What a fitting cherry atop the Barack Obama legacy of eroding American safety: it turns out his National Security advisor was rifling through countless conversations that just happened to involve private citizens, in a quest to block Donald Trump’s path to the presidency.
I know Susan Rice’s story is that sure, there was unmasking but she in no way leaked details in an attempt to harm Trump. We can all evaluate how credible that is, coming from a woman who lied about Benghazi in service to an administration that mobilized the IRS against conservatives. But as we prepare for her testimony under oath about these matters, we must realize that political mischief is not the worst element of this story.
The fact is that if Susan Rice and others in the Obama White House were vacuuming up every piece of intel they could find about the Trump team and Russia (or anybody else for that matter), the election-year dirty tricks pale in comparison to the profound damage these stunts would inflict on our entire national security landscape.
Has anyone noticed that President Trump inherited a shockingly dangerous world? Energized by eight years of Obama inattention, the Syrian government is gassing its own citizenry while North Korea hones the skill set to lob a warhead beyond its own territorial waters. It is at times like these that we need maximum trust in the heroes toiling in the mines of detailed surveillance. Since 9/11, countless Americans have racked up equally countless hours looking for connections among quintillions of little data dots representing moments of behavior that might be a gateway to the discovery of the next terror attack.
Those of us who support those practices have had to push back against the skepticism of voices who believe that surveillance by the NSA, CIA and others is a privacy nightmare, featuring layers of incursions into our personal business.
No, we have insisted, these professionals deserve to be trusted. Nobody at NSA headquarters is listening to you plan a vacation visit to your Aunt Ruth.
Libertarians and others have maintained some hostility to the surveillance that keeps us safe, arguing that the trade-off is not worth it, that surely government cannot be trusted with such a task indefinitely.
And now we get this.
The Susan Rice fishing expedition in search of dirt on Trump impugns no Americans involved in the daily toil of watching the world for signs of danger. But it surely creates a fog of doubt around the politicians who have access to those mountains of intel.
This is a lousy time for erosion of faith in the hierarchy we will need moving forward to monitor what the Assads and Kims and other murderous despots around the world might have in mind for America and our allies. Anything that makes Americans turn sour on intelligence-gathering is an obstacle to a safer nation.
We can cling to the comfort that Obama is no longer President, and that Rice can no longer do his bidding. But once we learn the lengths and depths of her malicious curiosities, the damage may well be done, in the form of Americans who flip a switch and harbor broad doubts about whether surveillance and monitoring are worth it if private citizens are going to be unmasked, their names leaked to newspapers on a partisan whim.
We may enjoy an administration that will not abuse those powers for the next four or eight years, but who knows what will follow? We are eternally one election away from the re-installation of scoundrels who will view intel as free customized opposition research during election years.
The noble Americans who work every day to keep us safe deserve our respect and our trust. And they deserve better than to have that trust skewered by this infuriating story of a White House that viewed them as weapons to be deployed against political enemies.