Bad news: national security train wreck!

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As a result of the deeply damaging Snowden leak, I am reminded of the principles that make me more of a security hawk than my libertarian compatriots.

Dan Mitchell at International Liberty staked a respectable position regarding the still-unfolding NSA surveillance story.  But some of the comments from his more ardent libertarian readers are real forehead-slappers.  Like the proposition that our military should consist solely of a Coast Guard and maybe an army reserve.

It seems to me that civil liberties advocates tend to have it half-right.  Judeo-Christian tradition informs the concept of Natural Law in many ways: we are equal in dignity before our Creator because we bear His image.  We ought to be suspicious of those in authority because they, like all created persons, are sinful.  Even the best of us are blinded by pride or tempted to abuse.  Indeed, this is the clearest argument from the Christian worldview against centralized, progressive technocracies.

But the forgotten half of Judeo-Christian anthropology is that there are and will always be actors–states, individuals, movements–bent on destroying our government, killing our people, and weakening our society.

On this myopia, I’m reminded of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged.  Its villains, who would wreck American civilization, were either bumbling bleeding hearts or  homegrown totalitarians.  Socialism and central planning were alive and well in Rand’s imagination, but the threat of international communism was nowhere to be found.  Rather strange for a book released in 1957, the year Sputnik was launched, the year after Khrushchev barked “We will bury you!” and four years after the Soviets acquired the hydrogen bomb, thanks of course to the traitorous Julius Rosenberg.

There is no Soviet Union today, but between Putin’s desperately declining Russia, the unscrupulous authoritarians running the People’s Republic of China, the bottomless supply of Islamist terrorists, and the Pandora’s box of asymmetric capabilities at everyone’s disposal, today’s world is hardly Mr Rogers’ Neighborhood.  Big data is everywhere, and we sure as well better have the good guys using it, because the bad guys definitely are.

Former attorney general Michael Mukasey couldn’t have put it better when he wrote in a recent op-ed :

The Constitution and U.S. laws are not a treaty with the universe; they protect U.S. citizens. Foreign governments spy on us and our citizens. We spy on them and theirs. Welcome to the world.

I’ve given a piece of my mind on intel leakers in the past.  Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden are the bratty poster children for a grave generational defect. The simple reality is that our nation’s security is in the hands of Millennials, whose self-defined attributes include a sharply liberal political bent and “superior intelligence” according to a 2010 Pew poll.

Snowden’s affinities, as revealed in a Guardian interview, gel with his cohort.  He’s more cosmopolitan than patriotic:

“There are conflicts between the United States government and the Chinese PRC government, but the peoples inherently… we don’t care, we trade with each other freely, we are not at war, we’re not in armed conflict and we’re not trying to be. We’re the largest trading partners out there for each other.”

Cue Lennon’s Imagine. The view is gravely misinformed.  Acts of conscience don’t do much good when the premisses are flat out wrong.

And speaking of China, how did President Obama’s California summit with President Xi go?  I’m sure we made a sterling show of strength, unity, and integrity.  Peace through Strength, and the Shining City on a Hill.  That’s Reagan, not our bumbling Obama.

Then again, China may have had a hand in this surveillance program compromise all along.  Or, with publicly aired allegations of US hacking, maybe US-China relations will be severely set back.  Certainly, terrorists have gotten a little wiser about avoiding detection.  Any which way you cut it, nothing good comes out of this fiasco.  There is no way Snowden could possibly be a hero.

It’s beyond frustrating that such undisciplined, uninformed flunkies stumble into treason.  Who knows how many more Mannings and Snowdens have access to secrets and are all-too-willing to spill the beans?  That, not any NSA surveillance overreach,  is what should keep us up at night.


About Lewis W
I earned an M.A. in Christian apologetics at Biola University, and occasionally write on ethics, truth, science and politics.

5 Responses to Bad news: national security train wreck!

  1. Russ White says:

    Not so much as you might think, apparently. It turns out the one place they weren’t looking for terrorists was… Where the terrorists normally hide — in Mosques.

    The problem with all this talk of “terrorism,” and a “war on terror,” and all the intelligence gathering that goes with it is the slippery nature of the definitions involved. What is a “terrorist?” Is a fundamentalist Christian a terrorist? If mosques are “off limits” for this data gathering program are Churches, as well?

    You imagine a world where these powers, and this information, is only used by “good guys” to get “evil people,” who live outside our borders. What has the IRS been doing for the last ten years? How about the EPA? OSHA? Have you even heard about their many abuses of power?

    The “other half of the Christian worldview,” is that it’s not just our enemies that are basically evil. There aren’t just “evil people out there,” there are “evil people in here,” too. The line between good and evil runs through the center of every human heart.

    What are you going to say when the definition of “evil people” changes, and you’re now an “enemy of the state?”

    Is Snowden a hero? No. On the other hand, a President who approves or, or defends, the type of surveillance we’re seeing here is no “hero,” either.

    • I have a clear definition of terrorism, and I have not found government officials using it in a way that contradicts it: the threat or use of violence intended to coerce a government or it’s public. Though it is true Obama he shied from calling Islamists terrorists.

      It’s important that people understand that terrorism isn’t a catchall label to justify tyranny. Otherwise our situation is that of the boy who cried wolf; when there is either real terrorism or real government abuse of the word “terrorism”–that is to be unjustly called an enemy of the state–we’ll be powerless against it. It’s a lose-lose.

  2. Russ White says:

    A second point to consider: You are falling directly into the trap the government wants you to fall in to –focusing the act of exposing this information, rather than asking a full set of questions about whether this information should have been classified, whether this is really whistle blowing, etc. You’re assuming that the people in the government who were building and running this program were all “above board,” and their intentions “cover” for their actions, no matter whether or not those actions were legal.

    Some serious security folks don’t think the answers to these questions are quite so clear as you do. For instance:

    Just something else to think about.

    • You keep returning to the idea that people in our current government are not trustworthy.  That is not the debate I’m trying to have.  I am not barring myself or anyone from asking questions about anything. Neither am I necessarily “trusting” anyone or “falling for” anything.  I believe that making the right distinctions is important, because getting it wrong has disasterous consequences.  If you are still interested in debating the NSA’s use of metadata, rather than a list of abuses at OSHA, EPA, IRS, or elsewhere in the Obama administation, then consider the following syllogism, and focus on delivering a refutation of one or more of the premisses.

      1) Metadata analysis is a tool that can be used legitimately or abused.
      2) Firearms are tools that can be used legitimately or abused.
      3) In the US, the government is permitted to legitmately use tools that could be abused.
      4) From premisses 1 and 3 it follows that the government is permitted to legitimately use metadata analysis.
      5) At this point, there is no compelling evidence that the NSA’s use of metadata analysis amounts to abuse (ie., is unconstitutional or immoral)

  3. jb says:


    That you cannot see this as an egregious privacy breach, but rather, playing the “”safety card” –

    Sheesh! What do our gummintal masters have to do to get your attention?

    Mosey on in “safeness.” You should focus on how the gummint is scrambling all over the place to try to cover this, like Benghazi and the IRS scandal, to “shooosh” thi8ngs up.

    The gummint has NO BUSINESS WHATSOEVER grabbing my info. If you think they do ,then you have identified yourself.

    IO don’t need to be “safe” – I want to be free. jb

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