On Friday, Matt Welch took note of the news that the National Security Agency had violated its own surveillance rules thousands of times, withheld information from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, and likely has, indeed, illegally accessed people's communications by reminding us all of the conservatives who bashed Reason and other liberty-minded folks a decade ago for raising warning flags about the PATRIOT Act. Ramesh Ponnuru at the National Review was among the critics.
Today, John Fund, national affairs columnist for National Review, is saying it's time for conservatives who have been supporters of the NSA's surveillance to start asking tough questions:
The Washington Post opened a can of worms last Friday when it reported that, in 2012, an internal NSA audit found that the agency had violated privacy rules 2,776 times within just one year. The audit counted only violations at NSA's Washington facilities — nearly 20 other NSA facilities were not included. In the wake of the Post's report, the NSA insisted that the violations were "inadvertent," but it failed to explain why it had not shared the report with Senate Intelligence Committee chair Dianne Feinstein or other congressional oversight authorities.
Yet some NSA defenders continue to insist that nothing is wrong. Back in July, House Intelligence Committee chair Mike Rogers claimed that there have been "zero privacy violations" on the part of NSA. After the leaked audit made news on Friday, he retreated to saying that "there was no intentional and willful violation of the law."
Fund turned to a former official with knowledge of the NSA's behavior and offered him anonymity to go on the attack, questioning whether Rogers and Sen. Dianne Feinstein even really know what they're defending:
A veteran intelligence official with decades of experience at various agencies identified to me what he sees as the real problem with the current NSA: "It's increasingly become a culture of arrogance. They tell Congress what they want to tell them. Mike Rogers and Dianne Feinstein at the Intelligence Committees don't know what they don't know about the programs." He himself was asked to skew the data an intelligence agency submitted to Congress, in an effort to get a bigger piece of the intelligence budget. He refused and was promptly replaced in his job, presumably by someone who would do as told.
Fund also makes note of Director of Intelligence James Clapper's lie to Sen. Ron Wyden about mass collection and the deliberate withholding of information from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. He concludes:
In 1999, then-senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan wrote Secrecy: The American Experience, in which he analyzed the parallel growth of secrecy and bureaucracy in the U.S. "Secrecy is a form of regulation," he warned. "At times, in the name of national security, secrecy has put that very security in harm's way." He observed that although secrecy is absolutely necessary for our protection, it all too often serves as the first refuge of incompetents or those drunk with arrogance. We should not give these groups the ability to cloak their operations — no matter how virtuous the goal.