of interesting tidbits coming out - not the least of which is why a contractor on the job for 90 days at the vendor would have the level of security I heard touted this AM.

There is a sense of proportion that comes from seasoning. I remember all too well my green days of youth - and rushing in head strong about a cause, only to find out I didn't have ALL of the facts, and my glasses were perhaps a bit too Rose Colored.

Do we need checks and balances -absolutely. So far in this case, it seems to suggest that has been happening - maybe not quite as much as should be, but I'm not ready to be the boy who cried wolf.

I don't bash the media with this, either. I do implore members of the media to be a little more mature in their handling of items like this - we only have to go back to the tragedy of the Boston Marathon to see what Rushing to be the First to break the story did.

Walter Pincus is on the Media side of the aisle - but it sounds as if he has experience on the other side as well. I'm pretty sure I read of another reporter who used to sit in government that supported the actions taken so far.

Again, it is a truly sad thing that we have gotten to this point, and I don't wish to help fulfill that quote I've seen you use on more than one occasion - I don't want to find myself in a position of having neither safety or freedom.

I don't know if the genie is out of the bottle, and I don't know if we will ever be able to put it back - short of another Hitler focused on the followers of Mohammed instead of the House of David.

And that's a thought that is so terrifyingly wrong that I never want us to allow that.
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