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Is the U.S. Exaggerating the Terror Threat to Embassies to Silence Critics of NSA Domestic Surveillance?

August 6, 2013

alternet.org

Is the U.S. Exaggerating the Terror Threat to Embassies to Silence Critics of NSA Domestic Surveillance?

Greenwald also discusses Reuters’ report on the Drug Enforcement Agency spying on Americans.

The Obama administration has announced it will keep 19 diplomatic posts in North Africa and the Middle East closed for up to a week, due to fears of a possible militant threat. On Sunday, Senator Saxby Chambliss, the top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said the decision to close the embassies was based on information collected by the National Security Agency. “If we did not have these programs, we simply would not be able to listen in on the bad guys,” Chambliss said, in a direct reference to increasing debate over widespread spying of all Americans revealed by Glenn Greenwald of The Guardian. “Nobody has ever questioned or disputed that the U.S. government, like all governments around the world, ought to be eavesdropping and monitoring the conversations of people who pose an actual threat to the United States in terms of plotting terrorist attacks,” Greenwald says. Pointing to the recent revelations by leaker Edward Snowden that he has reported on, Greenwald explains, “Here we are in the midst of one of the most intense debates and sustained debates that we’ve had in a very long time in this country over the dangers of excess surveillance, and suddenly, an administration that has spent two years claiming that it has decimated al-Qaeda decides that there is this massive threat that involves the closing of embassies and consulates around the world. … The controversy is over the fact that they are sweeping up billions and billions of emails and telephone calls every single day from people around the world and in the United States who have absolutely nothing to do with terrorism.” Greenwald also discusses the NSA’s XKeyscore Internet tracking program, Reuters’ report on the Drug Enforcement Agency spying on Americans, and the conviction of Army whistleblower Bradley Manning.

TRANSCRIPT

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org,The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman. I want to go back to Senator Saxby Chambliss, the top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, to get Glenn Greenwald’s response. During an appearance on MSNBC’s Meet the Press, he said the NSA surveillance programs had uncovered information about the threats that prompted the U.S. to close 19 embassies in North Africa and Middle East.

SEN. SAXBY CHAMBLISS: These programs are controversial. We understand that. They’re very sensitive. But they’re also very important, because they are what lead us to have the—or allow us to have the ability to gather this chatter that I referred to. If we did not have these programs, then we simply wouldn’t be able to listen in on the bad guys. And I will say that it’s the 702 program that has allowed us to pick up on this chatter. That’s the program that allows us to listen overseas, not on domestic soil, but overseas.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Senator Chambliss. Glenn Greenwald, your response?

GLENN GREENWALD: You know, it’s so ludicrous. For eight straight years, literally, Democrats, every time there was a terrorist alert or a terrorist advisory issued by the United States government in the middle of a debate over one of the Bush-Cheney civil liberties abuses, would accuse the United States government and the national security state of exaggerating terrorism threats, of manipulating advisories, of hyping the dangers of al-Qaeda, in order to distract attention away from their abuses and to scare the population into submitting to whatever it is they wanted to do. And so, here we are in the midst of, you know, one of the most intense debates and sustained debates that we’ve had in a very long time in this country over the dangers of excess surveillance, and suddenly an administration that has spent two years claiming that it has decimated al-Qaeda decides that there is this massive threat that involves the closing of embassies and consulates throughout the world. And within literally an amount of hours, the likes of Saxby Chambliss and Lindsey Graham join with the White House and Democrats in Congress—who, remember, are the leading defenders of the NSA at this point—to exploit that terrorist threat and to insist that it shows that the NSA and these programs are necessary.

What that has to do with the ongoing controversy about the NSA is completely mystifying. Nobody has ever questioned or disputed that the U.S. government, like all governments around the world, ought to be eavesdropping and monitoring the conversations of people who pose an actual threat to the United States in terms of plotting terrorist attacks. The controversy is over the fact that they are sweeping up billions and billions of emails and telephone calls every single day from people around the world and in the United States who have absolutely nothing to do with terrorism. And, if anything, the only thing that that controversy—the warning has to do with the current controversy is that the argument that a lot of analysts have made, very persuasively, is that when you have an agency that collects everything, it actually becomes harder, not easier, to detect actual terrorist plots and to find the actual terrorists. And if this agency really were devoted, if these surveillance programs were really devoted to finding terrorism, they would be much more directed and discriminating. But they’re not. They’re FULL STORY HERE

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