Its destructive potential is fiercely obscured by the vivid memory of the day that took us all by surprise, the day that America’s vulnerability was made clear to her – September 11th 2001. The tragedy that occurred on that day has so deeply shaken our confidence and our security as a nation that we have come to a point where we are willing to trade our rights for the appearance of security — trade the sacrifices and uniqueness of this nation in for mental comfort and the illusion of control over our safety.
The blanket surveillance program that the National Security Agency has been carrying out domestically is a clear-cut violation of our fourth amendment rights as Americans. Its legal justification stems from the PATRIOT act, a piece of legislation which also sanctioned indefinite detentions, suspension of habeas corpus for certain types of suspicious people, torture, and phone tapping. All of the aforementioned constitutional violations raise the question of whether our values as a country have any meaning when they are actually put to the test. The stress test of the last decade would suggest that they don’t and that we as a nation do not collectively appreciate the importance of these simple and hard earned freedoms.
Let us not forget that these protections were put in place originally in order to prevent our government from becoming too powerful, a risk which still exists today. Everything about the National Security Agency’s PRISM reeks of abuse of power. The fact that the Obama Administration has explicitly claimed that the courts cannot ban the blanket surveillance means the executive is brushing off the judiciary’s correctional ability – a clear breach of our checks and balances system. When we tolerate this violation in the name of safety, we demonstrate that we are undeserving of the freedoms in the first place. We set ourselves up for generations of government overreach until we get to a point where the constitution is a simple figurehead. Yes this is a slippery slope argument, but in a nation where justice is based on precedence, I am convinced that it is relevant and appropriate. The NSA represents a much greater danger to our society than any terrorist attack; it threatens our basic rights as Americans.
More concretely, the foreign consequences put our physical safety in question. Spying on our allies has cost us tremendously in diplomatic capital. We have frayed our relationship with key international players such as Brazil, Germany and France. Moreover, we have totally surrendered any degree of moral credibility behind our criticism of China’s persistent cyber warfare and spying programs. We have shown again that our nation stands for everything in principle and yet nothing in practice – something Obama promised to correct by shutting down Guantanamo (which he didn’t).
Let us not forget that these diplomatic relationships are the lifeblood of our national security. Joint military programs as well as diplomatic collaboration are central to supporting our diplomatic and economic interests abroad. Again, by looking for a short-term diplomatic edge we have risked a larger and undoubtedly more important long-term advantage in the form of strong global allies and trusted relationships. The most recent program has discarded decades of diplomacy and confidence building between us and our allies, an especially precarious ploy in a world where multilateralism seems to be the status quo. No country can afford to be alienated in this day and age, we must not abuse our current hegemony at the expense of future cooperation – countries won’t need us forever. Foreign policy is not a one-shot game, it is a continuous process.
When the second plane hit the second tower of the World Trade Center in New York City, our country was plunged into an identity crisis. I posit that when the attackers plotted against us, they foresaw their destruction going beyond the physical and into the psychological, they knew that in war, anything could happen. Take a sober look at the word terrorism and you will see that it is rooted in the spread of terror, terror begets uncertainty, terror throws all of our values into question. Beating terrorism isnt about slaughtering fundamentalists across the world, to beat terrorism we must demonstrate that our values stand the test of pressure, stand the test of time and stand the test of war. They win if we break, they win if we yield to the ever present illusion of comfort at the expense of reality and sacrifice. That is why I believe that the NSA symbolizes the degree to which we are threatened by terrorists, that is why I believe that it is the NSA itself which constitutes the greatest danger to our nation.