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As we have noted here, surveillance issues are not new. When the Senate and House recently reauthorized the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), Senate majority leader Harry Reid said the measure was imperfect but necessary to “protect us from evil in this world.” California Sen. Dianne Feinstein claimed that FISA had led to 100 arrests from 2009-2012 and said “No one should think the targets are U.S. persons.” Recent revelations by former CIA employee Edward Snowden lead some to think “U.S. persons” might indeed be the targets, but politicians are divided.
Rand Paul and others see blatant violations of privacy rights. President Obama says not to worry because nobody is reading Americans’ emails or listening to their calls. Dianne Feinstein says this is all about protecting America and that the surveillance has prevented multiple terrorist attacks inside the United States. How many? More than one, she implied, but did not provide any details, leaving plenty of room for doubt. There can be no doubt, however, that when the government does have information about terrorism it does a poor job of protecting Americans.
Lawrence Wright’s The Looming Tower confirms that government security agencies possessed crucial information about the 9/11 plotters but withheld it from other government agencies. Thousands died as a result. And consider the case of Major Nidal Hasan, a U.S. Army psychiatrist and acknowledged jihadist. U.S. intelligence agencies began tracking Hasan’s emails to a violent, radical imam in December 2008. But government officials took no action against Hasan because the procedure to fire a doctor was “cumbersome and lengthy” and they feared charges of discrimination.
On November 5, 2009 at Fort Hood, Texas, Hasan murdered 13 and wounded 32 while chanting jihadist slogans. The 13 dead were more than twice as many as the first World Trade Center attack in 1993, but government did not call this terrorism, nor even gun violence. The government called Hasan’s murderous rampage “workplace violence,” a designation that denies combat-related benefits, decorations and recognition to Hasan’s victims.
So the government fails to act in a prudent manner when it has solid information about terrorists. That strengthens the case that the NSA surveillance is more government abuse of “U.S. persons.”