We don’t know the full scope of the National Security Agency (NSA) spying scandal touched off first by the news that Verizon records had been collected in bulk and then later by whistleblower Edward Snowden’s disclosures of NSA mega-snooping to the London Guardian.
We may never know the full extent of the NSA surveillance programs (they are professional spies after all) but there has been much interesting speculation, some of it more credible than others, that raises concerns. However, one set of claims made by former Bush-era NSA whistleblower John Tice paints the bleakest picture of all.
Tice claims that the NSA was snooping on the personal communications of:
• Members of Congress, both Senate and the House, especially on the intelligence, armed services and judicial committees
• Two former FISA court judges
• State Department officials
• Antiwar groups
• U.S. companies that that do international business
• U.S. banking firms and financial firms that do international business
• Then-U.S. Senate candidate Barack Obama
• The Justices of the U.S. Supreme Court
The snooping was allegedly done to gain leverage against these people and groups. Such an accusation raises the “appearance of impropriety” – an appearance that is infinitely difficult to refute. This is because we (most probably) can say that if Barak Obama, Nancy Pelosi or Samuel Alito used Verizon phones their communications were intercepted and electronically stored somewhere. Having established this fact, the questions then become “Who had access to that information?” then “Was the information accessed by those who had access?” and, finally, “Was the accessed information used to exert any influence over anyone?”
Without the fact that communications were intercepted and stored there is no basis for any conjecture that public officials have been compromised through NSA blackmail. The mere fact NSA may have collected information on public officials has left America less secure. Whatever its intentions, the NSA has failed America.
The specter of snooping and blackmail schemes is especially injurious to “least dangerous branch” – the Judiciary because of its immense power in centralized in nine individuals. It is easy (and terrifying) to imagine that one personal indiscretion by any of the nine could be turned into a weapon to alter the lives of hundreds of millions of people.
Every American should demand their privacy rights, but sadly most succumb to the idea that their lives are too boring and insignificant to be of any use to snoopers. They think “What do I have to hide?” or “What could anyone possible want from me?” Perhaps the very idea that those with the power to touch the lives of the everyday, run-of-the-mill American are, at least theoretically, potential targets of blackmail will make the people demand the snooping stop.