NSA scandal: God save us from the lawyers

John Cassidy writes: As the repercussions of Edward Snowden’s leaks about domestic surveillance continue to be debated, law professors and lawyers for the Bush and Obama Administrations are out in force, claiming that the spying agencies have done nothing wrong and it’s all much ado about nothing.

In the Financial Times, Philip Bobbitt, a law professor at Columbia who has worked in Democratic and Republican administrations, argued that the National Security Agency, in sweeping up a big part of the nation’s phone records, was upholding the law rather than subverting it. At the influential Lawfare blog, Joel F. Brenner, a legal consultant who between 2006 and 2009 was the head of counterintelligence at the White House, trotted out similar arguments and claimed that the United States “has the most expensive, elaborate, and multi-tiered intelligence oversight apparatus of any nation on Earth.” On the op-ed page of the Wall Street Journal, Michael Mukasey, who served as Attorney General in the Bush Administration, questioned whether there has even been a meaningful infringement of privacy, writing, “The claims of pervasive spying, even if sincere, appear not merely exaggerated, but downright irrational.”

To which, my reply is: Lord save us from lawyers, especially the big shots who graduate from élite law schools and advise administrations. (Brenner is a Harvard man; Bobbitt and Mukasey are Yalies.) With some honorable exceptions, their primary function is protecting the interests of the political and corporate establishments, often by finding some novel and tendentious way to legitimate their self-interested actions. When lesser mortals object, they turn around and accuse them of being ignorant of the law. [Continue reading…]

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