Surveillance reform: success has many fathers, failure is an orphan

Stan Ward

Stan Ward

June 10, 2015

Though the recently passed USA Freedom Act is not a perfect law (is any ?), it at least represents a change in direction in a surveillance scene that has been decidedly one-sided for four decades . The Bill has had its detractors and naysayers and, even in its watered-down final version, has disgruntled lawmakers (mainly on the right), who mutter about its shortcomings. You will hear no such utterances from the White House, however, which rushed pall-mall to cover itself in the glow affect of a milestone’’ important bipartisan achievement.”

In its haste to glorify its accomplishment, nothing will be said by the administration about the catalyst for this reform- however modest- one Edward J. Snowden. Given his shabby treatment by the government, and how Obama derided and dismissed Snowden at the time of his revelations, this development is not surprising. In fact, it is typical of the naive, narcissistic Obama who always wants to be viewed as being on the right side of an issue for publicity’s sake.

As the “Taliban Five’s” year-long travel bans expire in Qatar and threatens the release of these terrorists back to the battlefield, images of Obama in the Rose Garden eager to paint Bowe Bergdahl as a hero, and his release a diplomatic victory flash into consciousness. But by proclaiming it so- the President sought to make it so. With Bergdahl facing court-martial for desertion and misconduct, Obama would look foolish in hindsight were it not for his public relation proclivities. His associating himself with the passage of the USA Freedom Act is just the latest example of his attempt at revisionist history.

One only hear Sen. Mitch McConnell’s remarks upon the passage of the measure, in which he vilified Snowden, to know that this law would not have been possible were it not for his whistleblowing disclosures two years ago. More confusing were the cryptic remarks of NY Rep. Peter King, who characterized the bill as both a defeat for ISIS and Edward Snowden, as if the two were mutually connected! But that was, as was the White House’s charade, just a clumsy attempt to place one on the right side of the debate.

In seeking the spotlight, Obama wrote in part:

“For the past eighteen months, I have called for reforms that better safeguard the privacy and civil liberties of the American people while ensuring our national security officials retain tools important to keeping Americans safe. That is why, today, I welcome the Senate’s passage of the USA FREEDOM Act, which I will sign when it reaches my desk.”

This statement is as gratuitous as it is false. First off, his administration for the better part of six years continually chipped away at personal privacy and freedom, while presiding over the most ant-privacy, non-transparent regime in US history, surrendering citizen’s freedoms willingly and with impunity. Moreover, his position has been all over the place on the Patriot Act extension debate when, earlier, a more coherent position might have better shaped the discourse, and led to a more substantive outcome- that is to say, more pro-privacy.

To add insult to injury, the president’s chief spokesperson goes to great lengths to characterize Edward Snowden as a criminal guilty of very serious crimes. How ironic that the result of the “crimes” is perhaps the ushering in of a new era of government surveillance policy. Or if not a new era, at least a new direction…

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