NSA activities shouldn't be aired in public

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Article Highlights

  • The Obama administration has given Americans little reason to trust its stewardship.

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  • Fear should not provoke a rush to harm our war against al-Qaeda.

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  • Instead of risking the loss of intelligence sources and methods, we should continue to follow the constitutional design.

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The Obama administration has given Americans little reason to trust its stewardship. Its IRS has abused the taxing power to pursue ideological opponents. Its Justice Department has misused prosecutorial authority to wiretap news reporters. The White House still cannot fully account for the U.S. Consulate attack in Benghazi, Libya.

Throw in President Obama's refusal to enforce immigration laws or to obey judicial orders blocking his recess appointments, and fears of an out-of-control executive are understandable.

But fear should not provoke a rush to harm our war against al-Qaeda. Surveillance of enemy communications not only has a long history in the annals of American arms, but it is also the most effective means for gaining actionable intelligence on terrorists.

President Obama has discarded superior tools: He has stopped the interrogation of al-Qaeda leaders, and his leak-loving staff has blown the penetrations of al-Qaeda cells by intelligence agencies.

By combining telephone call records (but not the content of calls) and foreigners' e-mails abroad — neither of which is protected by the Fourth Amendment — the NSA can at least create the data necessary to quickly identify and frustrate terrorist plans.

Of course, the NSA should not receive a blank check. But it is unnecessary, and even harmful, to air its activities in public.

Al-Qaeda closely monitors our government affairs and reacts quickly. In the 1990s, for example, Osama bin Laden stopped using his personal cellphone only 48 hours after the White House leaked that it was tapped.

Instead of risking the loss of intelligence sources and methods, we should continue to follow the constitutional design. A time-tested system has promoted legislative oversight of classified activities without losing the virtues of speed and secrecy abroad. American intelligence agencies regularly disclose their most sensitive covert operations to congressional leaders, who can exercise their power of the purse to stop bad ideas.

The Framers recognized that our elected representatives would need such secrecy to protect the national security, which is why the Constitution allows for closed congressional proceedings. We should allow the system of representative democracy to decide intelligence policy, rather than sacrifice a critical advantage to satisfy the whims of those who do not understand that we are still a nation at war.

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