As controversy around President Bush’s authorization of the National Security Agency’s (NSA) secret spy program rages in the halls of congress, I find myself worrying: “What if?”
You may contend that the current White House has the best interests of the American populace in mind when it makes any policy, but what if a future president is an isolated paranoid like Richard Nixon?
Or, God forbid, we elect someone with the same psychological profile as J. Edgar Hoover?
If the White House fell into irresponsible or corrupt hands, the power to use the NSA to spy on whomever they choose could cripple American civil freedoms, not to mention congressional and judicial relevance.
Why? Because this program is SECRET! Zero oversight. Couple this with the power to detain, without warrant or hearings, and “recondition” anyone the oval office chooses (a power Bush has claimed), and you have the makings of a tyrannical regime in which any dissent, from any quarter, could be easily quashed and punished.
It is an awesome power to invest in any institution.
The world has recently lost the voice of a wonderful young blogger from Iran (http://livinginiran.livejournal.com). When I visited her Web page in late December she had a blog posted in which she told of her problems finding an Internet portal that wasn’t being filtered by the government. She also expressed her fears about the current state of affairs in Iran, and wrote of the discontent of ordinary people there because of their whack-job regime. She was, sadly, in fear for her own well-being as well.
When I last visited her page there were no new postings and, most distressing, the last one, the one expressing her fears and criticisms, had been removed from the page.
You may think this could only happen in an isolated totalitarian regime such as Iran but, consider Socrates’s observations on a power as vast as the one in question.
Socrates grilled his students about how they would have behaved if they possessed a ring that made them invisible (think Gollum here) and the results were not pretty. The group concluded that not a one of them could act justly, given such a power.
None could resist the temptation to further their own fortunes at the expense of their fellows. This is essentially the power the president’s office is seeking: invisibility, a power with no oversight, a power exercised in total secrecy.
If you are one who thinks this power would not be abused in the U.S., that it would be confined to simple wiretapping and only to terrorism suspects (as defined by the president), the question is: How would you know? It’s all secret. Nobody knows.
A reasonable person might argue that our current president and those around him are capable of resisting the corrupting influence of such a power, but when a power is created it will be used, and once this power is established, how do we retract it? We can’t stop what we don’t know about.
We are in danger of throwing the baby out with the bathwater here people, and I’m supporting all congressional members who are fighting to establish a reasonable oversight regime.
Your voice can be heard by writing (e-mail works) and encouraging congressional representatives on this issue.