When Ban Ki-moon, the United Nations secretary general, sat down with President Obama at the White House in April to discuss Syrian chemical weapons, Israeli-Palestinian peace talks and climate change, it was a cordial, routine exchange.
The National Security Agency nonetheless went to work in advance and intercepted Mr. Ban’s talking points for the meeting, a feat the agency later reported as an “operational highlight” in a weekly internal brag sheet. It is hard to imagine what edge this could have given Mr. Obama in a friendly chat, if he even saw the N.S.A.’s modest scoop. (The White House won’t say.)
But it was emblematic of an agency that for decades has operated on the principle that any eavesdropping that can be done on a foreign target of any conceivable interest — now or in the future — should be done. After all, American intelligence officials reasoned, who’s going to find out?
From thousands of classified documents, the National Security Agency emerges as an electronic omnivore of staggering capabilities, eavesdropping and hacking its way around the world to strip governments and other targets of their secrets, all the while enforcing the utmost secrecy about its own operations. It spies routinely on friends as well as foes, as has become obvious in recent weeks; the agency’s official mission list includes using its surveillance powers to achieve “diplomatic advantage” over such allies as France and Germany and “economic advantage” over Japan and Brazil, among other countries.
~ from No Morsel Too Miniscule for All-Consuming NSA by Scott Shane ~
For weeks now, we've listened to the heads of America's chief spy agency justify their activities based on the assertion that "everybody does it." As a child, that excuse didn't fly, so why should it for adults? Just because others are acting recklessly or unethically is no excuse for you and I to act the same way! It is particularly egregious for a nation that always claims the moral high ground. How can we claim to be "better" than others if we behave the same way to the max AND in secret?
I have and will continue to focus a lot of my writing on the scandals involving the NSA. I see the recent revelations as so critically important because the way in which our federal government is behaving is bound to trickle down to infect the whole of society. For me, it is like a cancer that threatens the fabric of American culture.
We can already see the trickle down effect in the manner in which many domestic police forces act toward the citizens they are sworn to protect. Rather than viewing us as the taxpayers who pay their salaries, more and more we are viewed and treated as enemy combatants. Try to video tape an officer making an arrest or screaming at somebody -- an act ostensibly protected by the US Constitution -- and the police turn their wrath on the citizen taking the pictures!
Why? Because the officers of our local police departments view themselves as on the same sort of level as the NSA. What we do is subject to all-encompassing surveillance -- what they do is none of our damn business!
A democratic society cannot exist where mass surveillance by the authorities becomes too pervasive. Yes, there will always be some level of secrecy, but when that secrecy becomes too institutionalized, freedom dies. Even worse, high level secrecy trickles down to the point in which it permeates everything. It becomes an accepted way to act and, before you know it, all members of society will try to mimic it in their relationships with others.