Thursday, June 20, 2013


So, honestly, what did you think the National Security Agency did out there in the Washington suburbs?  Read and clip newspapers?

The recent furor amazes me. Of course they’re monitoring the phones, the emails, the text messages and all the other forms of communications we’ve invented to say less and less without having to be face to face. You’re surprised? What, you live under a rock?

And why would anyone care aside from the American Civil Liberties Union? Did you honestly think that this amazing wealth of information was not going to be used to further the basic aim of the nation, which is to protect itself?

I’m not sure how to react to all this dismay. The outrage over what has always been an open secret--that yes, the government monitors all sources of information--is amusing. The breast-beating and bemoaning is ridiculous.  The sudden attacks of conscience manifested by politicians are both hypocritical and ludicrous. Again: What do you think the NSA does?

Frankly, I’m not sure of the agency’s breadth of operations, but I can tell you what it does not do: It does not monitor your private phone or email accounts unless you’ve given them pretty good reason to do so. So the emails to Aunt Irma about her Brussels sprouts recipe are safe, as is your correspondence with the former King of Nigeria, who will soon be wiring a large amount of funds to your bank. Your online subscription to Teen Spanking Times will not raise an eyebrow. Your telephone conversations are safe as well, and technology will probably see to it that the clicking you hear is not a sign that you’re being tapped. Unless…

If you choose to spice up your emails or conversations with words like “jihad,” “fertilizer bomb,” “72 virgins,” or “destroy America,” then maybe, just maybe, a computer program designed to recognize those very words might kick in, and perhaps--but only perhaps--a small alarm bell deep within the confines of Ft. Meade, Md., might sound, and a junior officer might sit up and take notice.

If, later that week, you send or receive another message that reads something like, “Ahmed: The delivery of camels will take place on Times Square on September 11, so make sure to take shelter and Long Live Chechnya,” the same junior officer may kick this message upstairs to someone less junior, and you will become a person of minor interest.

What this comes down to is that the United States, for all its shortcomings, remains possibly the freest country in the world. As a nation, we have the bad habit of inviting our detractors not only to give us their best shots, but to come and live in garden apartments in New Jersey. Most of those who do just that become enamored of the freedom found here. They may rage and rant and criticize but eventually they’ll be won over by gainful employment, the ability to choose from among 48 kinds of ice cream, and cheap cable service with adult channels.  A tiny minority of naysayers will not be swayed and instead will bite the hand that feeds. These are the guys worth watching.

National security is a strange thing.  I remember the first hint I got that things were changing was when Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House was closed to traffic and giant concrete creations blocked motor vehicle access to the best known address in America.  Over time, downtown Washington DC buildings sprouted guard stations, ID card readers and secured entrances. Closed circuit video cameras sprouted everywhere. After some idiot tried to get on a plane with a bomb in his shoe, body scans appeared and we were all required to go through them in stockinged feet. I shudder to think of the discussions that must have followed after another cretin tried to smuggle a bomb aboard in his underwear.

I don’t care if people are listening in. I really don’t think I’ve had an interesting phone conversation in a couple of years and most of my emails are spam.  I don’t necessarily welcome scrutiny, but I’m willing to abide by it if it makes this nation safer. It’s a small priced to pay for living here.  I do wonder if using the words “jihad,” “fertilizer bomb,” “72 virgins,” or “destroy America,” in this blog might trip some secret switch and my readership will expand.

If so, NSA guys, I didn’t mean anything by it. Really.  





1 comment:

  1. And so far no comments from the robots either.