An odd coalition has lined up to support the National Security Agency amid news that the NSA has been secretly collecting phone records from Verizon and a more recent report that the agency is directly accessing the systems of Google, Facebook, Apple and other large internet companies through its “PRISM” program.
News of the NSA’s court-ordered seizure of phone records from all Verizon customers initially drove a wedge between the Obama administration and its longtime supporters. CREDO Mobile cofounder Michael Kieschnick, a major Obama donor and member of the progressive dark money group Democracy Alliance said in a statement Thursday he was “deeply disturbed by the Obama administration’s growing record of executive power grabs at the expense of constitutionally guaranteed civil liberties.”
The New York Times editorial board this week opined that the administration “has lost all credibility,” though it later made an unacknowledged change to that editorial to say Obama “has lost all credibility on this issue.” [Emphasis added]
But following a press conference Friday during which Obama dismissed privacy concerns as “hype,” detractors on the left and right seem to be returning to a position in favor of executive power.
Former General Electric head Jack Welch, a frequent critic of the president’s economic policies, tweeted “I like Obama NSA stand” earlier today.
I like Obama NSA stand
— Jack Welch (@jack_welch) June 7, 2013
On his HBO show Friday night, Bill Maher, a liberal Obama supporter who has occasionally attacked the president on various issues, came down in support not only of the NSA program but of Obama’s particular management of it.
“I’m okay with it now that Obama’s in office,” Maher said. “I’m kind of trusting of him. But President Ted Cruz? Where this is going would bother me.
“We live in a world of nuclear weapons,” Maher continued. “And there are religious fanatics who would love to get one and set it off here.”
Maher dismissed the idea that the Founders of the American republic would have objected to this type of government spying on law-abiding citizens. “I don’t know that they would have been as absolutist about their love of privacy if there were nukes in the world,” he said. “The fact that a city can be just demolished in 1 second kinda tips the scale for me. I’m not saying to look into your emails is the right thing, I’m just saying, I’m not gonna pretend it’s ’cause I’m brave; it’s ’cause I’m scared.”
The New York Times also ran an 0p-ed Saturday by Emory law professor Charles A. Shanor, author of the casebook “Counterterrorism Law” characterizing the NSA dustup as an overreaction.
“We cannot rule out the possibility that the voluminous records obtained by the government might, some day, be illegally misused,” Shanor wrote. “But there is no evidence so far that that has occurred.”
Shanor raised the possibility that government surveillance might have intercepted a call “by one of the Tsarnaev brothers before the Boston Marathon bombings,” but did not point out that the FBI failed to prevent the bombing despite a clear warning about the late Tamerlan Tsarnaev from Russian intelligence.
The Republican site Red Alert Politics, meanwhile, referenced a story by CNET’s Declan McCullough pointing out flaws in Glenn Greenwald’s PRISM story in the UK Guardian, concluding, “You’ve probably got nothing to worry about.”
Despite the alarms raised by GOP members such as Wisconsin Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, many Republicans have supported the Obama administration’s heavy surveillance of American citizens throughout the current news cycle.
“[Terrorism] is happening in our own backyard, and I am glad that NSA is trying to find out what terrorists are up to overseas and inside the country,” South Carolina Sen. Graham said shortly after the Verizon story became public.