As the world joins in opposition to the U.S. attack on privacy worldwide, President Barack Obama has to face awkward meetings with world leaders of allied countries who were subjects of his surveillance. Some reports have stated that Obama personally approved the monitoring of Angela Merkel’s telephone three years ago. Now, the National Security Agency (NSA) is insisting that Obama did not order the monitoring personally. I am not sure what is worse: that Obama ordered interceptions of allied leaders like Merkel or that the surveillance state is so large that functionaries now have the discretion to order such surveillance. Merkel may not find it as more assuring that Obama didn’t order her monitoring than the notion such she is just another target delegated to discretion of lower level officials. It is also not clear if Mike Rogers is going to suggest that Merkel should also thank us for the monitoring.
NSA and the White House will only say that it is not currently monitoring Merkel’s phone calls as opposed to prior surveillance of our ally. The most chilling aspect of the response is the suggestion that this is just another delegated act from Obama. After all, he delegated the decision of which citizens should be killed on his unilateral authority under his Kill List policy. It is all part of our new Security State. Killing citizens, surveilling allied leaders, seizing the records of Americans from email and phone systems . . . it is all the new normal of delegated presidential authority. I have previously written about the dangers of the Imperial Presidency established by Obama. However, what is even more chilling is how absolute presidential powers become delegated absolute presidential powers. Such delegation not only gives presidents like Obama some deniability in scandals like this but allow for the expansion of such programs under a thousand faceless functionaries. Of course, the Administration is also pursuing a scorched earth policy against reporters and whistleblowers in the hopes of avoiding any future need to explain itself to anyone.
Even in the face of global condemnation, the cult of personality surrounding Obama continues to silence any significant opposition from Democrats. We have allowed the creation of a security state employing hundreds of thousands with hundreds of billions of invested public funds and giant annual budgets. It is a system that is designed to be used, not to remain dormant. We are not just the protected class but the targeted class of such surveillance. It is a system that runs on any source that could be a threat or reveal information of a threat — a standard that allows monitoring of friends and foes alike.
The Germans are of course upset because such surveillance happens to violate German law, but that has hardly proven a barrier in the United States. In expanding these programs, we appear to have transcended the rule of law to embrace a new model of a security state. We have gotten to the point that we not only treat our own laws as increasing discretionary but treat the laws of other nations as equally discretionary. Diplomatic principles are no more inviolate as civil liberties in the new world being fashioned around counter-terrorism. Once transparency has been achieved in the United States, it is inevitable that the world will then look unacceptably opaque to our security forces.
What is most striking from comments like those of Rogers is that we appear completely clueless or willfully blind to the view of our actions by other nations. Since we do not doubt our motivations, we cannot understand why anyone would be uncomfortable with our actions. As with drone strikes and assassination units, our view might change if other countries engaged in the same actions by ordering special forces to kill targets in the United States or unleashing drone attacks or seizing all of our phone records. As we break down legal walls and limits, we are returning the world to a diplomatic version of the state of nature. At that point, we will be left with the simple rule of “might is right.” It is the original law of the jungle and it is perfectly sustainable for the strongest amongst us. Having realized Nixon’s dream of an Imperial Presidency, Obama seems to have moved on to extending Teddy Roosevelt’s Big Stick policy to cover the world and the world leaders.
Source: National Post