Yesterday's congressional performances by the head of the National Security Administration and the deputy director of the FBI deserve an award, but it is the KIDS awards handed out for best children's TV programs. Even an American adolescent should be able to spot the lies and contradictions.
First, we were informed that surveillance of the telephone "metadata" of the US population stopped 50 acts of terrorism worldwide, but only two examples were provided, neither of them at all persuasive. One was some $8,500 given to Al Shahab, an alleged a terrorist group in Somalia.
In fact, only the US, UK, Canada, Australia, Norway, and Sweden have designated Al Shahab as a terrorist organization. Generally speaking, it is a militant Islamic military group that is one of several parties to an ongoing civil war. It does recruit Somalis living in America, as well as other Islamic militants, to its ranks, but it is hardly a blip on the international terrorist radar screen. It probably cost the US hundreds of thousands if not tens of millions of dollars to do what--to stop a contribution of $8,500. Very impressive!
The other case involved a plot to blow up the Stock Exchange in NYC. Now, few Americans would weep over such an event, but since no one was actually charged in the plot, it is hard to take the threat very seriously. Again, very impressive detective work!
The big picture presented was even more absurd. Of the billions of phone calls being observed in 2012, only 300 numbers were actually spied on. That is roughly one out of a million people in the country. Then, what good did it do them to collect data on my calls, your calls, and the calls made your great-uncle Cecil who spends all his free time making historic buildings out of matchsticks?
These shenanigans not only involve a significant waste of time, resources, and tax dollars, but they positively get in the way of counter-espionage. The FBI had been warned in advance about those pleasant young Saudis who hijacked the airliners on 911, but they are so overwhelmed by useless and distracting tips that they did not listen to one of their own people who gave them reliable information. The Russians gave us quite concrete information about Tamerlan Tsernayev, but the CIA and FBI ignored it, partly because our government wants to portray the Russians as savage oppressors of the peaceful Chechens but partly because they are all too busy collecting metadata on 300 million Americans.
If the top brass of US intelligence agencies--or anyone, for that matter, in government--had any interest in protecting the American people from terrorism, they would not be taking note of every call made by your great-uncle Cecil to the match factory. (Who knows what he does with all those miniaturized incendiary devices?)
They would not be granting citizenship and and making welfare payments to militant Islamic Chechens, and they would not be bringing in boatloads of Somali Muslims.
They would, instead, be monitoring all known Islamic organizations including mosques and the headquarters of CAIR, and they would publicly warn Americans that the principal threat to their security comes from believing Muslims.
General Alexander wants Congress and the American people to take his word for it: Our government is not spying on us, just as our IRS is not politically persecuting conservative organizations. He appears to be frankly puzzled that any would would not believe him. But, since the NSA and the FBI are ubwilling to take the first step toward protecting the citizenry of this country, we have to assume that every time they open their mouths they are lying
When General Alexander comes to the Congress with his fairy tales, he must be a fool if he thinks anyone in Congress will believe him, but if they do believe anything thing he says, they are even greater fools.
Thomas Fleming is the former editor of Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture. He is the author of The Politics of Human Nature, Montenegro: The Divided Land, and The Morality of Everyday Life, named Editors' Choice in philosophy by Booklist in 2005. He is the coauthor of The Conservative Movement and the editor of Immigration and the American Identity. He holds a Ph.D. in classics from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Before joining the Rockford Institute, he taught classics at the University of Miami of Ohio, served as an advisor to the U.S. Department of Education, and was headmaster at the Archibald Rutledge Academy. He has been published in, among others, The Spectator (London), Independent on Sunday (London), Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, USA Today, Chicago Sun-Times, National Review, Classical Journal, Telos, and Modern Age. He and his wife, Gail, have four children and four grandchildren.