As US embassies remain closed across the Middle East, North Africa, and Central Asia in response to a reported terror threat, critics are blasting politicians for exploiting recent State Department warnings to build the case that vast NSA spying is a necessary protection.
Critics slam the cynical attempt to play to people's fears to silence debate over widely unpopular NSA spying programs and beef up US military presence across the world. The legitimacy of the data revealing the alleged terror plot is not broadly coming under question, but the way it is being used to build the political agenda of expanding the US security and surveillance state is being hotly contested.
While the media widely reported Monday that the latest terror alert was spurred by intercepted communication between Al Qaeda leaders and Yemeni organizations, it is not clear how much of, or whether, this information was intercepted by the vast NSA surveillance dragnet. Nonetheless, several politicians—many of them long-time war hawks—are clamoring to tell the press that the alleged interception of a terror plot shows that NSA spying saves lives.
"These [NSA] programs are controversial. We understand that," Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Georg.) told NBC's Meet the Press on Sunday, the Guardian reports. "But they are also very important... If we did not have these programs, then we simply would not be able to listen in on the bad guys."
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) declared Sunday to CNN: "The NSA program is proving its worth yet again."
Reps. C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger (R-Mar.) and Michael McCaul (R-Tex.) were also quick to trumpet the virtues of NSA spying to the media, with Ruppersberger declaring to ABC, "[The] good news is that we picked up intelligence. That’s what the NSA does."
Journalist Glenn Greenwald who broke the NSA spying story slammed the rush to exploit US fears to justify a broad and limitless spying program in an interview with Democracy Now! on Monday:
[H]ere we are in the midst of, you know, one of the most intense debates and sustained debates that we’ve had in a very long time in this country over the dangers of excess surveillance, and suddenly an administration that has spent two years claiming that it has decimated AL-Qaeda decides that there is this massive threat that involves the closing of embassies and consulates throughout the world.
And within literally an amount of hours, the likes of Saxby Chambliss and Lindsey Graham join with the White House and Democrats in Congress—who, remember, are the leading defenders of the NSA at this point—to exploit that terrorist threat and to insist that it shows that the NSA and these programs are necessary.
...The controversy is over the fact that they are sweeping up billions and billions of emails and telephone calls every single day from people around the world and in the United States who have absolutely nothing to do with terrorism.
Not all politicians are jumping on board to praise the NSA for unfoiling a potential terror plot. “There's no indication, unless I'm proved wrong later, that that program which collects vast amounts of … domestic telephone data contributed to information about this particular plot,” Rep. Adam Schiff (R-Mass.) told CNN.
Nonetheless, critics worry that spying advocate are using the moment to shift the debate away from mass outrage about secret surveillance. Amie Stepanovich, a lawyer with the Electronic Privacy Information Center, warned the Guardian of a burgeoning "culture of fear and unquestioning deference to surveillance in the United States."