The New York Times reports that President Obama plans to ban NSA spying on heads of allied governments, because the Germans are upset. For those of you who do not surveil all electronic communications, the US government was embarrassed last week by revelations that the NSA had monitored the phone calls of 35 world leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel. The President totally didn’t know about it, though. Or at least he said he didn’t, which makes a lot of sense.
The New York Times announced today that, contrary to earlier assurances from the executive branch, the NSA is looking at the contents of large numbers of Americans’ emails. Don’t worry, though: they’re only looking at emails and text messages that originate or are received overseas, and they’re only searching for information related to specific targets. The word “target” appears in an alarming number of reassurances about this program. While we’re trusting implicitly the institutional structures of America, there’s also this paragraph from the Times report:
Hints of the surveillance appeared in a set of rules, leaked by Mr. Snowden, for how the N.S.A. may carry out the 2008 FISA law. One paragraph mentions that the agency “seeks to acquire communications about the target that are not to or from the target.” The pages were posted online by the newspaper The Guardian on June 20, but the telltale paragraph, the only rule marked “Top Secret” amid 18 pages of restrictions, went largely overlooked amid other disclosures.
Which is understandable, because why would journalists notice the one marked “Top Secret?”
Yesterday, Eric Holder told the Senate Judiciary Committee that there is an airtight legal justification for using drone strikes to kill American citizens abroad, but it’s secret. Also, the Obama administration might use drones domestically. Holder was understandably reticent about when that second scenario might happen, prompting Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) to pose two hypotheticals. Suspected terrorist “sitting in a cafe?” No, Holder believes that in that situation, a domestic drone strike would be unconstitutional. Suspected terrorist “pointing a bazooka at the Pentagon?” Yeah, Holder would light that dude up. It is fun that Ted Cruz maybe thinks of the Pentagon as the seat of US government. Otherwise, this exchange was dispiriting in the extreme.
It’s semi-official: sequestration has failed. The actual mechanism is going to function just fine; come tomorrow, $85 billion in domestic and military spending cuts that nobody likes will automatically go into place, because Congress could not obey their own pre-commitment device. This wasn’t supposed to happen. Sequestration was supposed to be so awful that it would force Democrats and Republicans to agree on alternative deficit reduction strategies. Instead, after months of arguing and temporizing, our legislators have set themselves to the hard work of accepting that sequestration isn’t so bad after all. Congress is like a man who ties a string around his finger to remember to buy insulin and, after several months, loses circulation and has his finger amputated. Here are some other pre-commitment devices that didn’t work on Congress.