The government’s response to Edward Snowden’s leaks about the National Security Agency’s secret monitoring of the Internet and collection of our telephone logs is a mass of contradictions. Officials have said the disclosures are (1) old news, (2) grossly inaccurate, and (3) a blow to national security. It’s hard to see how any two of these can be true, much less all three.
Can’t they at least get their story straight? If they can’t do better than that, why should we have confidence in anything else that they do?
Snowden exposed the government’s indiscriminate snooping because, among other things, it violates the Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable searches and he had no other recourse.
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper says Snowden should have used established channels to raise his concerns, but there are no effective channels. Members of the congressional intelligence committees are prohibited from telling the public what they learn from their briefings. Two members of the Senate committee, Ron Wyden and Mark Udall, for years have warned — without disclosing secrets — that the Obama administration is interpreting the Patriot Act and related laws far more broadly than was ever intended by those who voted for those pieces of legislation. Their warnings have made no difference.
A court challenge wasn’t open to Snowden either. Glenn Greenwald, who published Snowden’s leaks in the Guardian, notes that for years the ACLU has tried to challenge the surveillance programs in court on Fourth Amendment grounds, but the Obama administration has blocked the effort by arguing that the ACLU has no standing to bring the suit. It’s a classic Catch-22. Since the surveillance is secret, no one can know if he has been spied on. But if no one knows, no one can go into court claiming to be a victim, and the government will argue that therefore the plaintiff has no standing to challenge the surveillance. Well played, Obama administration.
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