Sunday, June 09, 2013

Seven Snowballs In Hell


Apparently, snowballs do have a chance of not melting in the fiery furnace. A Hartford paper reported over the weekend that all seven members of Connecticut’s U.S. Congressional Delegation have “offered sharp criticism after newspapers revealed the administration’s sweeping government surveillance programs, which monitor cellphone and internet traffic in the name of national security.”

U.S. Representative Jim Himes, a member of the House Intelligence Committee, thought the monitoring program was too intense and overbroad: “I feel like the government is breaking all kinds of precedent here in increasing the intensity of its surveillance. There's a balance to be struck and generally it feels like we have lost that balance in favor of over-intrusive investigation and [data] collection."

Having opposed covert national security operations during the administration of George Bush, U.S. Senator Chris Murphy had little choice but to object to the expansion of the program under President Barack Obama. Not to do so would have been to expose oneself to charges of hypocrisy. In the Christian ethical sphere, there are seven deadly sins; among journalists, there is only one – hypocrisy.

Mr. Murphy said, “Increasingly, our anti-terrorism efforts are happening outside the full view of the public and Congress. Whether you're talking about the drone program or the [National Security Agency], the way we fight wars today involves doing more things than ever in a covert manner. It makes it hard to do real oversight when we don't know or can't talk about these things in open session."

This is a juvenile view of covert operations; it simply assumes that covert operations in the modern age need not be covert. Currently there are more than a hundred organizations officially designated as terrorist by various non-terrorist governments. The planted axiom in Mr. Murphy’s worldview is that the executive department of the United States may wait until the U.S. Congress nods its approval before security agencies in the United States collect data that may frustrate the ambitions of, to mention but one terrorist organization among many, al Qaeda -- which, despite the view of Mr. Obama, is gathering strength in the frost that has followed the so called “Arab Spring.” The crowd of protesters that surrounded the embassy in Cairo before terrorists assaulted the consulate in Benghazi was shouting, “Obama, Obama, we are a thousand Osamas.” Listening to Mr. Murphy on national security, one begins to lament the loss to the U.S. Senate of Joe Lieberman.

The “balance” between liberty and security was much on the mind of U.S. Representatives Joe Courtney and John Larson. Members of Connecticut’s U.S. Congressional delegation, Mr. Courtney said, were poorly informed by Mr. Obama. “The notion that there was some broad based information-sharing with all members of Congress is not correct," Mr. Larson said. "I certainly respect the President's intentions and President Bush's before him, and the awesome responsibility that comes with wanting to make sure the nation is safe and secure but I remain convinced we have to be exceeding cautious in giving up our civil liberties. Everyone wants to get the bad guys, but what are we willing to give up for that?" Not immediately available for comment, U.S. Representative Rosa DeLauro mailed in a Hallmark card: She was “deeply concerned,” as was U.S. Representative Elizabeth Esty.

The ever cautious U.S. Senator Dick Blumenthal was, according to one report, “awaiting more answers.” Putting on his former Attorney General’s hat, Mr. Blumenthal acknowledged that the surveillance practices “feel very intrusive and invasive of potential rights. We have to know what the extent of it was. If it was simply widespread, random without limitations or any sort of probable cause, there might be a case that it should not have been undertaken."

One wonders whether Mr. Blumenthal had in mind the “potential rights” outlined in the fourth amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which plainly states: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

An opinion from Mr. Blumenthal – no stranger to affidavits during his more than 20 years’ service as Connecticut’s Attorney General – on the questionable affidavit that was used by U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder’s office to allow an unprecedented search of Fox News reporter James Rosen’s private information would be most helpful.

Perhaps the chief question unaddressed by the members of Connecticut’s all Democratic U.S. Congressional delegation is this: At what point does the secret and massive accumulation of raw data become counterproductive? In a haystack so enlarged, does it not become progressively more difficult to find such needles as, say, the Boston bombers? Is there a point of diminishing returns in data collection? When is more less?
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