Let Them Spy!

Let Them Spy!

© David Burton 2013

The lure of entitlements

     What a surprise! America’s spy agencies actually spy on people and on foreign governments! Why, they might even spy on you and me! What is this world coming to? Is there no honor among nations – particularly among our friends and partners? How dare they listen in on my conversations or read my mail? What right does our government have to check up on what I’ve been doing, what I’ve been saying or where I’ve been?

     What a field day for the ACLU, for headline-seeking politicians, for ambulance-chasing lawyers who smell a bonanza of lawsuits for invasion of privacy coming, and for all the paranoid conspiracy-theory advocates hiding in the woodwork. For them, George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty Four is now a reality. Big brother is everywhere.

     Of late, there has been feigned outrage by some of our foreign allies when they found out, supposedly for the first time, that the U.S. was listening in on some of their conversations. Of course, they would never engage in such unsportsmanlike behavior.

     “Nearly a century ago, long before the National Security Agency existed, there was the Black Chamber. Founded after World War I, the New York City–based office — formally called the Cipher Bureau and disguised as a commercial company — existed to crack the communications codes of foreign governments. The bureau closed in 1929, a decision Secretary of State Henry Stimson later justified with the quaint declaration: ‘Gentlemen do not read each other’s mail.’ {Unfortunately, our enemies, and even some of our friends, are not gentlemen!}
     “More than 80 years later, that warning is haunting President Obama. New revelations from fugitive NSA leaker Edward Snowden have exposed extensive U.S. surveillance on overseas allies, including a program that targeted 35 foreign leaders, even tapping German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cellphone. Not very gentlemanly at all.
     “That has fueled a push in Congress to rein in the NSA. An infuriated Dianne Feinstein, the Democratic Senate Intelligence Committee chairwoman — often a defender of the NSA — announced ‘a major review’ of all U.S. intelligence operations. ‘The reports are very disturbing,’ Republican Senator Susan Collins told ABC News. ‘Friends don’t spy on friends.’
     “Yes, they do. The latest NSA flap may be less a story about a spy agency run amok than a peek into a world where for political leaders, the walls (and phones, tablets and laptops) always have ears. ‘All big countries use espionage, and some of the countries that are complaining spy on the U.S.’ . . . It’s not that countries think their friends are plotting against them; their aim is to gain insights into coming policy shifts or learn tidbits about third-party rivals.” (Ref. 1)

     All the yapping in Congress over the spying revelations is nothing more than the ever-present rush for face time in the media. Spying, both on potential enemies and on friends, has been a fact of life for well before these politicians were born. Their claim to be unaware of this fact and their expressions of shock and outrage are, at the very least, hypocritical. Very simply put: friends do spy on friends and have been doing so for ages. We spy on them and they spy on us. We all know this and what they and we don’t want the other to know, we encode, encrypt and take the necessary precautions to ensure that such information remains secret.

     “America too is a routine target of its allies. At a 2009 NATO summit in France, Obama’s aides ditched their BlackBerrys, presumably for fear of eavesdropping. In 2010, {the U.S.} National Intelligence Director . . . proposed an espionage cease-fire with the nosy French on the grounds that the two countries were wasting valuable counterintelligence assets dueling each other that were better applied to nations like China and Russia. (The White House shot down the idea.)
     “After French officials railed at a report that the NSA had scooped up millions of phone-call records from their country, France’s former top intelligence official . . . scolded them. ‘I am amazed by such disconcerting naiveté. . . . The French intelligence services know full well that all countries, whether or not they are allies in the fight against terrorism, spy on each other all the time.’ (Further muddying the morality, U.S. officials insist that France and Spain collected the data themselves and passed it along to the NSA.)” (Ref. 1)

     Everyone is listening to everyone else. If the NSA earns special scorn, it’s because our allies may not have the same sophisticated technological means to eavesdrop as the United States does.[1]

     In the current uproar of spying, it was reported that, “For years the National Security Agency has been violating restrictions and misusing the US domestic spying program that collected private data from US citizens, newly released declassified documents show.
     “The new information from Intelligence Community Documents Regarding Collection under Section 501 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) shows that the government on a daily basis spied on Americans’ telephone numbers, calling patterns as well as users IP addresses during the surveillance of foreign terror suspects.
     "The documents show that between 2006 and 2009 the NSA violated the court restrictions by spying on telephone calls and lying to judges about how the data was deployed. The spying agency cross referenced a selected list of some 16,000 phone numbers against databases which contained millions of records, thus violating the law - - -
     "The metadata program which started in 2006 enabled the NSA to gather more information about a specific number that the agency claimed could be linked to terrorist activity. The agency also kept an alert list that was cross-referenced with new numbers to consider whether they should be added to a list of ‘reasonable articulable suspicion.’” (Ref. 2)

     Missing from these reports of domestic spying are two critical pieces of information – 1) the number of acts of terrorism that were thwarted as a result of this surveillance program, and 2) the number of instances where the information was illegally or improperly used to harm an innocent American citizen. To my knowledge, there have been no reports of the collected information being used to harm innocent individuals. On the other hand, government officials have said that the information obtained has resulted in a number of planned terror attacks being avoided.

     The simple fact is that “domestic spying” is a prevalent and persistent fact-of-life in the 21st century. Surveillance cameras are everywhere; cell phone conversations are not private and neither are the locations of the sender and the receiver of cell phone messages; EZ-Pass transponders allow vehicles to be located and tracked; travel by air subjects passengers to all sorts of background checks; phone records and credit card transactions are all readily available with an easily obtained subpoena. Try to get a mortgage and learn what information is scrutinized to verify that you are not a terrorist or a drug dealer trying to launder money.

     What the critics of America’s intelligence gathering efforts ignore are the results that are achieved which make this country safer and which prevent acts of terrorism, domestic and foreign, from being committed. They can do this because the very fact of an intelligence success is almost never publically revealed in order to protect the intelligence sources and to prevent our enemies from learning our intelligence secrets. These opponents of our intelligence-gathering efforts are free to rant and rave while our intelligence-gathering agencies and personnel are effectively blocked from telling their side of the story. This is nothing more than a bully attacking someone who can’t fight back. These opportunists pander to the paranoia of many and would tear down America’s first line of defense in order to supposedly defend the right to privacy. Unfortunately, to guarantee complete privacy, one may have to surrender one’s life or the lives of other Americans. It’s nothing more than an extreme example of throwing out the baby with the bath water. Lord, please save me from all the do-gooders who want to protect me and my privacy from government eavesdroppers!

     These same opponents of America’s intelligence gathering activities are the first ones to scream about the ineffectiveness of our government in protecting us when an act of terrorism succeeds. In one of the few reports released about the effectiveness of or necessity for America’s intelligence gathering activities, the chair of the US Senate committee charged with holding the intelligence establishment to account declared that the National Security Agency’s mass collection of phone records “should be maintained as an essential tool to combat terrorism.” The chairperson further said that, “the NSA’s work had been ‘effective in helping to prevent terrorist plots against the US and our allies’.” (Ref. 3 )

     It is extremely disheartening when we hear that, “disclosures had allowed adversaries, whether foreign governments or terrorist organizations, to learn how to avoid detection by American intelligence and had caused ‘significant and irreversible damage’ to national security.” (Ref. 4) Our enemies would love nothing better than to have our intelligence gathering capabilities gutted and emasculated so they could operate without fear of detection from under the rocks were they are hiding. Osama bin Laden came to his just end because our intelligence agencies located him. The Boston Marathon Bombers were identified because of the work of American intelligence and the plethora of surveillance cameras that were in place at the time of the bombing.

     In April of 2012, the Heritage Foundation, described 50 planned terrorist attacks that had been prevented because of intelligence gathering. Their report called for continuing and expanding America’s intelligence gathering operations to prevent future attacks on America similar to that of 9/11. “Combating this continued threat of homegrown terrorism requires not only continued reliance on existing counterterrorism and intelligence tools, such as the PATRIOT Act, but also enhancing cooperation among federal, state, and local authorities as well as mutual trust and partnerships with Muslim communities throughout the United States. - - - the vast majority of attempted attacks against the United States have been thwarted in their early stages through the concerted efforts of U.S. law enforcement and intelligence. - - - {Between September 11, 2001and April 25, 2012,} at least 50 publicly known Islamist-inspired terror plots targeting the United States {had} been foiled - - - Of these, at least 42 could be considered homegrown terror plots. While three of the 50 known plots were foiled by luck or the quick action of the American public, the remaining 47 were thwarted due to the concerted efforts of intelligence and law enforcement.” (Ref. 5)

     Insofar as the issue of spying on American citizens is concerned, my position is as follows:

     What we should worry about is not whether the government is collecting data on us, but on whether the collected information is being improperly used. Let the government collect all the information it wants as long as the government does not misuse the information. I don’t want the government prohibited from collecting information that may prevent a terrorist act or which may prevent a major tragedy. If my personal data is collected in the process of protecting America, so be it. But, if someone or some arm of the government misuses that information, then I want the sky to fall in on that person or that agency. I want them punished to the maximum by every legal means possible. But, if domestic spying prevents just one Boston Marathon Bombing, I am more than happy to let the government spy on me. The bottom line – better safe than sorry.

     There are hordes of very bad people out there who want nothing more than to kill Americans and to wreak destruction upon us. Let’s not tie the hands of those who are working to defeat these enemies. Being paranoid about government spying is not conducive to ensuring our nation’s security in today’s world. Giving up a little privacy is a very small price to pay for security against global terrorism. What is more important to you: – (a) hiding from the government the fact that you called your dentist to make a dental appointment while, at the same time, allowing a terrorist to go ahead with his plans to kill or maim a group of your fellow citizens, or (b) allowing your government the opportunity to find out that you’ll be meeting some friends in New York while, at the same time, the government is able to intercept a message from a jihadist organization and arrest one of their operatives before he can set off a bomb in a crowded shopping mall? If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear! If you do have something to hide, you have my sympathies.


  1. Spies Like Us: Friends Always Spy on Friends, Michael Crowley, TIME.com, 31 October 2013.
  2. Declassified files detail blatant violations, abuse of NSA domestic spying program, rt.com, 10 September 2013.
  3. Dianne Feinstein insists NSA’s massive snooping operations are ‘not surveillance’, Paul Lewis, infowars.com, 21 October 2013.
  4. N.S.A. Director Firmly Defends Surveillance Efforts, David E. Sanger and Thom Shanker, The New York Times, 12 October 2013.
  5. Fifty Terror Plots Foiled Since 9/11: The Homegrown Threat and the Long War on Terrorism, James Jay Carafano, Ph.D., Steven P. Bucci, Ph.D. and Jessica Zuckerman, The Heritage Foundation, 25 April 2012.

  28 November 2013 {Article 186; Govt_50}    
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