The other evening I was listening to the Diane Rehm Show on our local NPR radio station. She was discussing with a panel of newspaper and media experts the recent exposures of US intelligence programs targeting terrorist and extremist groups and, as you might expect, the members of the panel strongly defended their actions as protecting you and I against the excesses of a government that will trample our rights at any opportunity. One member of the panel, the managing editor of the New York Times, commented at one point that his reporters had uncovered "many, many" secrets that they hadn't written about because, in their opinion, they were "legitimate" and didn't reflect any threat to our civil liberties.
Now, maybe it's just me, but I think something is very wrong here. I happen to think that I am in much more danger from politico-religious fanatics than I am from my own government. I also think that the next time lives are lost in a terror attack, the same newspapers that stand on their right to expose intelligence operations will be loudly trumpeting the failures of our intelligence services to predict and disrupt that attack.
You can't have it both ways. I can imagine that it's extraordinarily difficult to find ways to monitor the activities of secretive and deadly groups like Al Qaeda, and that it's very easy for them to change their activities and processes when they learn that we are able to take advantage of them. I will grant that the current administration tends to overreach itself and bend the laws in favor of the President's agenda; however, I also know that the intelligence community in this country spends a great deal of time ensuring that its operations are consistent with US law. I seriously doubt that the Osama bin Ladens and Ayman al Zawahiris and Abu Musab al Zarqawis of the world spend much time wringing their hands with their legal advisors before they murder people like you and I.
Yes, we have a free press that serves a key role as a watchdog over government excess. But I also think that our press sometimes needs to remind itself who our deadlier enemy is: our government, or those who would kill us at any opportunity.
I think I know where the real threat lies.
Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.