On Friday I hosted in back-to-back interviews The Atlantic’s Conor Friedersdorf –a critic of the NSA and PRISM programs– and Andrew C. McCarthy, the prosecutor of the Blind Shiek and author of key books on the Islamist threat including Willful Blindness, who is not joining the chorus of critics unless and until evidence of abuse of the data gathering appears.
Read together they provide a great overview of the debate on this very important controversy. Add in Mark Steyn’s take here, Mark Levin’s here, and mine below and you have a good set of views on which to begin your own assessment.
Townhall’s Guy P. Benson did a fine job summarizes exactly the attitude an informed but nevertheless necessarily “in the dark” civilian should take on this controversy. It seems to me that most of the folks who have had a real, hands-on job in the battle against terrorists and other enemies of the nation –folks like McCarthy– are much more willing for the government to assemble the data it needs to find the killers. The most vociferous critics seem to me to be the folks with zero experience in the world of intelligence gathering or, more recently, this particular controversy. I complimented Benson on the humility in his piece. By contrast, one of the reasons that Mark Levin’s views deserve extra respect is that he worked at a very senior level inside the Department of Justice, held the key counter-intelligence clearances, and knows just how dangerous the government can become even as he understands just how real the menace is.
This isn’t to say that commentators without experience in the intelligence world don’t have the right to make their critiques. Of course they do, and many like the estimable Mark Steyn or MSMers like John Burns, Rajiv Chandrasekaran, Dexter Filkins, Joby Warrick and many other journalists have been so long around the game and reported from so many places alongside so many soldiers and spooks that they know of which they write.
But many of the commentators? No, they don’t have a clue, neither about the technology nor the threat.
Pick your experts with care. Getting this balancing wrong could get a lot of people killed. As could the “journalists” who are convey belts for secrets.