National Commentary

Big Brother

nfbentonpicIn all the dust up this week over the secret operations of the National Security Agency and the role of secret intelligence methods and means in the on-going defense of the nation, the most troubling development has been the decision by the U.S. to begin intervening militarily in the Syrian quagmire.

How does anyone who made such a decision think it will end now? The intervention is not enough to turn the tide of the conflict, and will only add enough additional deadly munitions to make sure a lot more people die. The U.S. has punched the tar baby, and there is no way to see how it can extricate itself.

This goes to the important point of all the revelations about the NSA’s operations this week. It is not about the ominous capability itself, but about the use to which it is being put, and far more disconcerting, could be put in the future.

Let us never forget the not-too-long-ago granddaddy of the craven political use and abuse of secret intelligence. What an irony, indeed, that our nation’s vice president of 2003 would deign to call Edward Snowden, the whistle blower in the current situation, a traitor.

Dick Cheney is the very embodiment of that term, lying to Congress and to the American people about indisputable intelligence of “weapons of mass destruction” in Iraq that was used to justify the unprovoked U.S. invasion of a foreign nation, resulting in a decade of unspeakable death and misery.

U.N. inspectors led by Hans Blix could not sway the U.S. Congress by their insistence that no such evidence could be found by their intensive on-the-ground investigations in Iraq. No, Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld kept insisting that they knew exactly where the massive caches were, as specifically as “about 20 miles south of Baghdad,” and so forth.

What a low point in U.S. history it was that day when then Secretary of State Colin Powell was arm-twisted to make a presentation to the U.N. on the “hard evidence” of those fictional “weapons of mass destruction” on the eve of the invasion of Iraq.

So the matters of spying and intelligence gathering, no matter their scope, have more to do with their potential for abuse than anything else, and in this case, what we have to fear may be not so much what’s going on now, as what may go on at some future point.

There is no putting the genie back in the bottle. Every major government on the globe is playing the same game now, and I recall California Senator John Tunney sounding like a madman warning of this inevitable electronic intrusion into our private lives 40 years ago.

Anyone at all savvy about the nature of the Internet has had to know that anything and everything posted there is not private, even if some congressmen and other famous people obviously weren’t paying attention.

So we live in a world now where, simply put, there are no secrets anymore (unless, presumably, one lives completely off the grid). It’s the world many have been resigned to for some time, and in that context, the latest revelations are hardly a surprise.

One can assume our nation’s adversaries have known most of this for a long time, too. After all, the way the Chinese hacked into our top secret military design files, as revealed in recent weeks, is clear evidence they’ve already had the capacity to probe into our best secrets.

The revelations of the past week have forced a public discourse on all these matters, just as revelations about the fraud of “weapons of mass destruction” in Iraq, of abuses at Abu Ghraib, of Guantanamo, of indiscriminate drone strikes, and so forth, have caused the nation to give pause and, ultimately we can hope, revisit some more basic moral questions about the role of war, brutality and violence in our society more generally.

“Big Brother” is now plugged in, hard wired, up and running. That said, the issue is whether he is going to mess with our lives, or not. That is a question of the morality of our government, which is a question about the morality of our society.