The recent media circus surrounding the leaking of classified information concerning our National Security Agency (NSA) cell phone monitoring programs by Edward Snowden, former NSA contractor, has shed much light but little clarity. While the existence of the program is without question, the criteria for inclusion are seen as overly broad . . . everyone.
This has led to the recent disclosures that we have been monitoring calls of the leaders of our allies, most prominently, German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Turmoil in Europe and Latin America has erupted over these disclosures, with many of our allies interpreting the surveillance as a means to more than just detecting terrorism. Spain’s foreign minister has expressed outrage at reports showing that the NSA monitored more than 60 million calls within a 30-day period.
It is not as if this is the first time our national security has been compromised by leaks. In 2006, the New York Times published an article revealing classified information about the counterterrorism program that monitored the flow of financial records through a large international banking cooperative SWIFT– a program which is now being called into question by German Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger. She is now seeking to suspend SWIFT to send a signal that we can expect the EU’s policies to change.
Our ineptitude causes concern among our allies regardless of whether they personally have been slighted by the program. No disclosures have been released regarding Israel, and yet, as one of our strongest allies, they are concerned that these disclosures could increase the risk of terrorism. These disclosures have lessened the use of electronic communications between terrorists, thus preventing us from intercepting messages. Our enemies will no longer be afraid of us and our allies will no longer trust us.
Conflicting reports have been given regarding whether President Obama was aware that we were spying on our allies, and specifically, on Chancellor Merkel. The NSA and White House Spokesman Jay Carney has reported that President Obama was unaware of the specific individuals being monitored and that Chancellor Merkel is not presently being monitored, nor will she be in the future. Assuming these reports to be true, this prompts the question of whether it falls within President Obama’s responsibilities to be aware of whom we are monitoring.
In our ever-evolving struggle to defend the United States against those who would do us harm, we have developed many programs aimed at identifying, locating, and neutralizing our enemies. While we have, and will continue to have, an open and honest debate concerning the efficacy of pursuing individual players in the War on Terror, we must not attempt to micromanage each program through the prism of media reports. Since the attacks on 9/11, we have given a great amount of discretion to the Executive Branch to launch time-sensitive missions without repetitive trips to Congress. President Obama has claimed, on occasion, to possess a “kill list” of possible targets, and to have the ultimate final say on the method of extermination, as he should. If, somewhere in the Byzantine bowels of our National Security Agency, there exists such a list containing the names of our allied leaders and their cell phone numbers, should not a copy of that list also reside on the desk in the Oval Office?