NYT: We were wrong to support a police state
Posted by Charles II on November 20, 2015
New York Times Editorial Board
Mass Surveillance Isn’t the Answer to Fighting Terrorism
By THE EDITORIAL BOARDNOV. 17, 2015
It’s a wretched yet predictable ritual after each new terrorist attack: Certain politicians and government officials waste no time exploiting the tragedy for their own ends. The remarks on Monday by John Brennan, the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, took that to a new and disgraceful low.
In June, President Obama signed the USA Freedom Act, which ends bulk collection of domestic phone data by the government (but not the collection of other data, like emails and the content of Americans’ international phone calls) and requires the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to make its most significant rulings available to the public.
These reforms are only a modest improvement on the Patriot Act, but the intelligence community saw them as a grave impediment to antiterror efforts. In his comments Monday, Mr. Brennan called the attacks in Paris a “wake-up call,” and claimed that recent “policy and legal” actions “make our ability collectively, internationally, to find these terrorists much more challenging.”
It is hard to believe anything Mr. Brennan says. Last year, he bluntly denied that the C.I.A. had illegally hacked into the computers of Senate staff members conducting an investigation into the agency’s detention and torture programs when, in fact, it did. In 2011, when he was President Obama’s top counterterrorism adviser, he claimed that American drone strikes had not killed any civilians, despite clear evidence that they had. And his boss, James Clapper Jr., the director of national intelligence, has admitted lying to the Senate on the N.S.A.’s bulk collection of data. Even putting this lack of credibility aside, it’s not clear what extra powers Mr. Brennan is seeking.
In fact, indiscriminate bulk data sweeps have not been useful.
The intelligence agencies’ inability to tell the truth about surveillance practices is just one part of the problem. The bigger issue is their willingness to circumvent the laws, however they are written. The Snowden revelations laid bare how easy it is to abuse national-security powers, which are vaguely defined and generally exercised in secret.
In truth, intelligence authorities are still able to do most of what they did before — only now with a little more oversight by the courts and the public. There is no dispute that they and law enforcement agencies should have the necessary powers to detect and stop attacks before they happen. But that does not mean unquestioning acceptance of ineffective and very likely unconstitutional tactics that reduce civil liberties without making the public safer.
A version of this editorial appears in print on November 18, 2015, on page A26 of the New York edition with the headline: Mass Surveillance Isn’t the Answer.
Maybe this is the beginning of the NYT becoming a newspaper, rather than an organ of government.
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