Clapper: The Attacks We Didn't Prevent In The Past Can't Be Prevented In The Future If Section 215 Is Allowed To Die
from the faith-based-surveillance dept
Over a decade has passed since the 9/11 attacks, and the intelligence community still won’t let the attack it didn’t prevent be laid to rest. It is exhumed over and over again — its tattered remains waved in front of legislators and the public, accompanied by shouts of, “YOU SEE THIS?!? THIS IS WHAT HAPPENS WHEN WE DON’T GET OUR WAY!”
It’s grotesque and ghastly and — quite frankly — more than a little tiresome. The NSA’s Section 215 program is set to expire on June 1st and James Clapper is making statements in its defense — statements that read like someone attempting to sound more disappointed than angry. But this is James Clapper speaking, and all prior evidence points to him being unwilling to make any concessions on the domestic surveillance front.
Here’s what he had to say about the impending death of the bulk phone records collection:
“In the end, the Congress giveth and the Congress taketh away,” he said. “If the Congress, in its wisdom, decides the candle isn’t worth the flame, the juice isn’t worth the squeeze, whatever metaphor you want to use, that’s fine.”
“The intelligence community will do all we can within the law to do what we can to protect the country. I have to say that every time we lose another tool in our toolkit, it raises the risk,” he added. “If that tool is taken away from us, 215, and, some untoward incident happens which should have been thwarted had we had it, I hope everyone involved in that decision assumes the responsibility and it not be blamed, if we have another failure, exclusively on the intelligence community.”
The subtext is clear and Jason Koebler at Vice spells it out succinctly: Kill Section 215, but don’t blame us if another 9/11 happens.
The intelligence community continues to argue — without evidence — that the program has aided in combating terrorism. It can’t say how or offer any details as to attacks thwarted, but it makes the assertion all the same. The Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB) has access to intelligence documents most Americans will never see and yet it came to this conclusion: the bulk records program is both useless and a violation of civil liberties.
Clapper’s defense of the program seems to be faith-based. In a single clumsy metaphor, Clapper summons the spirit of two Simpsons characters.
“215, to me, is much like my fire insurance policy for my home,” he said. “The house never burns down, but I buy fire insurance, just in case.”
Lisa Simpson argued against Homer’s specious “bear patrol” reasoning by claiming a rock she found on the ground could keep tigers away — noting that the lack of nearby tigers “proved” the rock worked. This is Clapper’s sales pitch: the lack of another 9/11 attack is “proof” the program is necessary. Well, we haven’t had a Summer Olympics hosted in this country since 1996, so it could also be claimed that Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act has been instrumental in preventing the US from hosting this
extremely destructive parasite momentous event. After all, the roots of Section 215 also trace back to a 1990s partnership between the NSA and DEA to collect phone records on calls to foreign countries originating in the US.
Ned Flanders — perhaps the most upstanding (and naïve) Springfieldian — notably considered insurance coverage to be a form of gambling. Clapper’s “gamble” — his supposed “insurance” — bets on surveillance state wins while putting Americans’ privacy up as collateral. Even when viewed through Clapper’s twisted perspective, the metaphor fails.
The difference here, is that the NSA’s “insurance” is intrusive information on just about every citizen in the United States, regardless of whether or not they’ve done anything wrong.
The defenders of the surveillance framework always point to attacks they didn’t prevent (like the Boston Bombing) as justification for intrusive spy programs. That argument alone should be greeted with riotous, disbelieving laughter. But they press this even further, giving themselves credit for every lull between major attacks and ignoring every report or investigation that shows their favorite programs do little more than make the job of counterterrorism more difficult.
Clapper seems to believe the death of the Section 215 program will be the death of us all. It’s an absurd belief. Unfortunately, it’s shared by far too many of those in the position to prevent its expiration.