What the NSA Scandal Teaches Us About Political Short-Sightedness

Politicians are people. As such, they are fallible and susceptible to the same things that you and I are.

Problem is, they control purse strings, programs, and policies that affect our lives—sometimes in a very intimate or oppressive way. This week’s double-whammy of NSA scandals reveals the magnitude to which these other people can invade the privacy of any given innocent person.

Here in Utah, we now have a special connection to this story, as the NSA’s largest facility is being built in our backyard. When this was announced over three years ago, I penned an op-ed detailing my frustration with some of the local politicians who were fawning over the development. Governor Herbert called it a “godsend” and a “win, win, win.” Representative Chaffetz called it a “benefit to our economy.” The lieutenant governor said that the NSA is “welcome in Utah.”

These and other statements of praise at the time were chiefly economic in nature. The economy was sagging, construction was especially affected, and the 5-10,000 construction jobs the NSA facility would generate were eagerly anticipated by politicians who govern guided by the wrong metrics. In the op-ed I asked, “Have we become so myopically focused that alleged job creation is the solitary metric by which we judge any action?”

At the time of the announcement, the civil liberties question was also raised. One report notes:

The [NSA] center’s work will be done while “observing strict guidelines to preserve civil liberties,” [NSA Deputy Director] Gaffney said. Because of the secret nature of that work, however, citizens will have to rely on congressional oversight to ensure those liberties are not violated, he said.

Gov. Gary Herbert said there’s always a question of whether such an effort encroaches on civil liberties, but he has been reassured only “appropriate activity will be conducted, according to constitutional law.”

This reassurance came from people who have been lying to the American public, for years, about what they are doing. Politicians have been far too trusting and deferential to the gatekeepers, trusting that they are watching themselves. We’re told that Congress is able to provide sufficient oversight, but one congressman told me just yesterday that getting information from the NSA is lying trying to pull out a dragon’s tooth. Even the “watchers” are kept in the dark.

Had this week’s information come to light four years ago, would local officials have objected to the NSA facility coming to Utah? It’s doubtful; the lure of job creation is quite strong, as is the pseudo-patriotic claim that the federal government’s spying activities are necessary for fighting terrorism (whatever that means these days) and protecting national security.

So we patiently wait for these politicians either to be educated or replaced, such that elected officials actively work to protect the privacy and liberty of each innocent individual. The NSA’s facility being built in our backyard will stand for decades as a testament to the political short-sightedness of local officials who chased after a few fleeting dollars and bought into the PR being promoted by one of the world’s most deceptive, secretive spy agencies.