My Washington Examiner column from Monday summarized my view on the insanity of allowing surveillance authorities to lapse in an era of metastasizing terror. Peter Baker’s piece in the New York Times summarizes the state of debate with the Senate and between the Senate and the House, and Jonathan Weisman and Jennifer Steinhauer drill down into the specifics of the amendments and provisions still dividing the Congress. As was noted by more than one voice on yesterday’s radio show, Beltway opinion seems to be significantly behind that of the country at large which danced a bit with anti-government surveillance enthusiasm in the aftermath of the combination of the IRS scandals, the VA debacles and the Snowden treachery. The amplification effect took over and the most strident critics of government surveillance to prevent terrorist attacks got the most attention and thus a wholly disproportionate amount of attention from lawmakers ever fearful of missing out of an opinion shift.
This time those lawmakers with fingers in the wind have mistaken a breeze for a gale, and now even the breeze has begun blowing strongly in the opposite direction. Islamic State advances and social media techniques will do that –have done that– and thus the hard-left/libertarian alliance is finding their moment has passed and their House “majority” not so solid. In the Senate there is a much stronger consensus on seriousness over necessary surveillance, and while the obstructionists have been able to slow down the amendment process of the House bill, today should see done what ought to have been done weeks ago: The repair of holes in the USA Freedom Act and its return to the House.
The Islamic State makes sudden, surprising moves —one is underway right now in Syria— and AQAP never stops trying to hit the US while its influence expands in parts of Yemen. Iran plays the president and Secretary of State Kerry like a couple of fiddles and their intelligence services are among the most notorious and ambitious and they too can be counted on to probe every seem in the West’s defenses, even as the cyber-legions of other adversaries (domestic as well as foreign as Bill Gertz reports in this AM’s Washington Free Beacon.)
If there was even one reliably reported instance of the metadata at the heart of the Congressional gridlock being abused by its keepers at the NSA, then the debate would have been legitimate. But there is not even one. Against the backdrop of the world as it is and will continue to be for the foreseeable future, the Congressional incompetence and basic lack of seriousness is shocking and won’t be forgotten when the next big attack inevitably occurs. No one hopes for such an attack, just as no one hopes for earthquakes or hurricanes. But foreseeable events require all reasonable preparedness, which is why buildings and bridges are built to withstand expected trials. So should our intelligence gather capabilities be built, and so they were built after 9/11. The left –so fond of denouncing climate deniers– are now allied with the fringe of the extreme privacy movement in becoming terrorist threat deniers. Their denial, though, is going to get people killed.
I’ll be in D.C. in time for today;s show and hopefully by that point the Senate will have acted to repair the major holes in the House bill and have returned it to that body for quick passage and signature by the president. An extended period of “shields down” is simple insanity compounded.