By Mitchel Olszak
CNHI News Service
"I welcome this debate and I think it's healthy for our democracy."
President Obama made this comment recently regarding revelations the National Security Agency has been scooping up vast amounts of raw data from America's telephone systems and Internet providers.
While I agree such a debate is healthy for democracy, I don't believe for a moment that Obama welcomes it. To the contrary, I think he's lying through his teeth.
Here is a man who has been president since January 2009. He went into office supposedly skeptical of the expanding national security apparatus set up by the outgoing Bush administration.
If Obama wanted a debate, and believed it would be healthy, it would have started back then.
The only reason the president is saying this now is because the cat's out of the bag.
As I write this, Edward Snowden is supposedly ensconced in Moscow's airport, looking for a country that will give him sanctuary and protect him from U.S. extradition. It's fast becoming a dubious proposition.
Snowden first made headlines a few weeks ago by revealing how far the NSA was going to collect phone and electronic data produced by millions of Americans. He said he had done so because he was concerned the government was going too far in terms of monitoring the activities of average citizens.
The news sparked a firestorm of reaction from across the political spectrum. In Washington, however, while some officials expressed relatively mild concerns about the whole thing, most were quick to defend what the NSA was doing Ñ even if they didn't know what that was.
You see, information on this data gathering program is on a need-to-know basis. And even most members of Congress don't need to know.
The collection of all this information supposedly is quite legal. It's even approved by a special court. Of course, that court and its actions are secret, and traditional notions about probable cause and the like don't apply.
So how, Mr. President, is America supposed to have a healthy debate about what the NSA is doing when we really don't know what it's doing? Meanwhile, we are forced to get our information from some kid who didn't have much of a game plan when it came to telling us.
Then again, it's worth noting that other sources besides Snowden have approached reporters with concerns about NSA actions. While these sources offer fewer details, they worry the government is going too far when it comes to meddling in the private lives of individuals. Plus, they think efforts to obtain meaningful intelligence is lost when it becomes a virtual needle in a data-gathering haystack.
Amid the controversy, government official basically are saying we should trust them, that Big Brother knows best about such things. After all, their track record proves this.
Of course, to reach that conclusion you have to ignore the fact no one thwarted the Boston Marathon bombers, even though Russian intelligence officials gave prior warnings about one of the suspects. Where was the security in that instance?
And let's talk about Snowden. No matter what you think of him, it appears he was motivated to right what he believed was a wrong.
Yet how did this guy working for a private company come to know so much about America's deepest secrets? And how many other people like him are out there?
Are they being tight-lipped and security conscious? Are they using their access to spy on old girlfriends and the neighbors? Or maybe they're quietly selling what they know to some foreign power.
Trust these guys? Why?
Mitchel Olszak is a columnist for The New Castle News
Published July 13, 2013, in Allied News. Pick up a copy at 201 A Erie St., Grove City.