Andrew C. McCarthy On The NSA And PRISM Controversies
HH: I’m doing so with a good friend, Andrew McCarthy of the National Review Foundation, of course the author of Willful Blindness. Andy, welcome, I hope you have a good weekend ahead, but I think you’re going to be busy as everyone really wants to know what you think about PRISM and the NSA. And I linked much of what you have written over the last 24 hours. But bring us up to speed on what you’re thinking right now.
AM: Well, thanks so much, Hugh. I’m still in the process of trying to get to the bottom of PRISM, especially because it’s been, I had a great day today, actually, in Philadelphia, where I got to introduce Michele Bachmann for a real barnburner of a speech she gave. So I’ve been a little bit otherwise occupied on, rather than getting to the bottom of PRISM. But I really haven’t changed my mind with respect to what we know, at least, at the moment about the NSA program. I understand why people are concerned about it, but I do think the concerns are overblown.
HH: Now Andrew, I’ve been telling people throughout the day Quazi Mohammad, Rezwanul Ahsan Nafis wanted to blow up the New York Federal Reserve. He was arrested in October of last year. In February of last year, Amine El Khalifi wanted to blow up the United States Capitol. In January of 2012, Sami Osmakac was arrested for wanting to blow up parts of South Florida. I’ve got a very long list of terror plots in the United States. But people are acting like there isn’t a threat out there. You know better. You prosecuted the Blind Sheik.
AM: Yeah, well, look, Hugh, I think that there is a big difference between the reality of the threat, which I think, as you suggest, is not only as real, but perhaps, in many ways, more alarming, more diffuse, and more threatening than it’s been at any time certainly in the last dozen years or so. But there’s a difference between whether you’re at war in the sense that you know, contrary to what President Obama seems to think, you know, you can’t just sort of blink your eyes and decide the war is over, that the enemy has to be consulted on that fact. And we can be at war without the country being sufficiently politically invested in the war, which is what I’m concerned about now, and that has a reverberating effect, I think, on the things the country is willing to allow the government to do, even though they’re vitally necessary things that we must do if we’re going to prevent mass murder attacks from happening, rather than go back to the pre-9/11 paradigm, if you will, of basically waiting to be hit and then contenting ourselves with being able to prosecute people after Americans have already been killed.
HH: Now Andy, I think we’ve got some cognitive dissonance going on, because of the statement you refer to, the President basically declaring a unilateral ceasefire that the jihadists are not buying into, and wanting to close Gitmo and making all these statements. And at the same time, Syria convulsed by Islamist on Islamist violence, Turkey going down the tubes, and we’re, this is two weeks after, or a month after the Boston Marathon bombing, and two weeks after the Woolwich attack. I just don’t understand how people can so casually say we do not need. I think there might be an argument to talk more about why we need the NSA security program, and even PRISM, but I don’t understand at all, unless you are committed like Glenn Greenwald to the defenestration of our national security efforts. I do not understand the reaction of our friends on the conservative side, many of whom seem to think we ought not to do this.
AM: Yeah, well, Hugh, you know, I really think that this argument, which is spiking yet again, has gone on for a number of years now. I’m a big fan of the Tea Party movement, but I think there are fringes of it that are given to extremist libertarianism, and you know, I believe in liberty as much as any patriotic American, I hope. But there’s a difference between being anti-government and being skeptical of government, and wanting government to be strong in connection with the areas that not only we need it for, but in fact that the framers created it for. And the main job of the United States government is the national security of the United States and the American people. We cannot provide for that unless we have a government that is strong and robust enough to do the things that are necessary, and I would put this program in that category to protect Americans. You know, it’s one thing to say that we don’t want a leviathan that intrudes into every last aspect of our lives, and something quite different, I think, to say that we want government to be so weak that it’s not up to the task that it was created to do in the first place. And that’s what I worry about with that, what I think is really a fringe element of the Tea Party. And I want to be clear about that. I’m a Tea Party person. I am not saying the Tea Party’s a fringe, but I’m saying that it has a fringe that has gone so overboard in the idea that anything that makes government stronger is worse, or is not to be tolerated, that they’re really totally unrealistic about what it takes to protect the country and protect American lives.
HH: Now I want to go back seven years, because it was really the last major speech of its sort, when Dame Eliza Manningham-Buller, who ran MI5 in the Blair regime, gave a public speech that got out, and this was in 2006, late 2006, that British authorities were tracking 30 high priority terrorist plots involving 200 networks and 1,600 suspects. I think it’s gotten worse there and here since then because of the level of sophistication of the degree of social media. What do you think, Andrew McCarthy?
AM: I don’t think a British soldier like Drummer Rigby would have been killed on the street in the suburbs of London in broad daylight seven years ago. And I don’t see, given the immigration policies that they followed, and this is not a covert way of getting into the immigration debate in the United States, because I think that it’s very different in many ways. But given the policies that the British government followed, particularly from the late 90s onward, they have enabled, I think, the Islamic supremacist strategy for, as Sheik Yusuf al-Qaradawi has quite openly said, conquering Europe, and they plan also to conquer the United States, and that is this idea of voluntary apartheid where Muslims pour into countries where they previously were not numerous, move into Islamic enclaves. Over time, those enclaves become larger, more provocative, more insistent that the host government has to allow them to govern themselves autonomously under Shariah, and what you see over time, as they become more numerous and more confident, they get much more provocative in terms of their demands on the government and the indigenous society. And I think just over the course of time, that’s what you’re seeing in Great Britain right now, as well as across parts of Europe.
HH: And what about in the United States, because the NSA program and PRISM, we have about 30 seconds to the break, and if I can, I’ll keep you one more segment to talk about the solution to the problem of surveillance. But I see the same thing, and I think the brother bombers and their friend in Florida are just the tip of another iceberg.
AM: That’s something I think to be very concerned about, because even though I don’t think we’re nearly as far along as the Brits are and other European countries are, we’re starting to see some of the same elements in the United States. And this is an importation. What happened in Boston, for example, is what al Qaeda has been doing for the last decade in Iraq and Afghanistan.
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HH: Now Andy, the reason I wanted to ask you to stick around is people worry, legitimately, that the government is getting bigger, bigger, bigger, and as Mark Steyn said on this show yesterday, the context is IRS abuse, a lying Attorney General, an out of control State Department that’s covering up Benghazi. We know the context.
HH: I think the answer is that the line guys and gals that I know, you were an assistant United States Attorney. The people I worked with at the Department of Justice long ago and far away, the SEALs that I know, active duty and retired, the head of the Counterterrorism Task Force at one of the key regions in the United States, prosecutors at the line level, they would never put up with any abuse of this system in a comprehensive way. And I know that some people deny that, but I believe that to be true. What do you believe?
MA: Yeah, I think that’s exactly right. The think I’ve always told people that was the most, I think the best thing about working at the U.S. Attorney’s office in New York, which I still think is the best job I ever had, was that it was an honorable culture in the sense that you not only were expected to do the right thing, you also did not expect to get a medal for doing the right thing. It was just simply what was expected. And for example, if, in my investigations, I came across evidence that showed that the people I had charged were not guilty, or at least it was reason to be skeptical about whether they were guilty about what we charged them with, your obligation was to go to a court. If you had made a misstatement inadvertently to a court, your obligation was to get to that judge and correct the record. So that was the culture of the place, and that was why it was a source of pride to work there. And I think you’re quite correct. The culture in my U.S. Attorney’s office in New York was reflected, I think, also in FBI offices across the country, other U.S. Attorney’s offices across the country. That was simply what the culture of the place was.
HH: And so you and I will both hear from people saying how can you say that with the IRS out of control? And I say it this way. The culture of law enforcement and national security is just completely different from that of, for example, the EPA, or the U.S. Fish And Wildlife Service, agencies I deal with every day in my normal domestic law practice. The culture of the national security, like the culture of the military, just isn’t that way. They are our first line of defense against the abuse of this system. And people may say you know, I’m looking at this through rose-colored lenses, Andy, but you’re one of the most clear-eyed, sober-minded guys next to, I mean, you almost make Frank Gaffney look happy and bubbly. So what do you think about that? Should people trust the government to have this massive meta-data bank?
AM: I think that we have to trust the government to have the meta-data bank. I never say that we have to trust the government simply because I think that the system is built on internal checks and balances, and in particular, division of authority so that we don’t assume people’s good faith. That’s not the bottom line that our system is built on. But that having been said, the culture that is bred, if that kind of a system is implemented correctly, and that’s the way I remember the place where I used to work, is one where by the way, you can also trust the people who are in the professional jobs, not the political jobs, to exercise their responsibilities correctly. And I think, you know, just to be a little more concrete about this, Hugh, I always thought that the wall, if you remember those internal regulations from the 1990s that stopped intelligence from being passed from the intelligence side to the law enforcement side.
AM: I always thought that the wall was preposterous not just because it was ridiculous not to let the left hand know what the right had was doing, but that the premise of the wall, namely that the people who were involved would abuse those authorities, was so outlandish and preposterous if you worked there day to day as to be, just to make it seem utterly irrational and suicidal to implement the regulations that were implemented.
HH: That’s so exactly right. I hope that that message gets out and gets amplified. Andrew McCarthy, I think you’ve got a couple of busy weeks ahead of you. Thanks for taking the point of this, and for continuing to write at National Review’s The Corner. As people learn more about PRISM and NSA, he’s my surrogate. I send everyone over there. They ought to be reading what Andy writes about this stuff, every single word, to get a balanced, objective, mature view of what the government has to do and how they ought to do it in order for us to be safe. Thank you, Andrew McCarthy.
End of interview.