There has been a lot of bold talk in some quarters about reining in the ever-expanding surveillance state. We need to halt some programs altogether and slap some added safeguards on others. Most importantly, it is said, we need to reassert the constitutional importance of maintaining privacy away from Big Brother's prying eyes.
It all sounds good and I certainly don't disagree with any of these aims, but it begs a very uncomfortable question: Can the genie be put back in the bottle?
Let's say a real champion arose from the masses and won in a landslide for the presidency in 2016. Let's say this champion -- let's call her President Free -- appears to be a principled person who campaigned on a platform of significantly paring back the national security state. As long as we're dreaming, let's say that a principled majority also was elected to both houses of Congress.
Beginning in January 2017, both President Free and the Congress begin passing legislation that closes down the most insidious aspects of domestic surveillance and erects strict Congressional oversight on the programs that remain. How could we be sure that much of anything has changed?
For starters, how could we be sure that President Free truly means what she says? Obama, an eloquent speaker, has said lots of things that have turned out not to be true. Members of his administration have gone out of their way to torture the English language. Free could be nothing more than the next front person standing out front to mask what is going on in secret behind the scenes.
Even if we believe President Free to be speaking truth, how can we be sure that the military-industrial-spy complex is being truthful with her and Congress? In the present situation, many members of Congress have admitted to being left in the dark. Several have expressed great alarm at all they didn't know. The difference is that, while most members of Congress have been left out of the loop, President Obama has not. But what if a future administration is?
When military types are given new toys to play with, they seem proficient at finding ways to keep the game going. We have seen past attempts to rein them in only for the same programs to reappear with different names under different guises. So, how exactly do we convince spies to quit utilizing the most technologically advanced spy equipment and KNOW that they have genuinely quit using them?
The scary answer is that we probably can't know anything for sure. They may say they've put away their new toys under lock and key without actually doing anything of the sort. And the worst part of all is that, by the very nature of the beast, you truly can't trust anything a spy says anyway. The spying biz is all about lying and deception! So, you never know when they are speaking candidly and when they purposely are spreading disinformation.