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June 16, 2013

Pushing the envelope, NSA-style

(Continued)

Is that really shocking?

The problem here is not constitutionality. It’s practicality. Legally this is fairly straightforward. But between intent and execution lies a shadow — the human factor, the possibility of abuse. And because of the scope and power of the NSA, any abuse would have major consequences for civil liberties.

The real issue is safeguards. We could start by asking how an Edward Snowden, undereducated, newly employed, rootless and grandiose, could have been given such access and power. Yet here is a president who campaigned on the proposition that he would transcend such pedestrian considerations. “We reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals,” he declared in his first inaugural address, no less.

When caught with his hand on your phone dataA however, President Obama offered this defense: “You can’t have 100 percent security and also then have 100 percent privacy. ... We’re going to have to make some choices as a society.”

So it wasn’t such a false choice after all, was it, Mr. President?

Nor does it help that just three weeks ago the president issued a major foreign-policy manifesto whose essential theme was that the War on Terror is drawing to a close and its very legal underpinning, the September 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force, should be not just reformed but repealed to prevent “keeping America on a perpetual wartime footing.”

Now it turns out that Obama’s government was simultaneously running a massive, secret anti-terror intelligence operation. But if the tide of war is receding, why this vast, ever expanding NSA dragnet whose only justification is an outside threat -- that you assure us is ever receding?

Which is it, Mr. President? Tell it straight. We are a nation of grown-ups. We can make choices. Even one it took you four years to admit is not “false.”

Charles Krauthammer’s email address is letters@charleskrauthammer.com.

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