The Fuse Has Been Lit: Seven Critical Points on Uncle Sam’s Spying Program

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NSA PRISM

The sordid revelations from the Obama administration are coming at a pace that can only be described as, well, fast and furious. So let’s lay down some markers here, as a sort of road map for the months and years ahead: 

First, if the PRISM program and all the rest of the government’s surveillance programs were so good and necessary, then why didn’t the feds catch the Tsarnaev brothers, who earlier this year blew up the Boston Marathon?  Or Major Hassan, the 2009 Fort Hood mass-murderer?  Or the “underwear bomber,” also from 2009, who nearly succeeded in blowing up the passenger jet flying into Detroit?   

Second, if and when everything is revealed about PRISM and all the rest, it’s likely that we will learn of important and inculpating connections between the National Security Agency (NSA), on the one hand, and many civilian agencies, on the other.   

I am not just referring to Eric Holder’s Justice Department; I am also referring to the gleefully gushing leakers and win-at-any-cost politicos in the White House.  And oh yes, let’s not forget the Obama administration’s partisan allies at the IRS, as well as the Obamacare overseers at the Department of Health and Human Services.  

Moreover, since we know that the IRS was eagerly willing to share secret tax information with favored private groups, we shouldn’t be surprised, in the end, to learn that NSA/PRISM material ended up in the hands of Obama friends and allies outside of the government.  

Third, we now know that Silicon Valley, and the telecommunications industry, are the key to the Obama strategy for total information awareness.  In fact, the internet companies, and the phone companies, were the spearpoint for PRISM.  No, wait, that’s not the right image.  Let’s try this: These communications companies put peepholes into all of our private lives, through which Uncle Sam could sneak a peek.  Every e-mail, every phone call, every text-message--the government knows about them all.   

It’s now evident that all these wonderful digital services--many of them, such as Google’s Gmail, given away for free--were, in fact, a kind of Trojan Horse.  That is, on the outside, it all seemed like a good deal--but then the real truth comes tumbling out, and it’s too late.  Some might recall the rueful lesson of the Trojan War: “Beware of Greeks bearing gifts.” The rueful lesson of our own time: “Beware of geeks bearing gifts.”  

Yes, Big Brother walks among us now, peeking and snooping into everything. And we, innocently and unwittingly, invited Big Brother into our midst.  

Fourth, it’s not an accident that these Silicon Valley companies are supporters of Barack Obama. The greatest among these Obama supporters is Eric Schmidt, executive chairman of the largest of these companies, Google.  Google gained a lot of traction--the company is now worth nearly $300 billion, and Schmidt owns a good chunk of that--on the slogan, “Don’t be evil.”  But now we know better.  Indeed, we are reminded of another old piece of wisdom: Be extra careful around the man who protests his virtue too much.  And beware the company, too.   

Google and all the rest of the Silicon Valleyites say they didn’t know about what was happening, and if you don’t believe that, well, they will then tell you that they didn’t provide “direct access.”  Oh, okay, not “direct access”--just full access.  And what did the companies get in return for this cooperation with the government?  A pat on the head?  Or something more?  Did any of these companies make any serious attempt to put any sort of limits on what was being snooped, and how it was being utilized?   

Let’s remember: All these companies had a lot of leverage, because any one of them had the power to make the PRISM operation, at least some of it, public.  But they all chose not to; they all chose to be part of the effort.  How come? Patriotism? Or something else?  

Fifth, Eric Schmidt, in particular, seems on his way to becoming a major Democratic powerbroker, bringing Silicon Valley smarts--and who knows what else--into the realm of partisan campaigning. Schmidt is so into this president that he snapped up the 2012 Obama campaign’s data analytics team--hired the whole Chicago group--and has now launched them in a new company. The company, Civis Analytics, will work on various for-profit and non-profit projects, including helping the Obama administration dragoon young people into Obamacare. And oh yes, Civis will also work on political campaigns--but only for Democrats.    

So we might ask: Is Schmidt really doing the right thing for the employees and shareholders of Google?  To say nothing of all those Google users?  Is it really in keeping with Schmidt’s fiduciary duty to his company to get so extended into the policy and politics of the Obama administration?  Are Schmidt’s actions truly helping the long-term growth and well-being of Google?  Not only are its American customers justifiably freaked out, but how ‘bout customers worldwide?  If you were a citizen of another country, would you really want to keep using Google if you know that American intelligence types--and maybe American political operatives--were perusing your private life?   

Sixth, young Edward Snowden, the 29-year-old who leaked the PRISM information, is sort of a Zelig figure--if you remember your Woody Allen movies--for our own time.  That is, the naive figure who ends up in the middle of great events, without fully understanding what is happening all around him.  As a teenager in 2003, at the height of the patriotic feeling of the War on Terror in 2003, Snowden joined the US Army.  He was discharged after breaking both of his legs in a training accident, and then, as he made his way up the ladder in the national security apparatus, he seems to have veered between sort of liking Obama and actually supporting libertarian candidates.  

In other words, Snowden seems to have been pro-war when just about everyone was pro-war, and he became part of the national security sector when it was a boom industry. More recently, he believed that Obama would bring about positive hope and change, even as he himself became more and more skeptical of government. Then, of course, came his profound disillusion, and the PRISM leak.  

More biographical information on Snowden will come pouring out, but it surely seems, as of now, that Snowden was riding on the same political rollercoaster as many millions of American.  First, trust in George W. Bush, then trust in the system, then trust in Obama--and now, trust in nobody and nothing in Washington.  

Seventh, as far as the American people are concerned, this domestic spying is a big deal. Yet revealingly, to the political class--that is, our leaders in Washington DC--it’s not such a big deal.  And there we see the central cleft in our politics today: the widening gap between the government and the governed. 

According to pollster Scott Rasmussen, the American people oppose the US government’s secret collection of phone records by a whopping 59:26 margin.   

People know, in their bones, that unaccountable government is bad government; as Patrick Henry said more than two centuries ago, “The liberties of a people never were, nor ever will be, secure, when the transactions of their rulers may be concealed from them.”  So when Obama said, on Friday, “I welcome this debate and I think it's healthy for our democracy,” we might ask right back: Mr. President, if you welcome this debate so much, why didn’t you begin the debate yourself?  Why did you wait until PRISM was leaked?  

The reason, of course, is that Obama did not see anything objectionable about PRISM.  Moreover, neither did anyone around him--in either party. On Sunday, the talkshow airwaves were thick with DC Establishment tools rallying around PRISM--that is, rallying around their own entrenched and centralized power.   

Only a few outsiders, such as Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY)--who has retained his outsiderness, even inside the club of the US Senate--are reading public sentiment correctly. Paul plans a class-action suit against the communications companies, inviting all Americans to join him. That’s the sort of citizen-engagement effort that the insurgent and outsider-ish Obama campaign of 2008 would have loved, even if the arrogant and insider-ish Obama administration of 2013 hates it.  

In fact, those Americans whom Rasmussen categorizes as the “political class”--that is, those connected to DC and governance--support PRISM by a 71 percent to 18 percent ratio.  Meanwhile, the rest of the country opposes PRISM by a more than three-to-one ratio, 69 percent to 21 percent. Now let’s think about the enormous chasm here: The political class supports the program by a 53-point margin, while everyone else opposes it by a 48-point margin.  If you add up those two margins, 53 and 48, you get 101. That’s a vivid indicator of the gap between the government and the governed.  

So here we see it: The elites think one thing, and the people think another thing.  Nothing new there, of course, except that rarely, if ever, has the dichotomy between overdog and underdog been this stark.  

Something is going to have to give.  We are on the cusp of some huge shift in power relations between the core and periphery, between the DC Beltway and flyover country. Right now, Washington has the upper hand, but an aggrieved population can always win--if it is willing to stand up and fight.    

In the minds of ordinary Americans, the fuse of outrage has been lit.  Now this is the question: Can honest but responsible leaders, truly reflecting populist anger, find a way to force change in DC? Moreover, can this needed reform happen without tearing apart the country?   

Let’s hope so.  

But we must know this for sure: One way or another, a revolution is coming.   


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