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A Libertarian Responds to Prager on the NSA

During the first hour of his show last Tuesday, Dennis Prager challenged his listeners as follows (starting at 11’39″):

[T]hose of you who are opposed to the NSA surveillance of billions of calls and texts are, in my opinion, taking as foolish a position [as those who advocate for gun control in response to shootings] for your own noble reasons. There are noble reasons on the L…

  1. BrentB67

    I learned a lot from this post and agree with your conclusions. Thank you.

  2. FloppyDisk90

    Impressively researched and well argued.  I will quibble with only the following:

    The answer is that the NSA was too busy sorting through billions of innocuous communications by ordinary Americans to find actual Jihadis. 

    That may be some of the reason but I think a simpler explanation is that hindsight is 20-20 and as “obvious” as it seems now there are *lots* of people who probably have similar histories and we simply don’t have the resources to go after every one.

  3. Crow

    I’m with you, Tom. It has been clear for some time that the NSA has had far too little oversight, not only over its activities, but over how it is spending taxpayer money.

    There’s no doubt in my mind that whatever the next conflict is, cyber warfare will be no small portion of the opening hours of the campaign. I completely understand the need to ensure our networks and defense and civilian infrastructure are defended. 

    But we need to take a very hard look at how to protect the 4th amendment rights of American citizens in a digital age at the same time. I don’t think we have that balance right as things stand today.

  4. Matede

    Great post. I too am a Pragertopia subscriber and want to rip my hair out and he defends the NSA program in his manner. So far the callers that have challenged him haven’t been this effective. I have a great deal of respect for Mr Prager and enjoy his program immensely,  but on this one I think he’s wrong.  I’ll send him this link to his email.

  5. Tom Meyer
    Matede: Great post. I too am a Pragertopia subscriber and want to rip my hair out and he defends the NSA program in his manner. So far the callers that have challenged him haven’t been this effective. I have a great deal of respect for Mr Prager and enjoy his program immensely,  but on this one I think he’s wrong.  I’ll send him this link to his email.

    I would be immensely grateful if you did that; as I suspect is the case for others, I feel so strongly about this in part because I respect Prager and his thinking so highly in general.

    Thank you — and everyone else so far — for the compliments.

  6. Tom Meyer
    FloppyDisk90: 

    I think a simpler explanation is that hindsight is 20-20 and as “obvious” as it seems now there are *lots* of people who probably have similar histories and we simply don’t have the resources to go after every one.

    I completely agree that most investigations seem like no-brainers after the fact, and I concede that it’s real easy for me to Monday-morning quarterback our intelligence agencies.

    That said, I doubt that that many people are subjects of FBI tip-offs from Russian intelligence and/or correspond with known terrorist imams.  I’d much rather see the NSA limit its efforts to people who do things like that than to vainly attempt to search through everything that everybody is doing.

  7. FloppyDisk90
    Tom Meyer

    FloppyDisk90: 

    I think a simpler explanation is that hindsight is 20-20 and as “obvious” as it seems now there are *lots* of people who probably have similar histories and we simply don’t have the resources to go after every one.

    I completely that most investigations seem like no-brainers after the fact, and I concede that it’s real easy for me to Monday-morning quarterback our intelligence agencies.

    That said, I doubt that thatmany people are subjects of FBI tip-offs from Russian intelligence and/or correspond with known terrorist imams.  I’d much rather see the NSA limit its efforts to people who do things like that than to vainly attempt to search through everything that everybody is doing. · 4 minutes ago

    Point well taken.

  8. Matede

    I sent the link to his Direct to Dennis Email. Lets hope he reads it and responds

  9. Frank Soto
    C

    Excellent post Tom.

  10. merumsal

    Tom, add my name to your supporters list.  I also like Dennis Prager and don’t understand where he’s coming from on this. (But I don’t hear his show much.)

    As someone else mentioned, I don’t see opposition to the current NSA surveillance as solely a libertarian argument.  All-encompassing surveillance is pernicious to civil society; it is police-state stuff.  Anyone who believes in a civil society should be able to agree with this.

    Your arguments and reasoning are great, and I suppose you will need them to debate someone like Prager.  But it’s dismaying that we even have to go so far.  I reached my own conclusion pretty quickly.  You don’t keep dossiers on people you want to protect; you keep them on people you think you may need to attack.

    Putting aside your excellent arguments for a moment: I would prefer even to live in a more perilous country than one where everyone’s actions are monitored by a government I cannot trust.

  11. raycon and lindacon

    We are neglecting two very important issues:

    1.   The NSA is part of a feral government that has a hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil attitude as regards the religion of love.  A suspicious intercept of communications between tea party folks or a bible study group will set off alarms.  A communication between Muslims, other than listed terrorists, will be ignored as innocents.  We kid ourselves if we believe that political correctness does not operate at the NSA.

    2.  Unlimited trust cannot be granted to strangers.  Given the post Christian educational system, the people who are entrusted with this information cannot be expected to limit their knowledge to “official” purposes.

    If your dog craps on the lawn of a vindictive  NSA employee, there is no limit to the pain that they can inflict.  And, the IRS vendetta against the tea party stands as primary evidence of that fact.

  12. Majestyk

    At the root of this issue is the government’s overarching desire to avoid potentially offending anybody by the mere appearance of some sort of profiling.

    Thus, rather than drilling down on specific people who fit a particular profile being scrutinized for their suspicious activities, the government has cast a much wider net that has much larger holes.

    The results are predictable.  In their efforts to tiptoe around the sensitivities of certain racial and ethnic minorities they have allowed the lion’s share of good intelligence to be passed over in favor of a much more broadly intrusive but generally less effective method for determining who represents a threat.

    This phenomenon was started by President Bush, whom I think foolishly passed up an opportunity to point out exactly who and what we faced – sure, he used some bellicose language such as “Evildoers,” “Axis of Evil” and the like – but he never specifically called out Jihadist Islamists as being the primary culprit for these attacks and this war if memory serves.  This was out of fear of “declaring war on Islam.”

    As Leon Trotsky said, “You may not be interested in war, but war is interested in you.”

  13. Nick Stuart

    I recently discontinued my Pragertopia subscription because of this issue, and Prager’s position on American military presence abroad (specifically involvement in Syria and Afghanistan).

    Prager is completely dug in on the subject of NSA surveillance, the intrusive TSA inspection regime at airports, and public surveillance cameras everywhere. While he adamantly refuses to acknowledge the irresistible temptation that this panopticon state presents to politicians and bureaucrats.

    He pushes back on callers with the proposition that better the omniscient state than another 9/11. The hard truth is that the possibility of another 9/11 is the price we may have to pay to avoid granting government ever yet more means and authority to know every detail of our lives.

    Good luck with sending him the link to this post because I’ve been using the “Direct to Dennis” email feature or Pragertopia to try to influence his views on this for several years.

    More broadly, I’ve begun to wonder what’s happened to the big three of Salem Radio talk show hosts. Prager, Medved, and Hewitt have all seemed to have gone kind of wonky (for want of a better word) in the past year or so.

  14. Wordcooper

    I’m not sure if any of your conclusions is strictly Libertarian. I think that a Conservative could easily make the same points, if only from a cost/benefit argument.

    I think that the original description of the surveillance (eg. only when between suspected terrorists outside the US or between an outside suspect and a US citizen) was OK. Libertarians may fall further down the continuum, but we both agree that there should be limits.

    The problem now is that we can’t believe anything they are saying. They have lost the trust of the people.

  15. AlsoAHotSauce

    Why do some Federal Agency acronyms get an article and others don’t? Try saying “The NASA” to yourself a couple of times.

  16. Spin

    If my brother walked into my house with a loaded gun in his hand, I would likely say “Bought a new gun, eh?”  If it were someone else, I might freak out.  Why?  It’s called trust.  It’s not the thing, though to be sure I have serious reservations about what the NSA is doing, so much as it is the person who’s in charge of the thing.  The government is answerable to no one.  And it’s currently being run by the say anything, do anything crowd.  So I have to humbly and respectfully disagree with Mr. Prager myself.  

  17. Steven Jones
    AlsoAHotSauce: Why do some Federal Agency acronyms get an article and others don’t? Try saying “The NASA” to yourself a couple of times. · 46 minutes ago

    If the acronym is pronounceable it’s treated as a word. All others get a “the”.

  18. WI Con

    Fine post, well reasoned and presented. I really like Dennis but on this and the TSA, he’s dug in and has a real blind spot.It’s unfortunate as I’ve always thought he was intellectually honest and open to persuasion on issues. I hope he get’s wind of the post and comments and reconsiders.

  19. Devereaux

    The reality, Merumsal, is that such a society is NOT more perilous – except from the government. All those “dangers” become trivial when viewed against the danger FROM the government.

    We can go back to the TSA as an example. Over the 10+ years they have NEVER caught a terrorist. Their moment to shine was when Faisel (?sp) tried to bomb Times Square in NYC. His name and face was quickly known and posted everywhere. Yet he made it through the TSA and onto a Saudi plane. It was the NYPD that tracked him down with old-fashioned police work and went out on the runway to take him off the plane! ?Where were the TSA. ?Where was the much vaunted protection.

    Meanwhile the TSA has a long history of relieving Americans of their property – generally pointlessly. They sell the little keychain utilities on the internet by the pound! And this doesn’t even consider all the theft that the TSA has done of passengers’ things from suitcases that they “inspected”. At one NYC airport it ranged in the hundreds of millions of dollars in value.

  20. Heisenberg

    I went to the comments on this post hoping to see more folks pushing back against what I see as borderline hysteria about the impact of NSA data mining programs on your privacy. An individual’s privacy is not compromised by having numbers you call fed into a hopper of millions of other numbers, looking for patterns indexed against known targets. No one, without a warrant, is listening to your phone calls or ID’ing you as a Tea Party member (inflated sense of self-importance + paranoia + seen too many spy movies = kooky conclusions).The point that these programs are a poor use of money and resources may be valid, but it does not have anything to do with privacy.The failure of the NSA to ID the Boston bombers does not logically indicate that these programs are not effective (you don’t know the cases where they have been ef

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