On January 31, 2008, in a Democratic primary presidential debate with Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama when speaking about the war in Iraq, made one of the most memorable and seemingly significant statements of the campaign:
I don’t want to just end the war, but I want to end the mindset that got us into war in the first place.
Many of those of us who found Obama’s promises of hope and change too vague and superficial to mean much, took his declaration on ending the mindset that got us into war as a bold repudiation of the Bush-Cheney era — an important signal that he understood the primary effect of U.S. national security policy, post 9/11, had been to generate a culture of fear inside America.
After taking office, not only did Obama fail to follow through on his commitment to change this mindset, but through the expansion of America’s drone war, widening the war on terrorism, sharply increasing the use of the Patriot Act in order to conduct mass surveillance inside America, and by starting an unprecedented war on whistle-blowers, this president has done more to expand state power and secrecy than any of his predecessors.
If George W. Bush was preoccupied with presenting the tough posture of a national security president, the change Obama has brought is to dispense with the posturing and instead focus on the expansion of the national security infrastructure.
The only significant challenge he has faced showed up unexpectedly in the form of a 29 year-old whistle-blower.
Thanks to Edward Snowden, for the first time since 9/11, Americans have refused to be silenced by government fear-mongers. They no longer accept the assertion that the need to “combat terrorism” is a national imperative that trumps all others.
As the czars of the national security establishment once again pull out the terrorism card in the hope that they can stifle debate and deflect tough questions, they are discovering for the first time in over a decade that their prized asset has suddenly lost much of its value.
While the media’s attention has often focused more on Snowden than the information he leaked, this focus is what has given the story such longevity — for better or worse, people have more interest in stories about people than they do in the analysis of policy. That NSA surveillance has become a focus of public concern, is not in spite of the extent to which this became a story about one individual, but on the contrary, because the issue could be embodied. (Obama apologists who profess an interest in civil liberties should take note.)
Ultimately this isn’t a story about Edward Snowden, yet it wouldn’t have become a story about issues that affect everyone without it first being a story about him.
Duncan Campbell is a veteran investigative journalist who began unearthing evidence of the NSA’s mass surveillance operations decades before most people had even heard the name, “National Security Agency,” let alone had any understanding of the scope of its operations. Campbell is unequivocal in describing Snowden as a hero who has done a public service in the interests of protecting civil liberties across the world.
The Associated Press reports: After 9/11, there were no shades of gray. There are plenty now.
The vigorous debate over the collection of millions of Americans’ phone records, underlined by a narrow House vote upholding the practice, buried any notion that it’s out of line, even unpatriotic, to challenge the national security efforts of the government.
Democrats and Republicans, conservatives and liberals, joined in common cause against the Obama administration’s aggressive surveillance, falling just short Wednesday night against a similarly jumbled and determined coalition of leaders and lawmakers who supported it.
It’s not every day you see Republican Speaker John Boehner and Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi facing off together against their own parties’ colleagues — with an assist from Rep. Michele Bachmann, no less — to help give President Barack Obama what he wanted. But that’s what it took to overcome efforts to restrict the National Security Agency’s surveillance program.
After the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, President George W. Bush warned the world “either you are with us or you are with the terrorists,” period, and those few politicians who objected to anything the U.S. wanted to do for its national security looked like oddballs.
That remarkable political consensus cracked in the bog of the Iraq war, and argument returned, but the government has had little trouble holding on to its extraordinary counterterrorism tools.
The passage of time, for one thing, and the absence of another attack on the scale of 9/11. Americans have also discovered, through Edward Snowden’s leaks, that surveillance doesn’t start at the water’s edge or stop with terrorist plotters in the homeland, but sweeps in the phone records of ordinary people indiscriminately.
Even in the frightening aftermath of 9/11, when large majorities told pollsters they were ready to trade in some personal protections for greater security, any effort to monitor phone calls or emails of average people was considered a step too far. In a Pew Research Center survey the week after the terrorist attacks, 70 percent said no to that.
Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona says memories of those days have faded and the political climate has changed.
“The stuff we went through last year about detainees we never would have gone through in 2002,” he said Thursday. He was referring to the debate in Congress for two years straight over the indefinite detention of terrorist suspects, even U.S. citizens captured within the nation’s borders.
The closeness of the House surveillance vote “says there’s great and widespread concern about the extent of the NSA’s activities,” McCain said, “and that’s why we need hearings in Congress.” This, from a supporter of the NSA surveillance.