Krauthammer’s Wrong: NSA Spying Not Equivalent To Policing

We’re spying on you for your own good.
Charles Krauthammer ought to be taken seriously. He said yesterday from his daily perch that he wasn’t concerned about NSA spying on Americans because there hasn’t been any or many complaints or other evidence of abuse, besides the latest. No complaints, no harm.

He compared NSA’s sucking up data to the police carrying guns and using other tools, and that these guns and tools can be used maliciously by those sworn to protect us, and sometimes are, but not to the extent we would disarm cops.

He didn’t use the word “spying.”

The analogy is poor and if considered at length supports the opposite conclusion: NSA ought not to spy on citizens without probable cause. Which is to say, NSA, and every other government agency, ought to follow the Fourth Amendment in its letter and spirit.

If the police suspect a man of crime they must provide sufficient and lengthy evidence to a judge before receiving a search warrant to implement a wire tap (and equivalents). After the warrant is issued, the tap is put in place. Contrariwise, the NSA wire taps everybody first, stores the information, and then swears not to look at it until it receives a warrant from a court with the sole purpose of handing out warrants.

This violates the spirit and letter of the Constitution. Whether our dear leaders come to this same conclusion and voluntarily renounce the power they have awarded themselves is a separate question. Smart money says no: smarter money says these programs will intensify.

Add to this knowledge that the chief law enforcement officer of the country was discovered lying to both Congress and a judge for political reasons, accusing one of his enemies falsely of treason and spying, a double irony (but unfortunately no record).

Police carry guns because crooks do. Except in a very few enlightened locales, such as blood-stained Chicago, any citizen may arm and protect himself in the absence of police. The armament on both sides is in rough parity, with the police holding a slight edge.

There is no equivalent in this case. No citizen can compete with or evade a Dark Star or PRISM, the 007-enemy-like names our beneficent government chose for its programs (this was also Krauthammer’s observation). All a citizen can do is avoid anything electronic: no cell phone, no computer, no medical records (which the IRS will soon have), no credit card, no car, and no heat signature—drones will track these. Remember drones? Only proles and animals are free.

The best comparison is between Stop & Frisk and NSA surveillance. Under Stop & Frisk, cops patrol high-crime areas and detain and search individuals who meet minimal suspicion standards. Minimal is not none. The visible presence of the police is often a sufficient deterrent. Records of Stop & Frisk cannot be used for personal identification.

The NSA can scan records which are minimally suspicious, too. But to do that, they must first collect information on everybody, including people who meet no standard of suspicion. A person frisked on the street knows what has happened to him. The citizen whose records are pored over remains ignorant. The former can complain of abuse, the latter cannot. This is why there are no complaints of harassment.

Revealingly, the government does not claim electronic snooping does deters, only that it discovers. Perhaps people would feel better were they to learn the spying programs have uncovered innumerable foreign spies and stopped countless attacks. The government is understandably reticent to admit these successes, assuming they exist, fearing its enemies will backward engineer its methods and thus countervail them.

However, there is good reason to think the number of these successes is low. For one, our current administration loves to brag, and it has not about uncovering spies. And the failures have been many. The Boston bombers, the shoe and underwear bombers, Mumbai, Benghazi, England’s bombings; many others including Snowden himself. Contradictorily, these will encourage governments to increase its powers rather than admit its programs don’t work.

I had, in the 1980s, a Top Secret SCI etc. etc. clearance, natural for a USAF Sergeant in cryptography. The clearance came with endless briefings about traitorous spies and the damage they caused. These were mostly useless as training to spot spies, because all we learned was that spies excel at hiding. But because spies existed and the government feared them, it thought it should screen for them using lie detectors.

These were not useless: they were able to produce many accusations, all (or nearly all) false. Real spies pass polygraphs. (Incidentally, the attack is psychological: “There seems to be a problem with question seven, Sergeant Briggs. Can you help me with that?” “Nope.” “Are you sure?” “Yep.” “You are dismissed.” Always the same.)

It’s a good guess the same will and is happening with NSA’s terrorist screening. The failures suggest screening is too blunt a tool to catch bad guys, especially well organized and intelligent adversaries.

Update Recommended reading. Liberty in the Tentacular State.


  1. Carmen D'Oxide

    It’s not about catching bad guys…

  2. Sylvain Allard

    It’s funny how Obama like to brag yet Bush/Cheney claimed they kept America safe by sending 4000 kids to there death in Iraq, and not forgetting 9/11 and the 57 (8 in Iraq) attacks and 13 deaths in American embassy around the world.

  3. Doug M

    If the government doesn’t trust the electorate, they should dissolve it a and replace it with a new people.

  4. Ken

    It’s not just the government we need to be worrying about…perhaps the government’s intrusions are a lesser problem…consider:
    It’s not just the government we need to be worrying about…perhaps the government’s intrusions are a lesser problem/a symptom of a more subtle & insidious problem…consider:

    Here’s what Zuckerberg was doing a few years ago:

    “Today at our third f8, we are making it so all websites can work together to build a more comprehensive map of connections and create better, more social experiences for everyone. We have redesigned Facebook Platform to offer a simple set of tools that sites around the web can use to personalize experiences and BUILD OUT THE GRAPH OF CONNECTIONS PEOPLE ARE MAKING.” From:

    THAT’s exactly the sort of thing NSA is working to do now by linking patterns of domestic & foreign communications interchange.

    AND HERE’s a counter-viewpoint (defending the programs) that cites — briefly — the laws, the culpable players, etc.: It’s only metadata this person remarks…

    …so here’s what one can glean from just metadata: (The author of this item states at the end: “At the present time, alas, the technology required to automatically collect the required information is beyond our capacity.” That is untrue.)

    Others defending the programs:

    Of course, concerns raised are just as if not more compelling:

    Here someone identifies what is already legal (starting with a Supreme Court precedent from 1979!) noting the real scandal isn’t what the Fed’s are doing, it what is already legal:


    Per law (& oversimplifying here a bit; see link to The Atlantic, above), when the Feds get data from private companies who provided the data voluntarily, the Fed’s are doing nothing illegal or contrary to the 4th amendment. Therein lies/underlies the real issue. It’s not what the Feds are doing–it’s what the law allows them to do that, maybe, ought not be allowed to be done.

  5. VXXC

    With regard to enemies: the mistake – made by Bush at the behest of Ashcroft – was involving the Law in War at all. This continued the Clinton Policy that they publicly denounced. The Law has at best a supporting role in war.

    We have taken our Laws into Battle and begun by losing the Battles, now we have lost our Laws.

    War is task for the Soldier and the Spy. The policeman is ill suited to this by nature. To win the wars we will have to equip the Police with all the dread powers of the Soldier and the Spy.

    To win this particular war of course does not require Super Commandos or Super Spooks. Or TSA. Or the State morphing into 1984. It requires the 19th century 7th Cavalry with all that entails. Slaughter in other words.

    As they cannot face that, we have METADATA. More Data for the Meta-Boss who can’t make a hard decision. The Hard decision is the 7th Cavalry. We didn’t need a totalitarian society to conquer North America. We needed what we exactly did.


    Thanks Matt, for taking this on. I also found CK’s pronouncement that there have not been cases of abuse since this has been going on for a decade. The argument in support was people complaining and filing law suits against the IRS. Yeah that is because whether it is the IRS or police frisking, the target knows. The kind of NSA activity being condoned by CK is pernicious. Which coming from CK is a head scratcher.

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