The big, scary terrorism argument for having an unwieldy and unconstitutional NSA surveillance apparatus has been slowly disintegrating since the start of Snowden’s leaks. This week was really the death knell, with all three branches of government agreeing, at least, that the bulk metadata program doesn’t actually thwart terrorists.
From the moment the government’s massive database of citizens’ call records was exposed this year, U.S. officials have clung to two main lines of defense: The secret surveillance program was constitutional and critical to keeping the nation safe.
But six months into the controversy triggered by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, the viability of those claims is no longer clear.
In a three-day span, those rationales were upended by a federal judge who declared that the program was probably unconstitutional and the release of a report by a White House panel utterly unconvinced that stockpiling such data had played any meaningful role in preventing terrorist attacks.
But there is more evidence that the terrorism justification for these programs is bullshit. Today the New York Times reports that “Secret documents reveal more than 1,000 targets of American and British surveillance in recent years, including the office of an Israeli prime minister, heads of international aid organizations, foreign energy companies and a European Union official involved in antitrust battles with American technology businesses.”
It’s funny how NSA officials, when they are pulled onto Capitol Hill to testify in front of Congress, never mention the fact that a large part of NSA surveillance targets allies and bureaucratic heads of innocuous aid organizations. It’s hard to create domestic political acceptance of Big Brother when not even the most paranoid phobic considers their surveillance targets a threat.
The targeting of foreign businesses is especially noteworthy, since it is essentially economic espionage. The government can’t seriously claim that spying on Joaquín Almunia, the vice president of the European Commission, is done to protect Americans from foreign attacks. The commission “has broad authority over local and foreign companies, and has punished a number of American companies, including Microsoft and Intel, with heavy fines for hampering fair competition,” the Times reports.
The White House has explicitly denied that the NSA spies for economic warfare. “We do not use our intelligence capabilities for that purpose. We use it for security purposes,” spokesman Jay Carney insisted.
I think it’s time the government drop the issuance of public denials on that front. It’s clear NSA spies for the sake of the government and the business elite, not to protect the people.