The NSA and Domestic Spying: The Bush Administration's Warrantless Surveillance Has Become a Concern for Both Sides of the Political Spectrum, but It's Still Being Defended
Mass, Warren, The New American
The Central Security Agency, the not-so-fictional entity where soccer morn Cathy Davis (played by actress Lea Thompson) works part-time in the Hallmark TV mystery movie Jane Doe, seems to be totally dedicated to catching the "bad guys." If any viewer were inclined to believe that the spy agency depicted in the series poses any threat to his peace of mind, the cute, perky character played by Thompson would quickly dispel such fears. However, the real-life National Security Agency/Central Security Service (NSA/CSS) plays in an entirely different arena than its fictional counterpart. The NSA's recent surveillance activities have raised serious concerns among Americans across the political spectrum.
One of the most publicized exposures of the NSA's intrusions into the lives of U.S. citizens was made by USA Today on May 10, when the national daily revealed that the NSA is storing the telephone-call logs of up to 200 million Americans. The Bush administration tried to sidestep the controversy by claiming to be spying only on members of al-Qaeda, but has never denied the accuracy of USA Today's report.
Liberty or Security?
When the NSA was created in 1952, its stated purpose was to coordinate cryptologic (code breaking) operations among our nation's armed forces and civilian intelligence segments. In the context of the Cold War and verifiable penetration of our government by communist espionage agents, the existence of such an agency made sense.
In our "war against terror," the Bush administration has also been telling us that it needs to "coordinate" and improve our intelligence apparatus. However, in the years since the 9/11 attacks, many Americans have become uncomfortable with the Bush administration's expansion of executive power in the name of waging war. This expansion has included the detention of suspected terrorists without charges being filed, the many federal powers expanded under the Patriot Act, reports of secret CIA prisons overseas, and warrantless eavesdropping by the NSA.
In the aftermath of 9/11, the NSA's leadership reevaluated its mission and strategies. In a statement made before a House committee on October 17, 2002, General Michael V. Hayden (now Director of the CIA), who was then the director of the NSA, stated:
When I spoke with our workforce shortly after the September 11th attacks, I told them that free people always had to decide where to draw the line between their liberty and their security, and I noted that the attacks would almost certainly push us as a nation more toward security. I then gave the NSA workforce a challenge: We were going to keep America free by making Americans feel safe again. [Emphasis added.]
But the NSA has now drawn a line between security and liberty that has angered Americans of all stripes because it seems to have forgotten liberty.
Crossing the Ideological Divide
Reports about the NSA engaging in surveillance of telephone calls and in data mining (collecting information from civilian databases) have prompted vehement objections, and even legal action, from Americans across the political spectrum. For example: In his Texas Straight Talk column for December 26, 2005, "Domestic Surveillance and the Patriot Act," Representative Ron Paul, a Texas Republican, objected to such NSA activity: "Recent revelations that the National Security Agency has conducted broad surveillance of American citizens' emails and phone calls raise serious questions about the proper role of government in a free society."
The congressman asked: "Why does the Constitution have an enumerated powers clause, if the government can do things wildly beyond those powers--such as establish a domestic spying program? …