Obamacare May Not Work, But the NSA Sure Does

Unfortunately, the federal government still remains capable of tremendous technological feats.

When it comes to Healthcare.gov, President Obama and his minions look like the gang that couldn't code straight.

But don't fear for American ingenuity: Other parts of the federal government remain capable of tremendous technological feats.

In one month in late 2012, for instance, the National Security Agency quietly sucked up data on some 60 million phone calls in Spain, and the agency has had a tap on German chancellor Angela Merkel's cellphone for years now -- all without alerting Obama.

That’s what NSA officials told the Wall Street Journal, anyway: The agency “has so many eavesdropping operations under way that it wouldn’t have been practical to have briefed him on all of them.”

“These decisions are made at the NSA,” a “senior U.S. official” said.

Ordinarily, I wouldn’t take the NSA or the president at their word, but I find this denial fairly plausible. Our post-9/11 surveillance state has grown increasingly inscrutable, expensive and out of control.

As The Washington Post's Dana Priest and William Arkin document in their book, Top Secret America: The Rise of the New American Security State, since 9/11, Americans “have shelled out hundreds of billions dollars to turn the machine of government over to defeating terrorism without ever really questioning what they were getting for their money.”

Answers are hard to come by, because the “intelligence-industrial complex” operates behind a veil of secrecy, and because, even at the top, “the officials themselves don’t actually know.”

“I’m going to be honest, I don’t know how many products we produce,” a top intel official admitted to Priest, noting that projects he’d deemed useless lumber on: “‘Like a zombie, it keeps on living,’ the official chuckled.”

“There’s only one entity in the entire universe that has visibility on all SAPs [Special Access Programs] — that’s God,” Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper told Priest. (And, despite what you sometimes hear on MSNBC, Obama is not God.)

Meanwhile, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court has just reauthorized the continuing bulk collection of hundreds of millions of law-abiding Americans’ calling records — a serious privacy risk given how revealing mass metadata can be.

On “Meet the Press” on Sunday, New York Republican Rep. Peter King, a serial defender of federal spying, insisted that Obama “should stop apologizing,” because “the NSA has saved thousands of lives, not just in the United States, but in France, Germany and throughout Europe.”

Europe aside, the claim that the NSA has saved “thousands of lives” in the U.S. is almost certainly false. In a valuable analysis, ProPublica looks at NSA defenders’ talking point that “at least 50” terrorist plots have been thwarted thanks to the disputed programs. “There's no evidence that the oft-cited figure is accurate,” ProPublica concluded.

The NSA has released information on only four of the 54 cases. They include a Somali-American cab driver convicted of sending $8,500 to the Somalian terror group al Shabbab and a plot to attack a Danish newspaper (actually foiled by a tip from British intelligence).

Another case, which an FBI official ominously described as “nascent plotting to bomb the New York Stock Exchange," involved three Muslim-American wannabe jihadis who sent thousands of dollars to al Qaeda contacts in Yemen who “may have been scamming [them].”

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • Snark Plissken||

    I'm pretty sure they are as incompetent at gathering data on normal citizens as they are at everything else.

  • sarcasmic||

    I'm sure they're great at gathering data. Using it on the other hand...

  • Snark Plissken||

    I wouldn't be surprised if many DMVs have rather well designed, efficient software. Doesn't stop them from being and acting like DMVs though.

  • bassjoe||

    The DMV is shockingly efficient at determining how many fines I have to pay because I was too lazy to pay parking tickets.

  • Loki||

    It's amazing how efficient government agencies can be in general when it comes to stealing your money collecting revenue.

  • coma44||

    "Unfortunately, the federal government still remains capable of tremendous technological feats"

    That is because it can be used against us...not "for" us.

  • CatoTheElder||

    Between the NSA and the IRS, couldn't the Feds just automatically sign up folks for ObamaCare?

  • LynchPin1477||

    Why not just drone the sickest? We'll have the best healthcare outcomes in the world!

  • bassjoe||

    This has been the United States' motto since (at least) 9/11: "Home of the craven, land of the fear."

    It's not just the NSA and whatnot. This country is effing TERRIFIED of everything it seems. Parents are so afraid of poisoned candy -- which is right up there with being struck with lightning -- that they won't even let their kids trick-or-treat anymore on Halloween. Seriously, wtf is wrong with us?

  • triclops||

    It does appear that as the people of a nation become more prosperous, their taste for freedom/risk declines.

  • LynchPin1477||

    Can you PLEASE refrain from using all caps? What if a young child saw that??!!

  • A Frayed Knot||

    Parents are so afraid of poisoned candy -- which is right up there with being struck with lightning -- that they won't even let their kids trick-or-treat anymore on Halloween.

    Citation? Because where I live, there are plenty of trick or treaters.

  • DenverJay||

    Actually, being struck by lighting is much more common than being poisoned. Lighting is the 2nd biggest weather related killer in the United States; only floods kill more. Around 50 deaths per year are lighting caused in the U.S., while "An estimated 24,000 people are killed by lightning strikes around the world each year and about 240,000 are injured.[4]" According to Wikipedia.
    Meanwhile, The Learning Channel states " Until 2000, there hadn't been a single proven incident in which a child was injured by Halloween candy from a stranger. That Halloween, James Joseph Smith of Minneapolis was charged with one count of adulterating a substance with intent to cause death, harm or illness after he put needles into candy bars and handed them out. One child was pricked with a needle when he bit into a candy bar, but neither he nor any other children were seriously injured."

  • DenverJay||

    I guess the "4" link didn't copy and paste so well, so:
    ^ Ronald L. Holle Annual rates of lightning fatalities by country. (PDF) . 0th International Lightning Detection Conference. 21–23 April 2008. Tucson, Arizona, USA. Retrieved on 2011-11-08.

  • bassjoe||

    GATHERING information is the easy part, which the NSA seems good at (but which healthcare.gov has a problem with ).

    USING information is the hard part, which NSA and healthcare.gov fail in different ways with.

  • Lar Gand||

    I would say 40+ years of creeping progressivism in education pretty much made us a bunch of wusses.

  • DenverJay||

    I hate public indoctrination as much as the next sociopath, but I'm not sure if this one can be blamed on that. I think it is more a result of our success in creating a safe society. I think mankind evolved to worry about and plan for danger, especially females' worrying about dangers to their offspring. In fact that ability to anticipate, and take action to prevent, possible future threats is kind of what separates us from the lower animals. Since real danger has become rare, that impulse to guard against danger has transferred to the only hazards left: remote and highly sensationalized ones.
    I think that the over-reaction to the threat of terrorism can also be partly attributed to this, although some fault can can also be attributed to greed and the desire for power.

  • videographer||

    Just when I thought that I couldn't find any best topic to do on my essay writing, a friend of mine sent this link to me. What a savior! :) This post is very timely especially that the US president is facing some accusations about health care.

  • carminakaka||

    my friend's aunt makes $73/hr on the computer. She has been without a job for 10 months but last month her pay was $14848 just working on the computer for a few hours. view it
    =========================

    http://www.works23.com
    =========================

GET REASON MAGAZINE

Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online

  • Video Game Nation: How gaming is making America freer – and more fun.
  • Matt Welch: How the left turned against free speech.
  • Nothing Left to Cut? Congress can’t live within their means.
  • And much more.

SUBSCRIBE

advertisement