As Rep. Justin Amash recently tweeted, “Some ppl confuse–others intentionally conflate–secret ops & secret laws. Secret ops are compatible w/ a free society; secret laws are not.”
I believe this is a crucial point that everyone involved in the NSA debate must understand: it’s OK for national security operations to be kept secret (the schematics for the next generation of American stealth bombers, for example, should not be splashed on the homepage of the Times).
It is not OK, however, for laws to be kept secret. The farcical FISA court, complete with its possible secret fines and jail time for telecom executives who balk at dragnet surveillance of innocent Americans, is fundamentally at odds with a free society.
National security letters, tethered to powerful “gag orders” which significantly curtail the First Amendment rights of those who receive them, is also not something that should exist in any free society.
Similarly, the President’s continued faith in James Clapper and appointed officials like him — working behind closed doors, addressing Congress with as much clarity as the Riddler — is not in keeping with a free society of, by, and for the people.
Clapper has admitted to lying to Congress, telling them the NSA was not surveilling Americans in bulk, and yet the president has placed him on the committee appointed to restore public confidence in the agency. When the press and members of Congress started to cry foul, the administration insisted that he was neither leading nor selecting the members of the panel. Regardless, putting a perjurer on the committee is a terrible way to restore public trust.
On the legislative side, the Senate Intelligence Committee’s patronizing tone toward American citizens concerned about their constitutional rights is equally troubling. “It’s called protecting America,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein famously said of the NSA telephone metadata program revealed by former contractor Edward Snowden.
Oh, I see, Senator. Why don’t you let us be the judge of that?